Archive for beverage

Locust Blossoms: Bottle Spring!

locust IMG_2745

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

On Blackberries (and Creme de Blackberry recipe)

blackberries 011

Before I planted blackberries in the garden, I used to go forage for them. They grow all over the place, tenaciously clinging to their chosen spot and taking over the neighborhood: the clump expands rapidly and any cane that touches the ground roots to produce yet another plant. They are ferocious too with long hard and sharp thorns that will draw blood as you gingerly try to pluck a berry. It takes quite a while to pick a gallon of wild blackberries

But not the plants I have: they are thornless with large and flavorful berries. Labels have –  of course –  been lost, but at least one of them (based on its behavior) is “Triple Crown”, the other might be “Apache” and “Navaho”.  They are beautiful in bloom and mesmerizing in fruit. Last winter, I did not prune them. I mean, I meant to prune them, but it never happened. And that Triple Crown took full advantage of it,  pushing itself over the timid raspberries, flinging its 10-ft long canes in the asparagus bed, and blocking all the paths around it. On the bright side, it’s producing lots of berries. Which for now need to be picked every other days, but soon, it’ll be every day.

blakberry harvest 012

Harvest every other days … and it’s only the beginning of the season.

And so I have to do something with them. Here are some ideas: Read more

Foraging for Wild Summer Berries (and Shrub recipe)

Wineberries and a few wild blackberries

Wineberries – and a few wild blackberries

Who hasn’t plucked and munched on a handful of wild blackberries or huckleberries while hiking? Didn’t it feel like a tiny treasure hunt, the taste of wild berries sharper, more intense than their tamed counterparts?

Sure, foraging for berries takes time, but you didn’t lift a finger, did not drop a single bead of sweat  to propagate, nurture, plant, weed, fertilize nor water the little suckers! You only have to show up and pick.  Even with decent foraging skills,  a couple of hours of picking yields a harvest that may look slim.  After all, I can pick 5 times faster from tidy rows of ‘Apaho’, ‘Triple Crown’ or ‘Navajo’ – three widely planted thornless cultivars – than from a fiercely tangled thorny thicket of wild blackberries. (yes, I have measured!)… but of course the tidy rows have to be maintained, pruned, trellised, weeded, mowed…

Besides, there is nothing like picking wild berries on a warm scented summer morning: the sweetly clean fragrance of pink bouncing-bet, the sharp minty smell of trampled horsemint, the aroma of over ripe berries, the muskiness of rotting vegetation, the heady pervasive scent of flowering basswood humming with bees… it’s… wild! And some berries simply are not cultivated. So if you want them, you get to pick.

Most common berries fruiting in June or July for us include: Read more

Blackberries, Sweet & Tart

blackberry sherbet 001 comp

Blackberries are producing madly. They have been loving this more temperature summer. Me too! And so they have rewarded us with beaucoup berries since mid-July. For a few weeks in fact they were producing along the Saturn flat peach. ahhh…

flat peach & blackberries Loads just got bagged and tossed in the freezer. Lots got turned into jam, some mixed with blueberries. New to me this year was blackberry gastrique, an awful name if there ever was one: just hearing it makes me want to reach for the bottle of crème de menthe. But it is a homemade competitor to flavored balsamic vinegar — a syrupy blackberry vinegar akin to shrub that I like to drizzle on hard cheese, add to sparkling water, use for vinaigrette, baste ribs or chicken on the grill. I had heard of gastrique before but dismissed it , unjustly based on its name. I came across this video from Sherri Brooks Vinton and realized it was akin to shrub. I made it and I am hooked. I have since made Peach ginger gastrique and there is a tomato one in the works.

And then I have been having fun with sherbet using honey from our hives. This version came by accident: I wanted to make sherbet with buttermilk (something similar to this blueberry sherbet) but there was none in the fridge. There was however sour cream, so that is what I used. Instead of my usual vodka (used to prevent the sherbet from becoming too icy) I splashed in some crème de cassis. Wow! I was really pleased with the depth of flavors and the mouthful – it is, in fact, one of my favorite sherbet. Don’t sweat the proportions too much: let your taste buds guide you. I was reakky measuring when I was making it.

So without more ado, 2 recipes: Blackberry Gastrique and Blackberry Honey Sherbet. Read more

The First Two Days of Christmas

Christmas Day –  dinner for 9.

Locally smoked salmon with creme fraiche tartines (homemade baguette)

Cream of butternut squash & parsnips with truffle oil (butternut squash from guest Wendy ‘s garden. This is Wendy’ second year of gardening only and she – unlike me – had a very nice winter squash harvest. Thanks for sharing, Wendy!)

Green garden salad (mache, lettuces, chicories, chickweed & arugula) with fresh persimmon slices, dry cranberries & toasted pecans. Blackberry vinaigrette.

Roasted leg of Piedmont lamb with garlic, rosemary & ginger. Fennel carrots, mashed potatoes & sautéed oyster mushrooms

Cheese platter (Virginia and other American cheeses), homemade quince paste

A fabulous chocolate torte AND profiteroles made by guest and professional baker Brooke Parkhurst of Triple Oak Bakery (amazingly delicious and gluten-free!)

Dainties, locally roasted coffee and homemade cordials.

Served with Virginia Wines:  Barboursville Brut, RdV Friends & Family 2008, and dessert Chateau O’Brien Virginia Apple Wine.

 

The First Day of Christmas – walk it off

The Second Day of Christmas  – make limoncello

Read more

On Cherries

cherry orchard, June-07-11 007

I first encountered really fresh cherries when I was 15 – a defining age to meet a flat of just picked sun-gorged brilliant cherries, I can tell you. On the tropical island where I grew up, cherries do not fruit – they grow, but without a cold dormancy period, they do not fruit. Papayas, mangoes, longans, cherymoyas, pineapple, yes. But cherries are an exotic expensive luxury that travels a long way to get to Reunion Island – like litchis in Virginia. So I was 15, my family was living in Provence for year, and Provence has wonderful cherries. I was hooked. Read more

Strawberry Liqueur

liqueur-strawberry-2011-05-080

Time to make more strawberry liqueur! The 2009 batch is almost all gone – the liqueur gets a little darker as it ages.but retained its fragrance. It’s a nice drink to sip by the wood stove in winter or – slightly chilled – on the porch in summer, watching the fireflies.

The original entry was made in May 2009, the recipe is just repeated below

Homemade Lemon-Verbena Strawberry Liqueur.

  • 4 cups, washed, hulled and quartered strawberries, any bad spot removed
  • 3 cups vodka *
  • a 1/2 cup of fresh lemon verbena leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 heaping cup sugar

In a large lidded glass jar, combine all 4 ingredients. Stir well. Cap. Stir daily for 2 weeks until the sugar is fully dissolved. Then place in a cool dark place for 6 weeks and let age. Strain strawberries through a clean butter muslin cloth. Let drip for several hours. Discard solids. Repeat straining to have liquid as limpid as possible. Bottle. The cloudy part of the liqueur may settle. Decant into new containers. The cloudy part is fine to cook or drink – it’s just not as pretty.

* Note: in those states that allow the sale of pure grain alcohol (180 – or so – proof), you may replace the 3 cups of vodka with 1.5 cup of grain alcohol. After aging and straining the liquid, add 1.5 cup distilled or unchlorinated well water.

The Year of Rhubarb

rhurbab-cordial-04

Or maybe it’ll be “A Year In Rhubarb”, given the voracity with which I am acquiring stalks for the kitchen. I can’t help it: there are so many plump juicy stems for sale… I have to make up for years of deprivation, you know: there was no rhubarb growing on the tropical island where I spent my childhood.

I am hearing from growers that this year’s wet cool spring has done wonder for rhubarb. Unfortunately, the cool spring is ending this week as we not-so-gently steam and wilt with the thermometer reaching 90 degrees  ( 32 C). The wet part is still on though with copious rain showers every day – rather tropical, really. What that will do for rhubarb is anybody’s guess, but I am furiously buying rhubarb. Close to 30 pounds to date, and few weeks to go still…

It’s been fun. I’ve made ice-cream (several batches and settled on proportions I like), sorbet, syrup, cordial, compote, tartelettes, fresh strawberry & ginger rhubarb tart, jam (some with elder blossom cordial, some with vanilla bean and some with fresh ginger root), rhubarb strudel (or was that baklava?) as well as fresh rhubarb chutney (delicious with a rack of lamb). And frozen a bunch, should I suddenly have a craving for rhubarb. It could happen.

It’s about time I share some recipes… so… on today’s episode we’ll learn to cook rhubarb once and make no less than 4 dishes! We’ll delve into the secret lives of rhubarb (oh… wait… we did that already!). Oh, well, then we’ll … learn how to coax the juice  from those stalks without turning them into mush and we’ll make first a  happy rosy syrup, and then a sweet and even happier little cordial. Read more

Elder Blossom Lemonade

elder-blossom-syrup-2009-06-0091

A plant of our hedgerows and abandoned fields that are being reconquered by the forest, the elder favors the sides of ditches and embankments – especially those with a bit of shade. Oh, it grows well enough in full sun, but it seems to appreciate the extra moisture that accumulates in ditches.

Elder is a plant of the edge – maybe a plant ON the edge – making do with full sun or part shade – unable to decide whether it wants to really be in the meadow. Because of its widespread natural habitat, Sambucus (the botanical name for the genus) plays a role in many folklores: Scandinavians, Mediterraneans, North American Indians all had legends of the Elder … giving rises to conflicting stories of goodness and evil, stories that bellies its sun/shade qualities. At the edge, neither sun nor shade, neither evil nor saintly.

elder-blossom-2009-06-172

Even its name – both the common and the botanical name in fact – harks back to old times. Read more

S Is For Strawberries

Or is it for Swiss chard?

because my chard is doing quite well, thank you very much. I am now harvesting two big bunches a week, and with all that rain, and that nice temperature, it’s growing and growing and growing – as you can see from the photo taken just after a harvest, a couple of days ago, of ‘Lucullus’, a chard with a white respectable-sized stem and pale green leaves. It has grown remarkably well in the 7 weeks since I transplanted it out.

swiss-chard-lucullus-2009-05-124

I also have planted perpetual Swiss Chard, ‘Golden’ Swiss chard (with, you guessed it, has yellow stems), ‘Rhubard’ Swiss chard (with red stem) and another one with dark green leaves and white stem which label has been lost. And the one self seeding from last year. Those are not as far along as ‘Lucullus’, because I started them later.

Yes, I like Swiss chard.

I like strawberries too. And Tristar, is, again, not disappointing: small, abundant and bursting with flavor.

strawberry-tristar-2009-05-032

So, of course, I am making sorbet. I am also making strawberry jam Read more