Quacking from Rappahannock (our blog)

On Growing, Harvesting, and Curing Sweet Potatoes

We love sweet potatoes for many reasons: #1. They are easy to grow and pest free – provided that you can protect them from mice (they eat the tubers) and deer (they eat the vines) #2. They are delicious (if properly cured – I’ll tell 

Spring 2021 Seedling Availability

Updated April 2, 2021 The following are a list of seedling I expect to have available for sale in late April. Pick-up at the house in Washington, VA. Leave a comment with your e-mail address if you have questions and/or for directions. If you would 

Easy Chocolate Cake

Every one should have an easy chocolate cake recipe that they can “whip” together on the spur of the moment with simple ingredients (and one simple enough to memorize). This one is it. Why? Because it’s 5 common ingredients, 4 of them with the same weight, and eggs — not counting baking powder which is an “obvious” one to add, or you could use self-rising flour… but that’s not commonly found in the US. For a change, it’s even easier to remember in oz than in grams: 5 oz each of butter, chocolate, flour, & sugar & 5 eggs! Note that you need a scale whether you use metric measurements or ounces as the recipe calls for WEIGHT ounces, not fluid ounces; if you don’t have a scale, get one. They are inexpensive and take very little room.

Use the best ingredients you can afford: since the cake is really simple, it will only be as good as the ingredients you use. I prefer a chocolate like Santa Barbara, Guittard, or Valhrona, and a good quality all purpose flour like King Arthur. I use butter from pastured cows (and I really like Kerry Gold), and eggs from my hens. Nonetheless, if you are just whipping it together with ingredients from the pantry, then use what you have on hand…. even milk chocolate will do if that all you have. Because sometimes, you just want chocolate cake.

It’s an easy recipe to customize or dress up by substituting nut flour or other flour for some of the all-purpose flour (up to 1/3 by weight); by adding a glug of brandy or dark rum; by dropping in a handful of chopped crystallized ginger (or chocolate chips etc). It’s just like the little black dress: simply beautiful by itself, it will also benefit from all kinds of adornments…

  • 150 g (5 oz) salted butter (if using unsalted butter, add a good pinch of salt to the flour)
  • 150 g (5 oz) dark chocolate
  • 150 g (5 oz) sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 150 g (5 oz) all-purpose flour + 1 Tablespoon of baking powder (or 150 g self-rising flour)

Melt butter with dark chocolate over double-boiler (Bain-Marie). Off the heat, whisk in sugar, then the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Finally mix in the flour (with a spatula) + 1 T baking powder, as well as pinch of salt if using unsalted butter. Pour in buttered and floured pan (either a bundt pan, or a 3-inch tall x 9-inch diameter round pan [7.5 cm tall x 23 cm diameter). Bake 40-45mn at 325-350 F ( 165-175 C) until a knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. I often will do 20 minutes at 350 then 325.

Let cool, then frost/ice with your favorite icing/frosting. I like a simple ganache, made by heating gently 100 g (3.5 oz) of heavy whipping cream, with 200 g (7 oz) dark chocolate, whisking until the chocolate melts. Then whisk in a pat of butter. Let cool until somewhat harden. If using a bundt pan, drip the still-pourable (but thick) ganache on the cake without covering it entirely. If using a round cake cake, let the ganache harden until spreadable, and then spread on top and on the side of thecake. This quantity of ganache will generously ice the round cake, you will have some left if using a bundt-pan. Just eat it!


Winter Beets

Winter Beets

I like beets. I like them raw, grated or mandolined. I like them cooked. I like them pickled, whether a simple wine-and-vinegar pickle or in relishes (delicious with meat, salmon, or vegetarian burgers, or a mature cheddar). I like beet sorbet. I like them juiced 

Seasonal Homemade Paté

Paté is a much better use of chicken livers or turkey livers than making stock (Which they make cloudy, anyway) – and you might even be able to feed them to members of the household who profess not to like liver by itself, but will 

Why and How I Make Ice Tea at Home

Why and How I Make Ice Tea at Home

Years ago I read that, at mid-game during a soccer match, electric plants in England (or maybe that was Wales) had to be ready for the enormous power surge required for millions of kettles plugged in all at the same time to make tea at mid-game. It made me think how such a small gesture (plugging an electric kettle in)  multiplied by millions had a huge impact. Mountain top removal, new electric high-tension power lines slashing through the countryside, fracking… those are all – in part at least – driven by seemingly small energy decisions that each of us make.

In a Virginia summer though, we don’t want hot tea, we drink ice-tea. Ice-tea needs not be made with boiling water. Ice-tea needs not be store-bought in a bottle either. Verily, it is very easy to make ice-tea, and pour some into a bottle you can take with you. And so inexpensive.

Continue reading Why and How I Make Ice Tea at Home

It’s not too late to make sweet potato slips.

It’s not too late to make sweet potato slips.

Sweet potatoes are now a winter staple in our household, because they are tasty, nutritious, versatile in the kitchen, fairly easy to grow and store well. Despite their name they are NOT a potato (no more than a day-lily is a “lily” or a primrose 

A Way To Prepare Morels

2020 seems to be a good year for morels. Lots of people in the countryside are bringing home nice morel dinner. Chuck it to the last two mild and nicely wet (but not too wet) winters and… to having plenty of time. I like morels 

Eat the Invasives (Garlic Mustard)

Eat the Invasives (Garlic Mustard)

Unless we’ve been diligent in the fall planting for an early spring harvest, our gardens are not always as green as we want at this time of the year. There are however plenty of “weeds” (read: unwanted plants) to eat if we make the effort to identify them and to harvest them form “clean” places. The time to gather chickweed and hairy bittercress is mostly over here in my neck of the wood, but now is prime time to gather garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is a non-native viscerally hated by many people because it does spread like crazy. Since it is allelopathic, it produces compounds that deter other (native) plants from growing, it really can wreck the little remaining wildness we have. It is not picky about where it grows but seems to prefer open woods and lightly shaded area. In fact, volunteers gather to help clear it from the National Shenandoah Park on a regular basis. So, do your part: eat it. Make sure that you pull out the whole plant including the roots when you harvest so as to to give the plant a chance to grow more flowers or do continue to produce allelopathic compounds thru its roots.

Pull the entire plants including roots (those roots are edible by the way, but quite fibrous, so I don’t use them, but discard them in my burn pile (or trash)

Garlic mustard is flavorful, pungent even … but not as pungent as arugula. When minced or processed in a food processor, it retains it beautiful green color (unlike basil). The 2 quick-to-make recipes I share take advantage of those 2 characteristics. In each case, only use the tender tips (flowers are OK) and fresh-looking unblemished leaves. Wash and dry in a salad spinner. Discard the remaining plant material (especially the roots) in your burn pile (or sigh… the trash) because of its allelopathy.

Either recipe can be frozen in small quantity for later use.

Garlic mustard tops & leaves: cleaned and ready to be processed


Based on a recipe from Paul Virant, The Preservation Kitchen

  • 1 cup garlic mustard tops (or mustard greens or arugula), coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 spring garlic/garlic scallion  (or substiture garlic chives or green onion tops)
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon (preferably organic)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup extar virgin olive oil

Blend all together in a food processor just to combine, drizzling in the olive oil while blending.

Use it as a dip, as a sauce for grilled veggies, poultry, meat, or a robust fish


  • 4 to 5 cups garlic mustard tops (I really don’t measure, but sort of loosely fill the food processor)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped nuts (the pix show almonds because I like them, but any nuts or even sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds will do very nicely)
  • Extra Virgin olive oil – just enough to moisten it to the consistency you like – maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup of hard grated cheese (parmesan, romano, cheddar… whatever you have)

Blend the garlic mustard & nuts together in a food processor just to combine, drizzling in the olive oil while blending until the mix reaches a consistency you like. Turn the blade off and scrape the side of the bowl with a spatula a few times. I mostly use mine to spread on bread, so I keep it pretty thick (see pic below). Add salt & cheese, and whirl just to combine.

How to use: as a spread; mix with mayo; toss with pasta or soba noodles; spoon some on top of a bowl of brown rice.

Processed, fairly thick, before adding the cheese.

Winter 2020 feeding Pollen Substitute

It is only February 5th and I’ve begun feeding protein/pollen substitute (Dadant AP23). I’ve never fed protein this early before, but the extremely mild winter to date has the bees reproducing in volume and they need protein. I keep bees in Rappahannock County in northern