My favorite banana custard involves no cooking whatsoever. No, it doesn’t involve opening a package of store-bought “custard” either. In fact, it requires a stroll along the creek with my nose up in late summer: I am looking for native wild pawpaws (Asimina triloba) that are ripening now and in early fall, sometimes as late as October – depending on the tree and its location. They aren’t showy, but they are easy to recognize: small understory trees with large vaguely-tropical-looking drooping leaves that turn a bright pure yellow in mid-fall. They grow mostly along bottomland creeks, forming ever expanding thickets, often at the edge of the woods. Read more
Archive for Wild Food
a creamy luscious fruit redolent of mango, guava and banana…
Strawberries are the first berries to ripen for us here in the Northern Virginia Piedmont. The most common ones that you are likely to grow or buy are the June bearers. They produce a big flush over a few weeks in late May or June, and then they are done until next year. Day neutral cultivars like ‘Tristar’ or Alpine strawberries produce a little bit all summer long. I pick about a quart of strawberries every week from my ‘Tristar’ patch and that works well for us.
I have just cleaned out my white and red currant bushes. They make the easiest jelly since they have so much pectin, and one of the tastiest and prettiest too, a gorgeous brilliant clear red… that is, if you don’t press the jelly bag while it’s dripping. This year, I exercised great restraint and did not squeeze the jelly bag! But I was not going to waste so much pulp, so I processed the left over berries through the food mill’s finest plate. The strained currant pulp was mixed with sugar and black cherries to make a currant/black cherry jam. Cherries are low in pectin so the jam can be a little tricky to set sometimes…. but not if you use currant as the base for the jam! And the tartness of the currant is very pleasant.
I don’t grow gooseberries but I am told by friends who do that they are ripening now. Well… I do have one small shrub, and last year I turned the few berries it produce into a charming little pink lemonade. But the shrub and I are not really well acquainted yet… I still have a lot to learn about gooseberries. They may be an acquired taste…
We are in the middle of blueberry season. And what a glorious season it is! As all other fruit so far they started a little earlier than usual too. We eat them raw, but since cultivated blueberries can taste a little flat, I like to mix them with other berries for berry salads. They also ake excellent ice-creams and sherbets – try it with a Reine De Saba (almond and chocolate cake).
Or layer it with angel food cake for a very pretty ice-cream sandwich cake that can be made way ahead of time. And just before serving, a fresh barely cooked blueberry sauce.
Of course, a few pots of jam – what’s not to like about blueberry jam? and the rest in the freezer.
It’s been a good year for morels… they are even reported to be growing in people’s front yard or back yard or back door. Not mine though. Keith has to go hunt them in the woods. It’s such a good year in fact that our world famous restaurant The Inn at Little Washington is selling them at the Inn Shops. It is said that many morel hunters will show up at the Inn’s back door to sell their catch… it must be very many with lots of bags then…
But after a dry winter, we’ve had rain, lots of rain (some with flooding), extremely mild spring temperatures – we’ve only hit 85F (yesterday) and it’s cooling off again. Some years we have high temperatures much earlier in April. I think morels like a mild spring with some cool nights (but not frosty). In other words… they like my kind of spring weather. Read more
I have know for a while that autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata) were edible. I just never took the time to go after them. But this year seems to be the year when I started to forage more consistently (bird cherries, wineberries, elderberries, chestnuts, Japanese quince, pawpaws, wild grapes etc) and so when a shrub of autumn olives shimmering in yesterday’s morning sun called to me, I grabbed a bucket and I started to pick. Let me tell you what a nice way to while away an hour it was (and do something useful too!). Warm (but not too warm) sun on my back, the berries like little prayer grains under my fingers, my mind ticking all the reasons such a cursed plant (by some) provides for thankfulness. Because, truly, what’s not to like about autumn olives? Read more
A guest post from the resident hunter, Keith. Hunting season starts October 3 this year. Sylvie.
This (past) weekend we hosted an English Shakespearean acting troupe which inspired me to write on hunting.
These were young city-folk who were hosted by families in The County. I try to go over the top being a good host and trot out, among other country toys, my hunting bow. The modern hunting bow is about as similar to the English long bow as a Cuisinart is to a butcher’s knife.
Tim & Tom, our guests, described the act of shooting an arrow as “incredibly satisfying.” There’s a whole ritual of donning arm protection, then putting on a device for releasing the arrow, gripping the bow, drawing back on the string, sighting, breathing, and finally the release. (The book Zen and the Art of Archery is a great read.) With this modern bow and minimal training, these novices were quickly releasing killing shots. Read more
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.
Even its name – both the common and the botanical name in fact – harks back to old times. Read more
I know. I am supposed to post the recipe for Pork Rillettes. But I am too tired. It’s spring after all, with its myriad tasks: making new beds, planting like crazy, transplanting like there is no tomorrow, watching the chicken scratch through the weeds, weeding!, uppotting tomatoes, feverishly writing labels… and ah! yes! morels! from the hills! fresh! meaty! smelling of the forest floor…
I’ll post the rillettes recipe. Just not today.
Should you go walking along a bottomland stream in Rappahannock County, you are likely to encounter pawpaws (or paw-paws or paw paws). You may not notice them though – unless you paid attention – because they are small under story trees that grow in clumps. Nothing majestic about a pawpaw tree! Blooming in April or early May, the pawpaw hangs its maroon bell-shaped flowers on bare branches. Its fairly large drooping leaves are vaguely tropical looking. Its fruit is decidedly exotic looking – a reminder that the pawpaws’ cousins are tropical denizens (think Custard Apples or Cherimoya). However, the plant (Asimina triloba) is firmly native to our area, the Northern Piedmont and, more broadly to eastern North America; it is the only larval host of the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly – another sign, if you see lots of Zebra swallowtails in summer , to look for trees in the vicinity. The fruit ripen in September – and you do have to look for them! The wild trees are typically shy fruiters (its flowers fertilized by carrion flies). The fruit hang down toward the branch tips, singly or in small clusters, looking like small, vaguely kidney-shape, mangoes – somewhat difficult to spot.
We just went checking on the ones I had noticed earlier in the summer. Still there – for now. I picked a few that seemed softer than most, but after tasting one, I’ll wait to pick more. The flesh is creamy, and when ripe, reminiscent of bananas, mangoes, guava – or cherimoya. No surprise that some of its common names are Hoosier banana, prairie banana, Kentucky bananas, Ozark banana etc. I’ll wait until there is more black showing and the fruit is softer before picking more (if raccoons or other creatures don’t beat me to it): just like real banana, I like my Hoosier banana ripe! The ones I picked will continue to ripen inside – again just like bananas.
How do you eat them? With a spoon…
A few weeks ago, I blogged about picking up berries in the hedge rows – free wild food… well.. free as in “spend no cash”, but after several hours in the delightful mugginess and bugginess characteristic of a Virginia summer, the numerous scratches that you have collected – not matter how careful or layered you were – and the (relatively) meager harvest, you understand why berries seem so expensive when you buy them. And those are the cultivated ones that grow meekly and obediently in rows and trellises. Wild berries are … well… wild in how they grow – and you do have to keep an eye out for snakes and bears. It’s always amazing the things some people will do for wild berries!
So I froze berries by the bag full and jubilantly made wild blackberry sorbet & wineberry sorbet.
Then I read about Sugar High Friday on FoodBlogga where bloggers and non-bloggers alike are invited to make a dessert featuring berries and send it to the organizer. The round-up is the brain child of Jennifer at the Domestic Goddess. I am very new to the blogosphere – having had high speed internet only very recently and just discovering all those neat food blogs out there. I am still struggling with a lot of the technical blog stuff, but I can cook (or so I’d like to think). While dessert is not necessarily my forte, I’ve got berries: besides the aforementioned wild blackberries and wineberries, the garden is currently producing a few late blueberries, day-neutral strawberries, the odd raspberries and alpine strawberries (neither of which by the way is a berry, botanically speaking; but that will be a post for another time). Mmm… I hope Jennifer meant “Berries” as cooks and gardeners would mean it – not as botanists…
[Update August 4, 2008: Stop by FoodBlogga where Susan posted today pictures and links to 82 desserts all featuring berries, some very simple and some quite elaborate – but all looking simply delicious.]
Anyway, why not try to make a dessert, a COOL dessert – as it’s way too hot to do any real baking around here – that I could send in? A dessert good enough for a festive occasion but simple enough to assemble on any week night – as all the components – except for the fresh berries – can be made days (or even weeks) in advance. It’ll give me a topic for a post and will make my friend Margaret happy since she asked me to post a sorbet recipe using berries. Voila! I love it when I can accomplish several things at once! (Margaret: do note, you are getting TWO new sorbet recipes, two herbal syrup recipes that may be used in ice-teas and cocktails AND the dessert is fat free if you omit the toasted almonds and the whipped cream)
And so Peachy-Wild Berries Jubilee was born.(It did not stay alive very long: hands kept trying to grab it as as was trying to take “one more picture”… and if you can pronounce the name 3 times very fast, you get to eat the jubilee). Read more