The black locusts enchanting blossoms are melting away in the rain as I write. As everything else this year, they were 10 days to 2 weeks earlier than usual – I generally count on the 2nd week of May to be peak time for the pearly bunches of fragrant flowers. My nose noticed the first ones on April 28, this year, as I was walking out of the Flint Hill Volunteer Fire & Rescue Hall where I was cooking for a wedding. But unlike many other years, this year was a good season, with showy, abundant and long lasting blossoms – well over 10 days. Despite almost 6 inches of rain last week, they kept blooming. But all things end, and now they are just drooping, brown and limp, rain water pulling them down closer to the ground… Read more
As it turns out, when pickles are good, we eat lots of them. If they are too acid or too sweet, they languish in the pantry. I’ve tried many vegetables and many styles over the years and have concluded that we really only eat a few: “cornichons”, tiny tart cucumber pickles that are a staple of French picnic along with saucisson, baguette, butter, and a pot of “moutarde extra forte”; and bread-and-butter pickles… but only if they aren’t too sweet.
The pickling cucumber plantings are doing fairly well this year. Not well enough to make a lot of cornichons, but well enough to make bread and butters. So bread-and-butters we’ve been making, not too sweet, just right. We eat them with or piled in sandwiches, potato salad, sandwich between fried eggplants, with cold chicken or cold meat … you name it!
Happy to share my recipe below.
I am firmly in the beet lover camp: a well grown garden beetroot tastes of clean sweet earth. And that’s a good taste, intense, earthy, crunchy when raw, silky when cooked, deep garnet. But I know that the beet is as fervently disliked as it is loved. As much for taste as for its uncanny ability to color everything sanguine.
But that perceived flaw is also a strength. One can turn beets into a natural food coloring. Years ago, I made preserved cherries from a Greek recipe that called for dropping a chunk of beet-root in the jar of preserve to enhance its color. The cherries tastes faintly of beet – fine with me since I like beets.
Then, a few days ago, at breakfast, leaving through an older issue of Saveur magazine, I stopped turning the page at the gorgeous photo of icing in the most lovely shades of pink. Colored by beet powder! According to the article, beetroot powder has some earthy sweetness but does not have a strong taste. I was intrigued.
I made beet root powder. Because right now we have beets. The recipe for DIY beetroot powder is here. A mandoline is helpful to slice the beet paper-thin. After drying the beet slices in my yard-sale food dehydrator (they looked like rose petals!), I pulverized the dehydrated slices in my Vitamix. Worked like a charm!
Then I wanted to make icing. And use it. Read more
Blackberry time is here. The canes in the garden have started to produce, and should all go well, continue to produce for another 4 weeks. Which is good, because blackberries (and eggplants) are one of the consolations of a typical Virginia summer, especially the kinds we’ve been seeing the last few years: hot, hotter, no rain, and yet muggy. Ouch.
But at least we have blackberries. That means blackberry sorbet, blackberry sourcream sherbet, creme de blackberry, blackberry shrub. But not blackberry gastrique nor blackberry jam, of which we still have plenty. We eat them. We freeze them. Me make juice. We sell them. It’s blackberry time, I tell you.
It’s also hot. So, preparations with minimum applications of heat are ideal. And blackberries, with their sweet-tart flavor, lend themselves well to savory dishes.
Recently, I prepared a smoked duck salad as an appetizer for a 32-guest lunch (inspired by this recipe from the James Beard Foundation). I simplified the James Beard Foundation recipe by using smoked duck breasts prepared by The Whole Ox Butcher Shop in Marshall, VA (which sliced paper-thin with their meat slicer); changed the sauce a little bit… and reduced the plate to appetizer size.
An easy dish and attractive that’s great for a crowd, as all the components can be prepared ahead and assembled up to 30 minutes before serving (because we are using robust greens that can stand to the sauce).
So there, Smoked Duck Breast & Blackberry Salad – Appetizer for 12 Read more
It took me a long time to accept the idea of fruit in my salads. Too gimmicky, if you had asked me! As a properly raised French child, the only acceptable fruit that was not dessert was an appetizer of charentais melon with port (or maybe Jambon de Bayonne, the French Basque version of Prosciutto). But now? Now… I toss blueberries in massaged kale salad; I mix cantaloupes, canaries, and honeydews with purslane, shallots & jalapenos; I love peaches everywhere, including in salsa, or sliced thinly on a goat cheese open sandwich with black pepper & a drizzle of honey… and when it comes to watermelon, there is almost no limit.
Not only is this particular salad pretty, you can prepare all the ingredients ahead, keep them refrigerated in separate containers, and assemble at the last minute.. which makes it perfect for entertaining or even for potluck. Imagine the exclamations! Edible flowers bring a nice touch to the dish – in fact they are part of the WOW factor, something we can all relish occasionally. Read more
As one who loves beets, I have yet to find something made with beets that I don’t like. Raw beet salad, roasted beet and goat cheese sandwich, borscht, pickled beets (a favorite), beet ice-cream, savory beet tart, sweet beet tart (see Bar Tartine, by Courtney Burns and Nicolaus Balla), and, of course (thank you Nigel Slater) beet and chocolate cake – yep, over here, please!
It’s possible that this love for beetroots goes back a long time…. As kids, when we had a cold/sore throat, my mother would thinly slice beet root, layer them with sugar, let them sit until the sugar dissolved and the beets released their juice and give us spoonfuls of the most delicious medicine one can imagine. Cold, unctuous, sweet, and beet-y. In fact, something good enough to feign a cough! Totally unlike cod liver oil!
And although homemade kvass has not been a success (it got to be pretty sticky and literally oozed out of the jar), I have not yet given up on that.
Yet, beet seems to be one of those polarizing flavors – one loves them or hates them. Over several trials and error (and the desire to serve beetroot as hors d’oeuvre without a mess), I came up with a recipe that many people who told me they don’t like beets have enjoyed: Beet root pesto (no cheese). Read more
Have you ever wondered what determines the color of honey? or its texture? why are some honey darker or lighter? why are some honey extremely liquid, other much thicker, or some even “solid”? why do they have different textures?
In essence, it boils down to which flowers the bees visit. Nectar from different flowers yield honey with different color, texture, viscosity… and taste. Honey absolutely reflects the terroir where the bees live, since they forage within 2 or 3 miles from their hive. When large fields of the same plant bloom at the same time (whether it’s a field of clover, an orange grove, or acres of wild blackberries or autumn olives), bees are able to collect their nectar in mass over a short period of time. Since a foraging bee collects nectar from only one flowering species on any one trip (50 to 100 flowers are visited on one trip), the hive gives priority to plants that are blooming in mass at the same time: it’s much more productive for them! The beekeeper monitor blooms, nectar flow, and bee in-take to time the placement and removal of the honey supers. Honey supers are boxes of frames dedicated to collect harvestable honey (as opposed to brood frames, or honey that will serve as food for the bees)
Even with our small apiaries the color differences are startling, and the taste sometime very different. Look at the picture: all eight jars represent honey from 2015, harvested at different times and from different small apiaries, yet all located within 8 miles from our house, in Rappahannock county in the Northern Virginia Piedmont at the foothill of the BlueRidge Mountains.
Keith (who is the beekeeper) tries to set aside a jar from each harvest batch and here are his notes for the jars in the pictures: Read more
When my neighbor went to Turkey a few years ago, she was fortunate to spend time with a Turkish family, and taste true Turkish cuisine prepared at home. She also had a grand time at the Istanbul Bazaar and came back with amazingly fragrant spices, some of which she gifted me. She really enjoyed many vegetable dishes and was particularly intrigued by a vegetable she never had before… and had I ever heard of it? such a funny name: purslane?
I burst out laughing, and told her I’d bring her a big basket the following morning, wanted to harvest it when it was cool. Which I did. Fair is fair: a basket of “weeds” for a basket of spice.
Because, as you know, many Americans consider purslane (Portulaca oleracea) a weed. In fact, many don’t even know it’s edible. It’s a cousin of the ornamental moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora), sometime also called purslane. Don’t confuse the two when buying seeds (you are unlikely to find Portulaca oleracea plants for sale)
Yet – it is. It’s also nutritious, mild (vaguely lemony) & crunchy – and for me it grows when lettuce does not. In the garden, it’s an annual succulent. It self-sows (and how!) but does not germinates until it is quite warm. In poor soil, it can look “weedy” indeed. But in good garden soil, it becomes a handsome plant that hugs the ground. Pick often to delay flowering and to encourage more leaves.
Leaves, stalks, buds, flowers and seeds are all edible. But the younger, firmer, leaves are preferable – so pinch out shoots to harvest (and encourage branching at the same time). I dislike the texture of the tiny seeds, so I swish my harvest in a large bowl of cold water to dislodge the seeds that sink to the bottom of the bowl.
A cultivated “improved” version of purslane exists. The pale-golden green leaves are fleshier than the ones growing wild in my garden, but also more fragile and the plant is not as robust. I prefer the unimproved version.
So how do you eat purslane? Read more
I am not a professional forager, but I do harvest wild plants for eating. The easy ones are summer berries, autumn berries, and pawpaws; the more glamorous ones, morels & chanterelles (although to be truthful, my husband does most of the mushroom hunting); the prettier ones edible flowers like this one or that one; we even got spice… and the humbler ones are greens. And at the end of winter, I can’t get enough fresh green things to eat.
With the snow finally receding, I go to the garden for those wild greens. Few fields are safe nowadays because of herbicides, and I don’t gather from active pastures! So they are wild in the sense that I did not plant them, not because they are in the wild. In fact, many people think of those early greens as “weeds”, yet they are flavorful and nutritious.
Mache (Corn salad) is hardly wild, but it reseed wildly in my garden… and I have seen it in at least two graveled parking lots around here. It is anyhow very early, actually growing through the winter – with accelerated growth in March and early April. For me, it bolts mid-April. With the help of a cold frame, one could harvest it in any weather. Without, you just wait for the snow to melt. There! Vibrant green. Fresh. A delicious salad. I wrote about growing mache before, but really I have not planted mache in years. I just let it reseed.
Then we have hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), a small peppery green from the mustard family. It’s native to Eurasia but has made a home in many gardens in North America. I did not realize until recently that it was edible. I don’t find the plant overly bitter, more like a strong watercress (which I am told grow around here but I have not yet found any myself). But I pick it before it goes to flower – flowering generally changes the taste of a plant (lettuce becomes bitter for example). In fact, when in seed, the plant explodes it ripe seed head, projecting seeds away… maybe even in the eyes of the weeding gardener… Gatherer, be warned! Like mache, hairy bittercress grows in a rosette, so I just cut it at the root level with scissors (which is also how I harvest mache). As for any greens, wash well in a big bowl of water to remove any accumulated soil or debris, and remove any yellowed or tattered leave. Leave the rosette whole or break it. We eat it raw in salad, but it can also be cooked… should you happen to gather several gallons of it.
Finally, the third green that’s abundant for me right now is chickweed (Stellaria media), another European native. It’s a bit tattered at the moment now because of the melting snow, but in a week or two, it’ll just be blush againl. Chicken of course adore chickweed, and soon enough, we’ll share. Meanwhile the tips go in salad. If I feel fancy, in early April, I’ll gather whole plants and make a puree soup of the most beautiful green.
People also harvest dandelion greens and field cress, but I find them too bitter when raw, and I just don’t cook them. If I want cooked greens, I can reach in my freezer; I am hankering for salad right now, so mache, hairy bittercress and chickweed are helping to bulk up the salad bowl. And for that, I am grateful.
It’s a little hard to get live green food out of the cold frames right now.
And anyway, we don’t have that many cold frames; … and they weren’t planted that thickly… and they’ve been depleted by earlier harvests. We just need to get more cold frames (not just Reemay over hoops)… and we are working on that.
Meanwhile, what’s to do to get fresh salad greens while waiting for the snow to melt so I can harvest mache, Austrian winter pea shoots and maybe arugula and some land cress? One sprouts.
Because, frankly, I really want to avoid lettuce grown like this.
Sprouting is easy. Gather some wide-mouth pint or quart canning jars and some food-grade seeds (NOT seeds for planting which may be treated with something noxious).