Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sun Drying: Strawberry Fruit Leather

Mmmm.  Extra strawberries.  Yes, these are cultivated.
Ooga is an expert jam-maker and cans gallons of fruits each year.  It's a thing of beauty to see our pantry full of brightly colored mason jars in the winter.  But I (Thag) have searched for a more primitive way of keeping our fruits--something that our wild ancestors would have done.  So this time, after all of the jars of strawberries were put up.  I decided to take the rest of our strawberry bounty and dry it in the sun.  

Spreading the strawberry puree.  
Now, I've dried blueberry fruit leathers in the past . . . once.  So my drying experience was pretty limited.  But I'd done the basic procedure, so I set out with cavalier resolve to make strawberry leathers.  I vaguely remembered something about what a pain it was to flip last year's blueberry fruit leathers once they were mostly dried.  So this time I had what seemed like a stroke of genius--dry each leather on a pan covered in wax paper.  I thought that I could easily peel the leather off of the paper and it would flip right over like a giant pancake.  

It didn't exactly work that way.  The strawberries dried almost completely through by the time I went to flip them, and they stuck like a layer of strawberry glue to the wax paper.  I eventually wrested them free with a metal spatuala, a knife, and sheer force of will.

And . . . mmm . . . they taste great.  Not too sweet.  It's going to be hard to save them for winter, but that's OK.  I've got a whole bunch of strawberry jam to eat in the meantime.

Here's what we did.

Drying on the roof--a short-lived experiment.  
Peeling the leather off the wax paper--more arduous that it should
have been.  Next time I think I'll grease the paper.  
  1. Pick--We had about (gee, I don't know) three quarts of berries.  
  2. Blend--Next we put them through our food processor--um, our stone age food processor.  What came out was a chunk strawberry puree.  
  3. Spread--We poured the puree onto two big baking sheets and spread it around until it was uniform thickness about 3/16" thick.  
  4. Dry--Then we put the sheets in the sun.  I started by putting the sheets on our roof, that didn't work.  The pitch of the roof was too steep, and the puree began to flow downhill.  So then I re-spread them and laid them on the roof of our car instead.  It was a hot day and they dried within six hours.  
  5. Flip--Most leathers need to be flipped to dry on both sides.  As listed above, that's not what happened here.  One leather got a drying on the other side after some meticulous removal from the waxed paper.  The other was dried completely before it came off.  
  6. Store--Wrapped the leathers between some fresh sheets of wax paper.  (Don't worry.  They won't stick this time.  We've tried this before.)  Put them on the shelf next to Ooga's jam.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Barley Goes Wild: A recipe

Thag is always coming home with a shopping bag of some edible or another saying, "So and so says it is really good in stews."  Who makes stews?  Yes, I'm sure our anscestors must have made a lot of meat stews; that is what you do when you kill a whole animal and want to make use of every part--even the tough bits.  But the people I know do not make stews on a weekly (or daily!) basis.  Me, I like stew, in the fall and winter, on blustery days, when I need some serious pick me up.  However, in lovely summer weather, I'm not going to take perfectly good (and expensive) meat and lovely, fresh wild edible greens and flowers and drown them in a stew.

So when Thag returned from an outing with Yub Yub holding a blueberry pint container containing delicate basswood flowers and mentioned stew, I devised this heavenly SALAD.  Note the healthy doses of wild foods in this one.  It'll beat your stew anyday.

Barley Goes Wild:

3/4 cup barley, winter weat berries, bulger, or wild rice
2 cups water
1 onion chopped or 1 cup wild leeks, chopped
1 large bunch lamb's quarters, rinsed and chopped
1 cup basswood flowers and buds
1/8 to 1/4 cup black walnuts or other wild nut
1/8 cup red clover vinegar
1/8 cup olive oil
1 or 2 tsp maple syrup
salt and pepper

1)  In small sauce pan, boil water (add salt if desired).  Add barley and simmer until cooked (about 40 minutes).

2)  Saute onion or leeks in olive oil until soft. 

3)  Add lamb's quarter to onion and cook until wilted.

4)  Add basswood flowers to onion saute and cook 3 minutes.

5)  Whisk together clover vinegar, olive oil, maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste.  (If you like your salads a little saucier, you can double this vinegarette.)

6)  Combine all ingredients in large serving bowl.  Serve warm or cold.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Arthur Haines at New England Primitive Skills Gathering

Arthur's book is in the Foraging Family's top 5 recommended wild plant guides. 
If there are such things as botanical rock stars, Arthur Haines must be one.  He's recently finished the gargantuan Flora Nova Angliae, the most comprehensive key and manual to New England plants.  His name is dropped in circles of plant lovers like the New England Wildflower Society where I volunteer.  And he's in the upper echilon of experienced American foragers.  So I was delighted to see him at this year's New England Primitive Skills Gathering, a little gathering of aspiring cave men, women, and kids. 

To top it all off, Arthur is an engaging, theatrical speaker.  He began his plant walk by sitting in a patch of poison ivy, plucking a leaflet, and rubbing it against his forearm until we onlookers were sufficiently convinced that he had gotten the plants oils all over his skin.  After reassurances that he does indeed react to poison ivy, he promised to show how he would avoid that rash even after such thorough exposure.  He definitely had my attention. 

I've been in the audience of many an edible plant walk and led some myself.  Most entail the following formula:  1.  walk along roadside or through park, 2.  find interesting edible plant, 3.  give its name and field marks, describe its edible parts, tell how to prepare it, 4.  resume walking.  Arthur's presentation was no exception to this tried and true format.  What was different was the depth of knowledge that he brought to the table.  Not only did he tell us names and uses, he told stories of the plant's use in Native America complete with mini-lessons on Passamaquoddy language.  He explained the phyto-chemistry of each plant, why certain plants had evolved to manufacture a given compound, and what effects it had on the human body and our inner ecosystem of microbes.  He digressed into commentaries on diet and human evolution, the so-called paleo movement (a diet and fitness movement supposedly based on ancestral eating), and the costs that humans have made by moving from wild foods to selectively-bred and genetically-modified agricultural ones. 

I left enriched and inspired--and with several new wild plants to try.  (Boy, were they good!  Look for posts later this week.)  I also left with some key advice on preventing poison ivy rash.  (Yes, for those out there in the know, the secret is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).  This I knew long before this weekend.  What I hadn't known was that the chemical responsible for preventing the rash, lawsone, is a red pigment and is found in greatest concentration in the noticeably reddened parts of the stem of the jewelweed, usually near the base.  I also learned that because lawsone acts by binding to the skin more aggresively than the rash-causing chemical in poison ivy, jewelweed is not an effective treatment for poison ivy after the rash has developed.  Now there's a myth I've heard oft-repeated.)  If you ever get the chance to forage with Arthur Haines, I highly recommend it. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lamb's Quarters with ricotta and shells: a recipe

We love lamb's quarters (Chenopodium spp.).  We use it in any dish where we might use spinach--lasagna, wraps, soups, quiches.  Check out how nutritious it is.  And like I tell Eva, it is always a plus when a food is nutrious and delcious.

After Thag and Eva harvested some lamb's quarters growing wild in our garden, I cooked this up for dinner tonight.

1 pound small pasta shells
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lamb's quarters, rinsed and chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 pound ricotta cheese
3/4 cup (or more!) parmesan

1)  In large pot, put salted water on stove to boil for pasta.  Cook and drain pasta.

2)  While pasta water is boiling, heat oil in large skillet.  Add onion and garlic--cook about five minutes until onion is translucent.  Salt to taste.

3)  Add lamb's quarters to skillet.  Stir and cook 3 to 4 minutes.

4) When pasta is done, add pasta, ricotta, and parsley to skillet.  Stir well.

5)  Serve with lots of parmesan.