Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cattail Recipe--Cattail Flower Bread

Late spring is when we head back out into wet areas that are filled with cattails, and at this time of year the flower spikes are just getting ready to emerge from a protective leaf sheath. In a week or two, the male portion of the flower will be filled with pollen that can be collected, but now we are after the immature flower, specifically the upper, male portion. The bottom half of the flower spike is the female portion, and once pollinated, it will mature into the familiar "hot dog on a stick" you see in swamps and wet areas.

Pinch the green fluff off the core

We cut the flower spike off the stem, and bring them home to peel off the covering, shaking off the tiny beetles that often live inside. There isn't much "meat" on the lower, female flower, so that gets discarded. The upper, male portion can be boiled, buttered, and salted and eaten like corn on the cob, leaving behind a white core. We also like to pinch off the tender green fluff from the core and use it in recipes, lending a corn-like flavor. The green fluff can be frozen successfully by packing it tightly in a container, or vacuum packing it into pouches and used all year.

This bread has a similar texture as conventional cornbread, and we make it in a cast iron skillet for a nice crispy outer crust. Serve it with some sour cream dolloped on top, or on the side of some chili.

Cattail Bread          makes one 9" cast iron pan, or 9" cake pan

1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. cattail flower fluff, removed from core
2 Tbsp. cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. diced jalapenos or sweet red pepper
3 Tbsp. chopped scallions or ramps greens
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 c. buttermilk

1. Heat oven to 400ยบ F, butter a cast iron skillet or baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cattail fluff, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper, diced peppers, chopped scallions, and shredded cheese. Mix together.
3. In a second bowl, whisk the eggs with the melted butter and buttermilk.
4. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until combined.
5. Pour into prepared skillet or pan, and bake 18-25 minutes, until lightly browned and the top springs back when pressed. Cool and cut.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Spicebush Recipe- Spicebush Ice Cream Sandwiches on Acorn Cookies

Even thought spicebush berries and acorns are wild foods collected in autumn, hot summer days are when we want ice cream sandwiches. Dipping into our preserved stores, we pulled spicebush berries and finely ground acorn flour from the freezer and put together a summertime treat. I had originally made a similar sauce for bread pudding using the spicebush berries, and thought it would make a nice custard-based ice cream. Thinking about how to serve the ice cream, I attempted to make ice cream cones from acorn flour, but ended up with thin cookies that worked better as sandwich cookies.

The flavor of the ice cream is similar to Indian kulfi, exotically spiced and warming with hints of cardamom and black pepper, all from our local, native spicebush berry, Lindera benzoin. We collected acorns from white oaks three years ago when they were abundant, cold leached them in water for a few weeks before drying and grinding them into flour. Hopefully this year will be a good mast year for the local white and red oaks, and we can collect many bucketfuls of acorn to shell over the winter months!

Spicebush berry ice cream

Spicebush Ice Cream Sandwiches on Acorn Cookies          
makes about 9-10 sandwiches

For the sandwich cookies:
Acorn Cookies              makes about 18- 2" cookies

1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. ground acorn flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp. water
5 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 300°F, and cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, acorn flour, powdered sugar, and salt together until blended.
3. In another bowl, beat the egg whites and water together until frothy, and whisk in the cooled, melted butter and vanilla.
4. Using a large wire whisk, blend the dry ingredients into the eggs and whisk until combined.
5. Scoop about 1 Tbsp. of the batter onto the parchment covered cookie sheet, and use a small spatula to spread it out into a 2-3 inch round, about 1/8" thick. This will not spread very much in the oven, so leave about 1" between each cookie round on the cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 8 minutes, until firm, remove from the oven and prick the tops of the flat cookies with a fork gently to make some decorative holes. Cool cookies, they will be slightly soft and flexible.

For the ice cream:
Spicebush Berry Ice Cream           makes about 1 gallon

2 c. whole milk or almond milk
2 c. heavy cream
About 40 spicebush berries
1 c. granulated sugar, divided
1/4 tsp. salt
5 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Have the bowl of the ice cream maker frozen and ready to use.
2. In a blender, blend the spicebush berries and whole milk or almond milk until the berries are ground into small specks.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, ground berries, cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil.
4. As the milk mixture is heating, combine the yolks and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl. Whisk until the yolks are light yellow and thick.
5. Once the milk/cream mixture has just stated to boil, whisk about 1/3 of it into the yolk mixture. Add another 1/3 of the hot milk to the yolks, then add it all back into the saucepan. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the mixture over low heat for 3-5 minutes, until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Do not let the custard come to a boil or the yolks will be overcooked.
6. Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer to catch any lumps and stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and chill.
7. Follow the manufacturer's directions for your ice cream machine, and churn the custard until thickened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer container and chill until firm.
8. Once the ice cream is firm, scoop 2-3 Tbsp. onto an acorn cookie, and top with another acorn cookie. Re-chill until firm.

Acorn flour

Friday, June 12, 2015

Milkweed Recipe Roundup

Although it is too late to gather and eat the shoots of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the flower buds are at a great size to eat, and the pods will be maturing soon. Although many books say to boil milkweed three times for 10 minutes in clean water, it just isn't necessary, and was likely based on someone trying to boil the bitterness out of misidentified dogbane shoots. Milkweed should not be bitter at all, and tastes a bit like green beans. Once boiled a single time for about 5-7 minutes, add milkweed to recipes.


 Milkweed is a food source for Monarch butterflies, as well as many others, but in our experiences, we have only seen the caterpillars eat the leaves, so don't feel guilty about collecting the flower clusters or pods to eat. We even raised a few caterpillars to butterflies, offering them every part of the milkweed, but they only ever ate the leaves. In our area of southeastern Connecticut, there are thousands of acres of fallow fields and wildlife management areas all filled with milkweed, chicory, sumacs, and berries, so I don't think a family of three can overharvest a few meals of milkweed flower buds or pods.

And Mushroom Season Begins . . .

While spring has finally sprung and we are up to our chins in fresh, seasonal, wild greens, spring is a terrible time for mushrooms. Beyond a lucky morel, some dried polypores, and an odd Ascomycete, Connecticut just doesn't have much to offer in the way of fungi in spring. It's not even about the edible mushrooms, just about any gilled little brown mushroom becomes a welcome sight after a long winter and a foray table filled with black bumps on sticks and Stereums.

Walt from CVMS says, "Happy New Year!" when he celebrates the new mushroom season with the sighting of the first Amanita on the foray tables. With the club on Facebook, we can now communicate our finds during the week as well. This past week, we found a stately yellow Amanita muscaria var. guessowii and a baby while hiking out to a favorite nettle collecting spot. Even better were the Boletes found while scouting new hiking/foraging location. Boletes in June? Yes! The red-pored one with a reddish-brown top and immediate blue staining is in the Boletus subvelutipes group, not edible. But the others, with bulbous bases, no staining, stuffed ores, beautifully sexy white reticulation on the apex of the stipe, and the gorgeous fresh-baked-bun-from-the-oven cap color, just screamed perfect porcini, Boletus edulis. Those babies cooked up buttery and crispy, nutty and delicious with a sprinkle of sea salt. And mushroom season begins. . .