Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wild Blueberries

Last summer I discovered mulberries; yesterday I picked my first quart of wild blueberries. A walk around the block brought me to the mulberries; a drive across state lines and a five mile hike was necessary to find these blueberries, but it was well worth it. Wild blueberries are the very essence of blueberry. They're not as fleshy as their cultivated cousins and their seeds are more prominent, but they taste sweeter and bluer and somehow... berry-er.
These berries are probably best enjoyed in the woods: a sweet reward for energy spent, but if you do happen to have a container with you and if you have the self control to put more berries in the container than in your mouth and if you manage not to trip over any roots or rocks on your way down the mountain and spill your hard earned loot and if there are any berries left after the car ride home, you can make a delicious jam out of them.

Wild Blueberry Jam

Adapted from the Pomona's Universal Pectin box

  • 4 cups wild blueberries, mashed
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. calcium water
  • 1 cup sugar, more or less depending on your taste
  • 2 tsp. pectin powder
  • Cover jars, lids, and rings with water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn of heat and let stand in hot water.
  • Place berries and lemon juice in a pot and add calcium water. Mix well. Combine sugar and pectin powder in a separate bowl, mixing thoroughly. Bring the fruit mixture to a boil. Add the sugar-pectin mixture and stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes, until dissolved. Bring back to the boil and remove promptly from heat.
  • Fill jars to 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe rims clean and screw on the 2-piece lids. Put filled jars in boiling water to cover. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from water and allow to cool, listening for the distinctive popping sound of jars sealing.
When I have made jam in the past, I have used only fruit and sugar and lemon juice, shying away from adding pectin. I liked the simplicity of it. What I didn't like, however, was the vast quantity of sugar required. I felt that I could hardly taste the fruit through the sweetness, so yesterday I heeded a piece of advice I overheard an old lady dispensing two jam-making seasons ago: "Just buy pectin and use the recipe in the box. It works every time." And it did work. And for four cups of fruit I used just one cup of sugar and my jam tastes like the wild blueberries from which it is made.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Rolls

This eating from the garden thing is absolutely the way forward. I have a feeling I will never tire of it. Last night the only ingredients of our venison-with-wild-blueberries-fried-squash-blossoms-and-haricots-verts-with-scallions feast that didn't come from Y.'s land were the wild blueberries, which came from an obliging bush on the side of the road, and the egg and flour the blossoms were dipped in before they met their fate in the frying pan. I didn't do quite as well here, but all the non-white ingredients that went into the rolls I picked myself from the garden.
It is more usual to see cilantro or mint in summer rolls, but we don't have mint and the cilantro bolted while I was being overwhelmed elsewhere in the garden. As I was pinching flowers off the basil Monday morning, I picked a branch of leaves for myself off each plant. I could, I suppose, have made yet another pesto dish, but when I saw the anise hyssop in the the raised bed just outside the cabin, it occurred to me that I could use it along with the basil in summer rolls. Instead of lettuce I chose sugar snap and snow peas to provide the crispy green in the rolls and I was pleased to have a purple carrot ready to pull. (It meant I hadn't weeded all the carrots as they came up.) Tofu provided the protein in my rolls, but chicken or shrimp or even hard-boiled or scrambled eggs would be just as good (or better).
The rolling takes a bit of practice, so try not to get frustrated. Put what will be the pretty side on the bottom as you build your roll and remember there is no need to rush.

Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce

  • For the rolls:
  • 12 spring roll wrappers
  • 1/2 package rice vermicelli
  • 24 basil leaves
  • 24 large anise hyssop leaves
  • 24 sugar snap peas
  • 24 snow peas
  • 1 carrot, cut attractively
  • 1 block firm tofu
  • blank
  • For the dipping sauce:
  • (From Martha Stewart)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (2 limes)
  • 1 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 4 scant tsp. sugar
  • peanuts for garnish
  • To make the rolls: Cut tofu into batons. Chop the carrot any way that appeals to you. Wash (if necessary) and trim the basil and anise hyssop leaves. De-string the sugar snap peas. Cook the rice noodles according to the directions on the packet. Line up your ingredients on a work surface and fill a large shallow dish (pie plate?) with warm water and have ready a damp tea towel to work on. Soak a wrapper in the water for 15-20 seconds. Remove from water and lay flat on the tea towel. Stack your ingredients in the middle of the wrapper, starting and ending with either the basil or anise hyssop, facing the leaves outward. Fold the bottom edge over the stacked ingredients, then fold in the sides, and finally roll the onto the other edge. Set aside and repeat with remaining wrappers.
  • For the sauce: Whisk together the peanut butter and water until smooth. Add the lime juice, soy sauce, and sugar, and mix until well incorporated. Garnish with peanuts and an anise hyssop flower.
I worried (because that's what I do) that the vermicelli would be crunchy or the basil and anise hyssop would compete with each other and/or the peanut sauce or they'd just be bland, but (as usual) my worries were unfounded. I ate two rolls for lunch and they were delicious and extremely refreshing on a hot and humid day. I guess that's why they call them summer rolls.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beets with Their Greens, Scapes, and Chèvre

The garden is starting to produce! We have been eating broccoli rabe for a month now and chard and lettuces and peas and basil and strawberries and now beets too. And these are only the ones I pulled while thinning the bed, that the rest will get bigger. When they do I'll make this dish as I usually do, with layer upon layer of beet rounds topped with chèvre and chives, reserving the greens for something else. For now, though, this is a delicious alternative.

Beets with Their Greens, Chèvre, and Scapes

  • 1 bunch small beets, with greens
  • 1 handful garlic scapes
  • 1 small round fresh chèvre
  • olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Cut the beets from their greens, trim, halve or quarter as necessary to make them all about the same size, and boil them until a fork can slide easily into them. Strain and rinse immediately in cold water. Peel beets by simply rubbing them with your thumb and fingers, under cold water if necessary. Set aside.
  • Cut scapes into manageable lengths and sautée in olive oil for as long as it takes to chop the greens. Add chopped greens to the pan, cover, reduce heat to low and allow to cook, turning occasionally, until both scapes and greens are tender.
  • Transfer greens to an attractive dish, making a bed for your beets. Scatter beets over the bed of greens and top with decent-sized chunks of chèvre (if you crumble it into pieces that are too small you will have all crust and no melt when you put it under the broiler). Drizzle olive oil over the top and season lightly with salt and pepper. Put under the broiler until the cheese is touched with gold.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Note on the Importance of Using It All

You already know how I am about separated eggs: the half that isn't called for in one recipe will always get used in another, whether I really need six crème brulées in my fridge or not. You can see now that my use-it-all fanaticism is worse than you thought. Yes, those are grouse feet and yes, I have made them into earrings. And worn them. With pride. I actually find them quite beautiful and believe by making and wearing them I am showing some sort of respect for the animal who was killed and most gratefully eaten.

Grouse Foot Earrings

makes one pair

  • one pair fresh grouse feet
  • salt to cover well
  • Form loops in two pieces of wire, leaving a long end on each. Poke the wires into the ends of each leg until the loops meet the flesh and carefully position each loop in the same orientation. Place your grouse feet in a ziplock bag and pour salt over them until they are well covered. Close bag and set aside.
  • Several months later break them out of the salt and, using a brush you might otherwise use to clean mushrooms, remove any salt that clings to the feet. Remove any remaining feathers or material you find unsightly.
  • Wrap the ankles in wire. Using another two pieces of wire, attach hooks to the loops you made when you put the feet up to cure.
I can recommend these particularly to those who work with the public in a service capacity and wake up feeling their personal bubble needs an extra ounce of reinforcement any given day. And if they fail to provide it, if someone manages to get through anyway, you can always take one out of your ear and see what those little grouse claws are capable of.