29 September 2013

A Glut of Feral Apples

Due to caribougrrl's inability to walk past an apple tree without picking some, things have gotten out of hand.  In an attempt to clear the dining table to accommodate some dinner guests tomorrow, Fefe Noir spent some time putting them up.  She thinks this will also reduce the number of little apples the cats liberate and re-purpose as toys.

A small portion of the feral apples littering the house, and the borrowed cute little ancient British apple corer.

Dried Apple Rings

Keep apples handy by washing them in a bowl near your
work area.  Once cored and sliced, drop immediately into
lemon water.

feral apples*, **
juice of one lemon

*the number or weight of apples you need depends on how much room you can make in your oven
** you could use cultivated apples if that's what you can get

Start by digging all your wire cooling racks out of your cupboards and finding baking sheets they can sit on steadily (the little legs are not precariously balanced on rims; the legs either sit properly on the baking sheet or fully overhang it).  Once you've got racks and trays matched up, sort out how many will fit in your oven.

Preheat oven to 150F.

Fill a mixing bowl 3/4 full of water and add the lemon juice.

Make a guess at how many apples it will take to fill the space on your wire racks with round slices.  Wash that many.

Dry the apples one at a time.  Using an apple-corer, core the apples.  If you don't have an apple corer, beg borrow or buy one.  Since feral apples are tiny, Fefe borrowed her mother's ancient British apple-corer which is narrower than the ones generally available for sale in North America these days.

Slice the apples fairly thinly (but most importantly, slice them fairly evenly) into rings.  Drop the rings in the water and keep coring and slicing.  Reserve the cores and uneven ends and apples with bad spots (cut the bad spots out for your compost bin, put the rest of the apple aside with the cores) for making apple jelly (see below).

When you think you have enough, lay them out in a single layer on the wire racks.  If you didn't slice enough, do a few more.  If you sliced too many, put the extra aside with the cores for apple jelly.

Lay out in a single layer on the wire rack.
Dehydrate in oven for 2.5 to 4.5 hours.  Check them once in a while.  If you sliced them thickly, they will take a long time.  If you sliced them very very thinly, you will get apple chips.  Take them out when they are dry and shrunken and the consistency you were aiming for (you will have to bite into one to check).  If your apples are very juicy, they will take longer than if they are dry-ish.

If you are reluctant to give up oven space, or you oven is too small, there is good news:  you can dehydrate apples in your car!  (Provided you live in a sunnier place than Newfoundland)

Feral Apple Jelly

Following Marguerite Patten's 500 Recipes: Jams Pickles Chutneys (yikes!  see if you can borrow it from your local library or find it at a yard sale)

Use the scraps from your dried apple project and top  up
with additional apples as needed for the jelly.

feral apples*, including scraps from apple rings (see above)

*or crabapples, or cultivated apples

Using as many apples as you want to or need to (but a minimum of 2 lbs).  Wash the apples if they've been exposed to pesticides or road side dust or if you will feel better having washed them.  Cut the big ones in half or quarters, leave the tiny ones whole.  

Put the apples into a large saucepan.  Add 1 cup of water per pound of fruit.  Simmer the apples until they are pulpy.  Watch them fairly closely and stir once in a while so you don't burn them.  Fefe's took about an hour but that can change depending on the total volume in the pot, how vigorous a simmer you have, the variety of apple, the growing conditions this year, etc.  So watch them.  So while you are waiting, do things that keep you close to the kitchen... for one thing, set up your jelly bag or muslin or other drip system.

Fefe Noir stole caribougrrl's beside table and
turned it over to set up the cheese cloth for
the jelly drip.
To strain the jelly, Fefe used a double layer of cheesecloth suspended from an upturned side table (see photo) and placed a large mixing bowl underneath.  Once the cheesecloth is securely tied, and the apples are fully cooked, transfer the stewed apple and all the liquid into the strainer by adding one ladle-full at a time. Leave overnight to strain.

Do not squeeze the cheesecloth.  You will be tempted to, because there will be a slightly disappointing amount of precious liquid in the bowl in the morning but do. not. squeeze.  This is jelly, not jam.  Sure, it will only make a little bit, but that's okay because if you have too much you will get tired of it anyway.

Use the liquid for the jelly and run the pulp through a food mill or push it through a sieve to remove skin, seed, stems, etc.  There's a lot of goodness still left in that pulp, so if you won't be needing it immediately (for baked good or desserts, ketchup or other sauce), it can be frozen for a short period until ready for use.  

Measure the liquid and put it in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Add 1/2 lb sugar for each cup of liquid. Stir to combine and heat to dissolve.  Bring to a rapid boil and watch constantly, boiling until set.  There is a lot of pectin in apple jelly so it will set quickly, keep a cold plate handy for checking the set frequently.  Fefe's took about 10 minutes.  She also suggests that you don't start unloading the dishwasher because if you're distracted, your jelly might boil over or burn and the smoke detector may go off upsetting the dogs and creating mayhem as apple jelly shellac adheres to the surface of your stove.  Hypothetically, that is.

Pour into sterilized jars leaving some air space at the top.  If you are planning to store the jelly, heat process appropriate for your altitude and take the usual precaution of refrigerating any unsealed jars and using quickly.  We're practically at sea level and Fefe Noir processed ours for 10 minutes.


The Madonna cat is obsessed with the feral apples.   As it turns out, they make great cat toys (so long as you don't mind apples rotting under your sideboard...).

A Glut of Feral Apples on Punk Domestics

22 September 2013

Feral Apple Sourdough

When I first read about wild-caught yeast sourdoughs, I was immediately attracted to the idea. But, I lack the discipline to remember to bring a bowl of flour with me to leave open somewhere nearby when foraging for apples or other fruit. Then one day, an imaginary friend on the internet casually mentioned remembering her grandmother starting sourdough by burying grapes in flour and leaving them overnight.  I sat bolt upright, recognizing a do-able plan.


By do-able, I mean the the theory was good.  I'm a practiced bread-baker, but I've never done a sourdough.  There are piles of dusty apples on the counter and the fridge is full of lethargic sourdough starters with their complicated histories written on the container in sharpie.  Fefe Noir is thinking about taking up curling since that seems to be all the rejected loaves are good for.   The good news:  I figured it out.

Difficult?  Oh, yes.  But don't worry, I made all the mistakes already and it will be a breeze when you do it... 

Feral Apple Sourdough Bread

adapted from Wild Yeast's 47% Rye Bread

Feral apples can be found on abandoned properties, near
trails, and pretty much anywhere Johnny Appleseed went.
600 g feral apple sourdough starter (see below)
1 tbsp birch syrup or fancy molasses
340 g unbleached all purpose flour
350 g Red Fife flour
3/4 tbsp salt
400 g water (~ 2-1/2 cups), tap-hot

In a large mixing bowl, combine sourdough starter with birch syrup.  Let rest for a few minutes while you weigh your flours.  Stir flours, salt and about 2/3rds of the water into the sourdough mixture.  Add water as needed to make the dough workable, but not overly wet.

Stir in one direction to build up gluten.  When the dough becomes elastic and difficult to stir, change your technique a bit to a stir and lift motion.  Long strands of gluten will become visible, pulling from the sides of the bowl as you stir.  Your arm will be getting sore but you're almost done.  When the dough pulls away from the bowl in one lump as you lift and long sheets of dough form from the spoon, stop stirring. 

Turn dough out into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rest for 1 hour.

If, like I was, you are not accustomed to making sourdough bread, you will find the dough seems rather sticky. It is rather sticky. If you try to make it not sticky, you may end up with a loaf that doesn't rise during baking, and will do a lovely job as a doorstop but be impossible to saw through much less delicately slice for tea sandwiches (ask me how I know).

Flour your hands.  Keep a bowl with some flour handy for dusting your hands as needed.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in two.  Stretch each half into a long rectangle, fold the end thirds over the middle, turn over, cover and let rest 30 minutes.

If you will be using a loaf pan, lightly oil the pan and dust with flour.  If you will be making a free-form loaf, I highly recommend baking it on parchment paper on a pizza stone.  If you don't have a pizza stone, you can preheat a heavy baking sheet.  Or buy a pizza stone, it's well worth it.

Lightly deflate each rectangle.  Turn over and roll into a loaf from the short side.  Place in baking pan and slash the top of the loaf to allow expansion during baking.  If you are making a free form loaf, make sure the edges are well tucked, the seam is well sealed and on the bottom of the loaf.  You will also want to proof the loaf on parchment paper, and raise the sides of the parchment (literally, raise them up, pin them together above the loaf with clothespins or paper clips).  Let rest 1 hour.  Do not be alarmed if the dough does not change in size perceptibly, but the surface should look taut.

Oh, yes.  I made sourdough bread from feral apples.
While the loaves are proofing, pre-heat the oven (with the pizza stone if using) to 475F.  Arrange the oven shelves for the bread to bake in the center with a rack below for a steaming pan.  A few minutes before the bread is done proofing, put a shallow pan with a couple cups of water in it on the lower shelf.  Turn the oven down to 450F and bake the loaves for 12 minutes.  Carefully remove the steaming pan from the oven and continue to cook the loaves for an additional 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.


Feral Apple Sourdough Starter

What you will need:
  • 6 feral apples (or crabapples or other small apples which have not been subject to pesticides, have not been washed and have not  been waxed - whichever you choose, use locally picked apples, the whole point is to make a bread unique to the place you live)
  • Red Fife wheat flour (or other whole grain wheat flour)
  • unbleached all-purpose flour
  • tap water, declorinated
  • patience
The amount of flour needed in total depends on how long your starter takes to mature, and how long you keep it. 

It's important to use unbleached flour and declorinated water to minimize possibility of yeast death, particularly in the early stages of making the starter.  True, I haven't verified the scientific evidence regarding yeast survival in bleached white flour, but why would you use bleached flour anyway?  And why take the risk?  If your tap water is chlorinated, it's easy to declorinate by leaving some in an open container for a few hours allowing the chlorine to evaporate.

Colony Building

basic technique for harvesting yeast followed King Arthur Flour's Grape Sourdough Starter


Day 1

Place the 6 feral apples in a large-ish non-reactive bowl that you won't need to use for other purposes for a while.  Bury them in 150 g of Red Fife and 150 g unbleached white flour.  Cover with a linen tea towel and place the bowl out of reach of children and pets.  Fill a glass jar or other suitable container with water; leave uncovered to dechlorinate.

Day 2

Under the surface liquid, the starter is foamy and bubbling.
Time to start feeding.
Remove apples from flour and tap as much flour as you can from the apples back into the bowl.  Stir 500 ml of dechlorinated water into the flour.  Cover with the tea towel.

Day 3-5

At least once a day, have a peek at your starter, pour off any brownish liquid from the surface, then give it a stir.  Once the starter is foamy and full of bubbles, and begins to form bubbles again immediately after stirring, you can start feeding it (this might happen right away, you don't need to wait for day 5 to move on to feeding)


Stir to combine well; you want an nice smooth batter.  

Day 1-3

If there is liquid on the surface of the starter, pour it off.  On days 1 and 2, add 50 g of each flour and 100 g of dechlorinated water and stir in.  Increase to 75 g of each flour and 150 g water on day 3.  Cover.

Day 4

Figuring out maturity can be difficult; it might look mature
but not smell quite right.  What the hell, make some bread.
The worst possible outcome is having to pitch it out.
Stir the starter and split in half; this should give you two lots of about 600 g starter.  If your starter is not yet mature, feed each starter beginning at Feeding Day 1 again.  You will know when your starter is mature; if you don't know, it isn't mature.  When it is mature, it looks full and foamy and just smells right.  Worst case scenario, you make a batch of bread resembling a cow patty but with the consistency of a hockey puck (ask me how I know).  Don't sweat it.  Keep feeding your starter and wait for it to be ready.

If your starter is mature, use one half of the split to make a batch of bread (see above) and feed only the other half starting at Day 1 again.  As you can see, this schedule will result in making bread every 4 days.  If this is too much for you, store your starter in the refrigerator and feed it every few days instead of every day.


The lore around wild-caught yeast is that there is a lot of regional variation in airborne yeast, thus each region can produce a sourdough bread with a flavour that is really specific to the area.  I love the idea of that.  That the nuances in my feral apple sourdough could only occur here; yours could only occur where you are.  Some magic that is, capturing the essence of a place and baking it in a loaf of bread.

Curator of YeastSpotting and Wild Yeast blogger says this lore is poppycock.  Which might well be true, which is probably true.  But I want my magic Newfoundland feral apple sourdough with it's lovely sourdough tang and undertones of something like apple cider vinegar and empty grain silos (is that my imagination? does it matter?)... I want that magic to be real.  And maybe the bacteria or the yeast on those apples add characteristics to the grain-yeast sourdough that is common across space.  In any case I'll avoid the peer-reviewed research because I don't want to know.  Plus, hey, I made sourdough bread for the first time*.

*By which I mean hours of website and discussion board research, at least three starters and several unsuccessful attempts before finding the combination of starter and baking method that worked in a repeatable way.  Hopefully this will save you some time, effort and frustration.

13 September 2013

Late Summer Stew

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler.  Use late summer vegetables from the garden for this warming and nourishing stew.


Lamb and Broad Bean Stew (if you are Fefe)

Lamb and Fava Bean Stew (if you are caribougrrl)

450g (more or less) lamb, cubed
salt and pepper to season
2 tbsp olive oil
4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4-6 sprigs thyme
2 onions, quartered then sliced
7 carrots, sliced crosswise
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock (see below)
3 tbsp minced garlic
100g shelled fava beans

Plan a couple days in advance if you need to get the end of last year's lamb out of the freezer to make room for the new stuff.  Thaw and cube; bones in or out, whichever you prefer.

Season cubed lamb with salt & pepper.  In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan heat olive oil and sear lamb until browned on all sides, then remove and set aside. You don't want the lamb crowded in the saucepan or it will not brown well; do this in batches if necessary.

Add peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme and onion to hot oil and sautee until onion is translucent and slightly browned.  Add carrots and continue to sautee until carrots begin to soften.  Add garlic and stir to combine.

Add lamb and chicken stock to pot.  Bring to a boil then reduce and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.  That's about the right amount of time for cleaning and freezing the berries you undoubtedly picked earlier in the day.  Check the stew once in a while and give it a stir; add more stock or water if necessary.  

Add the parsley and fava beans and cook for an additional 8 minutes (or until broad beans are cooked).

Serve with boiled new potatoes and steamed yellow wax beans (or whatever other veg is coming out of your garden).  Season to taste with Worcestershire sauce.


Simple Chicken Stock (Really)

fresh or frozen chicken backs and wing tips*
2 large onions, peeled (optional), topped and tailed
1-2 carrots, peeled (optional, but if not peeled, scrubbed free of dirt)
a few peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme**
1 sprig parsley**

*or the carcass of a roast, or some chicken necks, or other parts trimmed from chicken when prepping for other meals... we usually have a bag in the freezer where we keep the back and wing tips (spatchcocked chicken is a staple during bbq season) until we're ready to make stock
**vary your seasonings according to what you have and how you might use the stock, if you don't know how you will use it, err toward very basic (peppercorn and bay leaf only)... you can add flavour later, but you can't remove what's there

Place chicken peices in a large saucepan or stock pot or dutch oven.  Add enough water to cover.  Add vegetables and seasonings.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for a couple of hours.  That's enough time to play a round or two of a German board game.

Let the stock cool to room temperature, strain through a sieve into a large bowl and cool completely in the refrigerator.  Scrape surface fat off the cold stock.  If you are not using the stock right away, portion into useful sized freezer safe containers (1 or 2 cup volumes), and freeze until needed.


If you don't normally make your on stock, you should start to.  I know that makes me sound like someone without kids (true) or much of a social life (also true), but homemade stock makes all the difference in the world. And it's easier than you think, it practically cooks itself.  More importantly, you don't have to wait until you need it to make it: stock freezes very well and won't be harmed if you have to thaw it by putting it in a saucepan and heating it up from frozen.  Plus, what else are you doing on Sunday afternoon?

Okay, it doesn't have to be a Sunday, but whenever you have a few minutes to fill a pot with water and roughly cut up some vegetables, followed by an hour or two where you are puttering around the house and can check on the pot once in a while.  Like a Thursday night after dinner when you're poking around the internet reading food blogs, hanging around in case your hypothetical children need help with their hypothetical homework.  Or in the wee hours of the morning if you're an early riser and the weather's too nasty for a long dog walk.

I know you can buy pre-made broth or stock in tins and tetra-packs.  You can even buy them in the organic section.  Or you can substitute water.  But don't.  Water doesn't give you the layered-flavour richeness of broth.  And even if you can find a commercial broth that you can honestly read the ingredient list and sodium content and be happy purchasing, that broth someone else made won't fill your house with the smell of nuturing, hand-crafted coziness.

8 September 2013

The Fruits of our Labour Day

The end of summer, that time when it feels more like a new year than New Year's does, puts us smack dab at the height of the best foraging of the year.  And if you don't believe me, ask any black bear. 

Clockwise from top left:  Feral apples,  wild blueberries, wild blackberries, feral red currants, wild beaked hazelnuts.  I swear, we only planned to pick blackberries.

We had a great dinner with some old friends recently, and like always with these friends, we had a fantastic time, a fantastic meal, and spent an extraordinary amount of that time talking about food.  I was surprised to find out that one of them carries some pretty big hesitancy around wild foods.  (You know those moments when you remember that not everyone has the same ideas and opinions that you do?  You're surprised but you shouldn't be.  Those moments that remove your philosophical bubble and give you some context of reality.  Yeah, that happened to me.)  She does make exceptions for familiar berries, so when we set out on our Labour Day trip to pick blackberries, we figured we should base a post on them so our friend doesn't think we only eat the dangerous sorts of foraged food.

Blackberries are one of the best trips we make every year, maybe because they aren't as abundant as other berries, it's that much more satisfying getting them.  It took us a couple of years after we moved here, but we did find a good blackberry spot, one you can actually drive up to: but it's never that simple, is it?  See, if you get on the trail a couple of kilometers east, there's a few other good pockets of blackberry along the way.  So we geared up for a slow afternoon of walking the decommissioned rail bed and picking en route.

Throughout Newfoundland, the bed of the decomissioned railway provides a trail network, both formally  and informally.  It's very walkable but if you are using it on foot, be aware that you are sharing it with ATVs, dirt bikes,  and the occassional pickup truck or even car.

So that single-minded mission of blackberry picking?  Well, since we were headed out and about anyway, we decided to start with a detour for a single-stop, quick trip down another section of the railway trail for a particularly special harvest.

Red Currants

We tried to be good citizens and share the feral currants with others, but when no one else harvested any, you betcha we went back for more.
Red currants don't actually grow wild here (skunk currants do, but I don't think we've stumbled on any as yet), but there's this fantastic red currant bush growing on the side of the trail on one of our regular dog-walking routes.  Undoubtedly, it's ended up there by an act of natural dispersal, or by being dumped in the ditch with a load of garden waste.  Every year we worry someone's going to dig it up and transplant it home, but so far that hasn't happened.  We picked a load of the early ripe berries a month ago, leaving a lot of berries behind because we wanted to share with other local walkers and with the birds and beasts, but time went on and no one else seemed to be using them.  And then they became fully ripe and the bush was filled with shiny translucent jewel-like berries, and we couldn't take walking past them anymore, thus, we started our Labour Day black berry trip with a pair of scissors and a colander to catch the berry clusters as they fell.


Right, well, it can't be helped.  As often as I promise Fefe Noir that I won't get sidetracked by blueberries on blackberry day, I just cannot.walk.past.them.  I mean really, could you?

Plump blueberries grow just about everywhere in Newfoundland.  There is nothing better than free berries.

Blueberries are everywhere in Newfoundland.  That might be a small exaggeration, but it's really nearly true.  Not only are they everywhere, but they're big for wild blueberries and they're so thick, the shrubs are weighed down by them.  

Where the trail runs parallel to a river, the river flats are filled
with giant blueberries, rosehips, juniper berries, raspberry
patches and, yes, even blackberries.
Both of us grew up in Ontario and spent summer trips up north ("up north" is a pretty vague place which, depending where you start from, could refer to anywhere in the northern two-thirds to three-quarters of the land surface).  We both have strong recollections of picking blueberries up north... dispatched with a margarine tub or a plastic toy bucket, accompanied by at least one parent and all the siblings, picking these blue treasures into containers that never seemed to fill.  Ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk, just like Sal. The thing is, all hands on deck, sometimes an entire afternoon would produce only enough blueberries for a batch of muffins or pancakes for breakfast the next morning.  So, although Fefe Noir made a show of rolling her eyes at me she did, of course, humour me my compulsion.  In almost no time, we had about a quart of them picked.  Blueberries are Newfoundland's magic.


The wild blackberry is a precious fruit: patchy rather than abundant and soft so requiring careful picking.  But well worth it for that burst of rich acidic sweet flavour.
Despite the distractions, the blackberries were happily waiting exactly where we expected them, and it seems to be a good year.  We moved from patch to patch, scratched and pricked, fingers stained purple from the picking.  Occasionally I was seduced again by some particularly nice patch of blueberries (Fefe is much better at the steady blackberry pick than I am), but we amassed nearly 2 lbs of them, with enough unripe berries left behind to look forward to another harvest this fall.

As we were walking between the first and second blackberry patch, we were talking about Where'd You Go Bernadette, musing about blackberries, erosion, food and weeds, when suddenly Fefe stopped dead in her tracks and slowly lifted her arm to point ahead.

Feral Apples

We have a place we go to later in the fall, when the partridgeberries are ripe, for feral apples.  But a tree hosting these small but round and rosy, scab-free apples cannot be ignored.  Our foraging backpack always has a cloth bag in it for this sort of emergency, so we filled it up before continuing on.  Fefe bit fearlessly into one and pronounced them fit for eating raw.  I took a bite too, but thought maybe it needed some salt to counter the sour.  

(Which is a bit ironic, I suppose, since about half an hour previously we had walked past a grove of pin cherry, beautiful dark red berries.  I know they're edible, but not particularly palatable.  They're very ascerbic.  Anyway, when we were walking by, I'd said, "those are the ascerbic cherries" and promptly picked one and put it in my mouth.  I always think that initial profound taste of cherry will be worth the acid which immediately follows, but I'm wrong.  My mouth dried up immediately and my face stuck into a rigid pucker. I thought I got away with it, since Fefe was walking in front of me but she turned around and looked at me with disbelief.  "Really?" she asked, "did you eat one of those cherries AGAIN this year?")

Beaked Hazelnut

On the trip back to the car, we were a bit more casual about berry picking, mostly enjoying the view, when I suddenly nearly put my foot on one of the most unusual looking seed casings.  As I stopped, foot in mid-air, Fefe was already stood still, arm raised to point at it.  I shouted, "BEAKED HAZEL!" and put down my pack and the bag of apples, plucked the seed casing off the ground and opened it up to reveal a perfect hazelnut shell.  Funny enough, a couple days earlier, Hank Shaw had published a blog post on beaked hazel, which I'd read with deep jealousy since beaked hazel don't grow here.  So I thought.  So it turns out I was wrong.  In eleven years of stomping around the woods and bogs and barrens of Newfoundland, I'd never seen a beaked hazel.

In all of caribougrrl's excitement, she tore apart the first beaked hazel before Fefe Noir had a chance to photograph it, but this is another one found along the side of the trail, likely dropped by blue jay or red squirrel.
It had to have come from reasonably nearby, I figured.  I think I figured that, but perhaps Fefe Noir pointed it out but my mind was already in that single-mission state where I don't hear anything directly... so with complete disregard for anything or anyone else around me, I started to wander, fighting through thick shrubs, trying to remember where we'd seen that bunch of blue jays flitting around like they ruled the world.  Finally I looked up and there it was.  "BINGO!" I yelled.  Then I waited.

"Where are you?" 

"I need that empty bag from the pack!"  


Eventually I heard Fefe tell me to keep talking so she could find me... struggling along with all our stuff including 12 lbs of fruit.  Fortunately for you, she photodocumented her trip to find me.

From somewhere on the other side of this thick shrubby stuff, caribougrrl shouted that she found beaked hazel.

Fefe Noir had to ask caribougrrl to keep talking because seeing anything in this is nearly impossible.

Fefe Noir could hear she was getting close but could not spot either caribougrrl or any beaked hazel.

Aha!  There she is behind that beaked hazel tree.

Fefe Noir got distracted by blackberries.

Ironically, right there beside where Fefe left the pack: beaked hazel, trailside.

Funny how sometimes the most exciting part of a foraging trip is the part you never expected.  

The processing seemed to take hours, but our freezer is happier for it.  The hazelnuts are still drying/ripening, and apples are slowly making their way into desserts and mains and preserves.  


A couple of Feral Apple Desserts

The thing about feral apples is that no matter what variety they started out as, if they aren't pruned and kept, they tend toward a wild-type fruit.  Tart, high in pectin, and small.  Perfect for cooking.

Apple-Blackberry Crumble

Fefe adapted this recipe from a borrowed copy of Catherine Kirkpatrick's 500 Recipes for Budget Meals.

1 lb. apples
1/2 lb. blackberries
about 2 tbsp water
4 oz. brown sugar
3 oz. butter
6 oz. unbleached all purpose flour
3 oz. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. lemon zest

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Peel, core and slice apples into a saucepan; add the blackberries, water, brown sugar and lemon zest.  Cook over low heat, covered, until apples are softened but not mushy.  Transfer apple mixture to a greased pie dish.

In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour to form large crumbs. Add the granulated sugar and mix until just combined; do not over mix.  Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the apples.

Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Apple-Honey Custard Pie

Fefe made Mollie Katzen's recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook, substituting clover syrup for the honey, skipping the cinnamon and sprinkling pine nuts on top.  If you've never cooked from the Moosewood Cookbook, check it out of the library. 

2 September 2013

Nasturtium Dolmades

Nasturtiums are one of the most versatile plants in your flower garden: they look pretty, you can eat the flowers and leaves raw in salads, you can pickle the buds and seed pods to make capers... and, as it happens, you can stuff the leaves to make dolmades.

Nasturtium Dolmades

inspired by Cafe Nilsen
and adapted from Madhur Jaffery's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking

for the filling:

1/2 c. long grain rice
1/2 c. finely chopped herbs (we used a mix of parsley, mint and dill)
5 small spring onions, including greens, minced
1/8 c. pine nuts chopped
1/2 tsp salt
good grinding of black pepper

for wrapping:

15-20 of the largest nasturtium leaves in your garden
several large chard leaves... or whatever green you have in abundance and is looking moth-eaten; or if you have a mother of a crop of nasturtium with leaves to spare, a bunch of those... in any case, enough to line a small sauce pan*

for the steaming broth:

1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 tsp salt
water (about 1/2 c., more as needed)

*choose your pan keeping this in mind: you need to be able to pack these tightly so they don't unroll when cooking, you also need to have a heatproof plate that fits inside the pan to weigh down the dolmades... you can layer the them but you cannot make a loosely packed pan tight... so choose the smallest pan you can get away with

Make the filling:  Bring 5 c. water to a boil, add the rice, return to boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes.  Drain and rinse well under cold water.  Mix together with remaining filling ingredients, set aside.

Next we stuff the leaves. If you have PMS, a hangover, or are in a generally crooked mood, cover your filling and refrigerate and try again another day. If you are feeling happy and well-adjusted, or at least reasonably calm, feel free to proceed. 

Stuff the dolmades:  Line the bottom of your saucepan with leaves.  We used chard leaves because we had some old stringy chard in the garden; it's not important what sort of leaf you use, but the idea is to keep the dolmades from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Lay a nasturtium leaf stem-side down; put a scant teaspoon of filling slightly lower than center.  If you use too much filling it will burst through the leaf during cooking, so yes, it doesn't look like a lot, but trust us, it's enough.  Gently fold the bottom of the leaf over the filling (about 1/4 of the way up, depending a bit where the filling landed); gently fold the left and right sides in.  Starting at the bottom, slowly and carefully roll up into a little package.  (See helpful diagram for stuffing and rolling the leaves.)  Place seam-side down in the pan.  Repeat until you are out of leaves, out of filling, or your pan is full.  Pack these in tightly to prevent unrolling during cooking.  You can have two layers if you need to.

Steam the dolmades:  BEFORE YOU PUT YOUR LIQUID IN, place your heatproof plate in the pan on top of your beautifully rolled dolmades to weigh them down.  Mix together ingredients for steaming broth; pour broth into pan over plate.  Over medium heat, bring to boil then cover and turn down to a simmer.  Cook on simmer for 1 hour.  Keep checking the pot: you want to steam these babies until the rice is cooked but you don't want to run out of liquid so add water if needed.  However, at the end of the hour, your liquid should be fully or mostly evaporated.

Cool and serve at room temperature or refrigerate and serve cold.


These dolmades taste just like the traditional stuffed vine leaves... but a little less vine-leafy-bitter and a little more nasturtium-leafy-spicy.  This is one of those dishes that, when we moved to Newfoundland, could not be found for love nor money.  If we wanted a dolma, we had to make it, which wasn't all that daunting because they were something Fefe Noir made on occasion for dinner parties and potlucks.  But  never mind finding dolmades at a restaurant or in a grocery store, back then you couldn't even buy the critical grape leaves except unpredictably at high-priced specialty stores.  

As far as we're aware, there is only one farmer in the province growing grapes, at a scale that sounds most probably for personal consumption or as a novelty crop... and clear across the island, so not very handy for trying to buy a couple dozen leaves.  These days, you can buy bottled grape leaves at the local grocery stores (in St. John's, anyway), and we sometimes do, but that's a winter purchase.  You can even buy tinned dolmades (which are rather handy for picnicking or camping) and I'm willing to bet they can be found in at least a few restaurants across the island.  At any rate, it turns out the grape leaf is entirely unnecessary if you're willing to make it up and make do with what's on-hand... in late summer when the nasturtiums in your garden are going like mad, collect some of those leaves and make a batch.