Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Black Walnut Recipe - Wild Spiced Nocino

Nocino is an Italian liqueur that is made from green, immature walnuts and sweetened with a sugar syrup, and is a traditional autumn after dinner drink. It is relatively easy to make, you just need immature walnuts and patience to wait while they steep for 3-4 months in alcohol with some spices, then add some sugar syrup to mellow the flavor. We decided to make a more wild version, using the black walnuts that grow abundantly in Connecticut and some local flavorings.

Sweet cicely roots
In the late spring, we start watching the black walnut (Juglans nigra) tree next door. When the walnuts start forming and are about the size of a quarter, we pull the Jeep up to the trunk of the tree, climb on top with a long pole, and start knocking the immature nuts down. At this size, the hard shell has not formed yet, and you can slice through the green hull, through the shell, and cut the whole nut into quarters. Robert then places the cut nuts in a gallon glass jar, tucks in a few wild ingredients like spicebush berries (from the freezer, they ripen in the fall and taste like allspice), twigs and leaves from the same spicebush that have a citrusy flavor, sweet cicely roots (dug in the spring, they taste like licorice), and a vanilla bean, then covers this concoction with grain alcohol (180 proof) or 100 proof vodka. After the 4 month wait, we strain out the solids and are left with a black, astringent alcohol filled with some tannin. It gets mellowed out with the addition of sugar syrup and maple syrup, and further aging. This is a sipping liqueur, and will warm up the chilly winter ahead.

Ripe spicebush berries

Wild Spiced Black Walnut Nocino                              makes about a half gallon

2 pounds immature black walnuts
3 sweet cicely roots
3-3" lengths spicebush twigs, peeled
3 Tbsp spicebush berries, crushed
1 vanilla bean, split
4+ c. grain alcohol  or 100 proof vodka (enough to cover the cut nuts)
3 c. water
3 c. sugar
1 c. maple syrup

1. Gather the immature black walnuts near the third week in June, when you are able to cut through the hull and shell with a knife. Quarter the nuts and pack them into a gallon glass jar.
2. Shred the sweet cicely roots and add then to the jar, along with the peeled spicebush twigs, crushed spicebush berries and split vanilla bean.
3. Pour the alcohol over the nuts, covering them totally. Let the concoction macerate for 3-4 months, shaking weekly.
4. Strain out the solids, the alcohol will have turned black.
5. Make the sugar syrup by placing the sugar and water in a large pot. Bring up to a boil and turn the heat off. Allow the sugar syrup to cool, and mix it into the flavored alcohol with the maple syrup.
6. At this point, you may drink the wild nocino, but it will be pretty rough. We suggest an additional mellowing period of 9 months in a clean gallon jar, then portioning the nocino out into smaller bottles for storage.

Black walnuts

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Daylily Recipe - Daylily Root Cake

Digging up the tubers of daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) can be done in the very early spring when they are just making shoots, or in the late fall after the foliage starts dying back and before the ground frosts. It is during these two seasons when the energy of the plant is still in the tubers, and they are firm. During other times of the year, the clusters of tubers are spongy and a bit rotten, not good for eating. We go to where we know there are large patches of daylilies, and dig at the basal rosette. The tubers are all attached together, and can be about the size of a quarter. I scrub them with a stiff-bristled vegetable brush, but don't bother with peeling each tuber, then send a bunch of the tubers through a food processor to shred them. I would not try to shred them by hand, as they are small and you would likely shred more of your knuckles than tubers. Robert and I think the flavor of the tubers in this cake tastes like toasted coconut. The cake is nicely sweet by itself, but I added some powdered sugar icing on top so it looks pretty, and it would also be nice with some vanilla ice cream.

Daylily Root Cake                makes one bundt pan

2 c. shredded daylily tubers
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 c. plus 2 Tbsp oil
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. honey

for the icing:
1 c. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp milk or water
1/2 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease and lightly flour a bundt pan.
2. Toss the shredded tubers and the lemon juice together.
3. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon into the bowl of a mixer.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, maple syrup, and honey.
5. Using the paddle, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients with the mixer running at low speed. Scrape down the sides, and mix at medium speed for 30 seconds. Fold in the shredded tubers.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 30-38 minutes, until golden and firm. Cool about 10 minutes, and invert the bundt pan onto a serving plate. Cool the cake completely.
7. To make the icing, whisk the milk or water and vanilla into the powdered sugar. Drizzle over the cake and serve.

Cleaned tubers, ready for shredding

Friday, August 24, 2012

Foraging With Your Kids

Yummy Wild Carrots!

Gillian tasting maple sap
Given the opportunity, kids love to be out in the woods or in a field, searching for bugs and sticks, flowers and rocks. Showing them that you can eat some of those plants should not be scary, but fun. With a little caution, and plenty of encouragement, the kids will be able to positively identify many common and safe wild edibles. With simple explanations and repetition, children will absorb information without realizing they are learning something, they will just think that eating stuff outside is cool. Eating wild foods like greens and roots is another slightly sneaky way to get your kids to eat their vegetables, too! Give each child their own basket or cloth sack, let the older kids carry a knife, bring a magnifier, and let them collect some wild foods.

Wildman and Gillian
Gillian has always come out foraging with us. When she was small, we had her in the hiking backpack. Now she is seven years old and while she may sometimes be cranky about walking, she still comes with us every time. She can identify many wild edibles with confidence, and has several favorites like wintergreen leaves, dandelion flowers, lemony wood sorrel, cattail shoots, and every berry available. For five years now, we have taken tours with Wildman Steve Brill, and his daughter Violet often accompanies him. She is just a little bit older than Gillian, and that girl really knows her stuff! Wildman is working on a foraging book aimed at parents and kids, possibly an app too.

Black raspberries
Some of the best edibles to teach are the obvious ones without poisonous look-alikes. Berries like blackberries and wineberries are widespread and sweet, great first edibles. There are many different species, like dewberries, Himalayan blackberries, black raspberries, and more regional ones like salmonberries and loganberries. All are edible and tasty to different degrees. While most berry canes have thorns, picking them is generally easy and large quantities can be harvested. Freshly picked blackberries on a bowl of breakfast oatmeal taste way better than any store bought ones. Autumn olives are another berry that offer a taste combination kids love--sweet and sour. Their puckery flavor is a favorite flavor of all kids and most adults we show it to, and they are very abundant in Connecticut. They can be eaten raw, or cooked into a thick sauce and spooned over ice cream, or pureed and dried into fruit leather. Their silvery-speckled appearance is hard to mistake for any other berry.

Autumn olive berries

Gillian with some cattail-on-the-cob
Cattails are another good edible for kids, since the taste is mild and there is always the potential of getting muddy and wet. Gillian loves to eat the heart of the cattail shoots in the spring. It is tender and tastes a lot like raw cucumber, and relatively easy to gather even for a kid. Once you find a stand of cattails about 2' high, you pull apart the outer leaves, grasp the few leaves in the center, and give them a tug. The "heart" will pop out, and the bottom 4" or so is white and the part you want to eat raw. Another great part of the cattail comes later in spring, when the flower stalks come up. They will still be sheathed in one leaf, but are easy to cut from the plant. We then pull the leaf off, check for bugs, and boil up the flower spike and eat it like corn on the cob. The male portion of the flower is the upper section and has much more pulp than the female portion on the bottom of the flower spike, and can be used in a pancake batter and soup. Sometimes for the kids, it is the mature "hotdog" that is seen in summer and fall that is the favorite. While not edible, the mature hotdog is made up of the seeds, and it makes awesome tinder for camping.

Edible flowers are another fun food for kids. Popping off the big, yellow heads of dandelions and munching on the flower petals is great fun, and the kids can't seem to get enough. Violets are pretty and edible, and the taste is very mild. Lilacs are more fragrant, but almost flavorless, it is the thrill of eating a flower that will keep children happy. Black locust flowers are actually tasty, with a flavor and crunch similar to raw peas. Adding colorful edible flowers to a salad will instantly make it more appealing to any kid. We like to make jewel colored jellies from the fragrant flowers.

Sulphur shelf
Gillian is also really good at spotting mushrooms, probably due to her closeness to the forest floor. All mushrooms should be cooked before consuming them, so she knows to never put any mushroom in her mouth. She has a favorite wild mushroom (sulphur shelf) to eat, and can identify several other species already. We used to have a monetary incentive of a quarter for every mushroom she spots, and while it helped fill our basket, it also quickly emptied our pockets. We still try to make mushroom hunting fun by bringing a magnifying glass with us to examine some of the fungi we find. Get your kids outside, and show them a few cool mushrooms, even if they are not edible. Join a local mycological society to really get a great education and to alleviate your fears about poisonous mushrooms.

Gillian's puffball

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cinnabar Chanterelle Recipe - Chanterelle Corn Chowder

The end of summer is drawing near, but the bounty of the season is all around. The local farm share we receive has been packed with tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. The orchards are advertising pick-your-own peaches and early apples. Autumn olive berries (Eleagnus umbellata) are ripening early and spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin) are turning red. And the mushrooms! The fungi! It was a dry July and early August, but recent rains have soaked the ground and we are picking cinnabar chanterelles (Cantherellus cinnabrinus), black trumpets (Craterellus fallax), and bicolor boletes (Boletus bicolor) by the bag. The cinnabar chanterelles are extra large this year, and we decided to cook up some corn chowder with them and some of the new potatoes from the farm. The chanterelles add a subtle pepper taste to the soup, and amazing texture and color. While some folks might think this recipe makes 6 servings, in our house it was gone after one meal. If you use vegetable broth, this is a vegan recipe.

Chanterelle Corn Chowder                 makes about 6 servings

6 Tbsp oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
3c. loosely packed chanterelles, cleaned
5 Tbsp flour
4 c. hot chicken or vegetable broth
1 c. diced potato
2 c. raw corn kernels (about 2 ears)
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp chopped scallions
fried chanterelles for garnish

1. Over medium heat in a large saucepot, heat the oil and onion and sautee for 30 seconds. Add the chanterelles and cook 2 minutes, stirring often. The chanterelles will break up a bit.
2. Sprinkle the flour over the onion/chanterelle mix in the pot, and use a wire whisk to stir until the flour is lightly toasted, about 1 minute. This will look like a lumpy mess, breaking up the chanterelles more.
3. While whisking, add the hot broth to the pot. Add the diced potatoes and corn. Turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil, stirring often as it thickens. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook 8-10 minutes until the potatoes are tender. If the soup is too thick, add more broth.
4. Season with the salt and chopped scallions. To garnish the soup, I dredged some chanterelles in corn flour and fried then until crisp, and added them to the top.

A big pile of cleaned cinnabar chanterelles

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Daylily Recipe - Bajan Daylily Pie

While on vacation a few years ago in Barbados, we ate some local street food that was being served from a cart near our hotel. Actually, we ate it 3 nights in a row it was so good. Bajan Macaroni Pie is a macaroni and cheese concoction, slightly spicy and rich. This recipe is based on that dish, adding lots of unopened, fresh daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) buds to the mix for a fantastic baked pasta dish.

Bajan Daylily Pie                             makes 9" x 13" casserole dish

4 c. unopened daylily buds
8 oz. long tube shaped pasta (perciatelli works well), cooked
12 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 c. milk
2 eggs
7 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp garlic mustard-mustard, or dijon mustard
2 tsp. ground white pepper
2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 c. chopped scallions
1 c. additional shredded cheddar cheese for the top
1/2 c. bread crumbs

1. Heat the oven to 375º F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.
2. Remove the tough stem ends from the daylily buds, and give them a quick 3 minute boil. Drain, and add to a large bowl with the cooked pasta and shredded cheddar cheese, tossing them together. Add to the casserole pan.
3. In a bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs, and add the ketchup, mustard and spices. Pour this mixture over the pasta and daylily buds. Add the additional cup of shredded cheese to the top, and sprinkle the bread crumbs over the cheese.
4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is browned and the eggs have set. Cool slightly before serving.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Daylily Identified

Identifying and eating daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) has been on our plants-to-eat list for a long time. It is a plant with several useful parts and is available through two seasons, so it would take us awhile to observe, experiment, photograph, and learn. It seemed that by the time we should be searching for shoots in the spring, we were always too late to taste and photograph them, and had to put this plant off until next year. Finally, 2012 is our daylily year. While there are many varieties of cultivated and hybridized daylilies, we are only eating the wild orange daylily. Daylilies are common and widespread throughout North America, from Canada through Florida and to the Pacific Northwest. Originally from Asia and Europe, they are considered naturalized in most areas, and invasive in some. They spread readily through underground rhizomes and can often take over areas they grow in. They can tolerate just about any soil and light conditions, making them a successful garden plant, roadside colonizer, and an opportunistic plant of disturbed areas. Some people have digestive problems eating daylilies, so this is a good plant to go slow with, eating small quantities at first.

Mid-March was when we took a very early-spring tour with Wildman Steve Brill, and he showed us the shoots of the daylily. The light green shoots are one of the first wild vegetables you can gather that early in the season, and they can be gathered in abundance to use raw in salads, boiled in soups, or cooked in a vegetable sir fry. The shoots appear like stacked, curved swords growing from the basal rosette, and each emerging leaf has parallel veins. They are best picked when they are smaller than 6" or so, otherwise they are too fibrous and tough. The texture is crunchy and succulent, and the flavor is mildly onion-y. I personally did not like the taste, and the shoots left an acrid taste in my mouth, but Robert and Gillian both enjoyed the shoots.

Tubers still attached to the shoots

Digging up the small shoots in the early spring also yields a clump of edible tubers. The tuber clumps are best gathered in the early spring or late fall when the tubers are very firm. In the summertime, the tubers will get spongy and are not very good to eat. While cleaning a bunch of dirty tubers is time consuming, peeling them is even more so. We scrub them very well with a stiff vegetable brush to remove the dirt and don't bother with the peel, as it is not tough. Snipped from the clump, the tubers can be boiled like new potatoes, and they have a slightly sweet and nutty taste. We also lightly boiled some and pickled them with malt vinegar. Our favorite use was to shred a bunch of scrubbed tubers in the food processor, and use them in a cake like carrots, where they took on a toasted coconut-like flavor. We also fried up the shredded tubers as hash browns for breakfast.

Flowerbuds ready to be steamed

In the early summer, flower stalks will emerge from the center of each clump of long leaves, growing up to 3 feet tall. Daylilies get their common name from the fact that each flower will open in the morning and wilt at the end of the day, hence only blooming for one day. Often on each flower stalk, only one or two flowers will be open at a time, while some buds get ready to open and other wilted flowers remain on the stalk. This way, a large stand of daylilies appears to bloom for weeks on end. On each leafless stalk will be 6-15 short-stemmed flower buds.  The unopened buds are green, blushing orange the day before they open. The unopened buds can be eaten cooked as a vegetable, tasting like green beans. We gathered a bunch of them and steamed them about 5 minutes before adding them to other recipes like casseroles and baked pasta dishes. Unfortunately, I did not follow the common advice about eating small quantities of a new food, and we gorged ourselves on the unopened buds because they were so delicious. Robert did not experience any problems, but I was terribly ill with gastric problems for about 12 hours. Next time I'll have to take it slower!

The orange flower of the daylily is edible raw in salads, or nice battered and fried. The flavor is slightly sweet. Even the day-old wilted flowers are edible, and we had been buying them for years at the Asian grocery in packages to add to hot and sour soup. When adding the flowers fresh or dried to soups, I remove the bottom green part, as it can be tough and bitter. The dried flowers add a nice texture and slightly thicken soups. The flowers and flower buds are a good source of beta-carotene and iron, and have several medicinal uses in traditional Asian medicine. Overall, the daylily is an abundant and useful plant to know.