Horsetails & spaetzle

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Today I learned two things:

  1. Horsetail shoots are not a very good substitute for green beans. Their flavor is too light and they lack toothsomeness.
  2. Nettle spaetzle with garlicky beer sauce, dandelion and money plant greens, and caramelized tofu is a good idea. It’d be better if the horsetails weren’t in the way.

Dandelion Bitter Brown Ale

It’s brewing day again. This beer isn’t even beer yet and already it’s a tale of woe.

  • 7 lb amber liquid malt extract
  • 1 lb amber dry malt extract
  • 8 oz brown malt
  • 8 oz chocolate malt
  • 3.5 oz dried dandelion roots – 60 min
  • ~3/4 oz dried yarrow leaves – 60 min
  • ~1/4 oz Perle hops (9% AAU pellets left over from a previous batch) – 60 min
  • 1 oz Fuggles – 5 min
  • 1 tsp Irish moss – 20 min
  • Yeast. Woe is yeast. I had a starter of my saved Northwest Ale, but let this be a lesson to you all: Always doublecheck your starter on brew day, while the homebrew store is still open. Because even if it was krausening like a dream earlier in the week, it might have gone moldy on you since then. In desperation I dug through the fridge and pulled out one jam jar of ale yeast and another of mead yeast, and pitched them both.

This is also the bitterest wort I’ve brewed yet. That’s not saying much, since I prefer sweeter beer styles – but it tastes very close to balanced to me while all of the sugars are still in there, so I am imagining that it’ll have a very pronounced bitterness when it’s done.

The bittering wasn’t intentional – I based the amount of dandelion off this recipe and commentary, adding the yarrow and leftover hops to make up for my paltry dandelion stash. But if it turns out too bitter for my tastes I have a lot of hophead friends who like that sort of thing. Assuming of course that the yeast works out.

Update, 29 Dec: Bottled yesterday so I guess it’s time to finish this story.

I sent the Mr. to the brew store when it opened on the Tuesday after brewing, to pick up a couple of packages of yeast. Pitched them that night. Fermentation seemed to have kicked in OK the next morning, not super vigorous bubbling in the airlock but definitely active.

A couple of weeks after brewing, the gravity was only down to 1.04 and it tasted awful. Rather than risk contamination while transferring to the carboy, I just kept it in the primary bucket – turned up the brewing room heater a bit (baseboard heating means I am always subjecting my yeast to weird thermal stress) and swirled up the trub a few times over the following days to see if I could kick the yeast back into gear. Got some more bubbles from the airlock; then I got busy/lazy and ignored it for a while.

FG 1.018. (And oops, I forgot to write down the initial gravity, but it was close to the 1.06 the recipe called for – so, 5.5-6% ABV.) Not nearly as bitter as the initial wort – I actually really enjoyed what I drank from the hydrometer tube, even without carbonation. A++ will make again, hopefully next time with better initial conditions for the yeast.

Oysters on the Half-Shell with Sheep Sorrel Mignonette

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You know you are reading a high-quality food blog when, instead of boring food magazine clichés like well-lit images of a beautiful invertebrate scantily clad in a swirl of condiment, or action shots of the author’s oystering companion gracefully bashing at shells with the fog playing tag with the fjord in the bokeh… instead of any of that crap you get an out-of-focus picture of the bottom of a jar. These are the sacrifices I make for you, my readers.

Anyway. I woke up at 5am this morning for the last reasonably timed spring tide of the season. “Reasonably”. It wasn’t the civilized afternoon tides of spring but at least we weren’t wearing headlamps in the winter rain at midnight. We got to the beach just as the tide was turning back in, so I raked up a quick limit of clams (if you are willing to eat purple varnish clams this goes VERY quick) before settling onto the oyster beds.

The State of Washington requires you to shuck all oysters on the beach and toss the shells back where you found them; this preserves habitat for baby oysters, which like to grow on old shells, and prevents the spread of invasive oyster drills. So if you want to eat your oysters raw on the half-shell, that means you have to eat your breakfast on the beach.

Sometimes life in temperate paradise can be very difficult indeed.

I brought three kinds of mignonette to eat with the oysters: A classic recipe with champagne vinegar and shallots; cucumber-borage; and sheep sorrel. They were all good but the sheep sorrel was the clear winner! I’d planned to get all the acidity from the oxalic acid in the leaves, but it didn’t quite work and I had to add some vinegar. Procedure is as follows:

  • ~2 cups mixed oxalic greens – in my case this was a lot of sheep sorrel (Rumex acetostella) and a little Oxalis whateveritis.
  • ~half a shallot
  • pinch of salt
  • a few turns of the pepper grinder
  • buzz in food processor and add enough water to make it the right consistency
  • also add a few drizzles of rosé vinegar when the water doesn’t taste acidic enough

Makes way more than you need for 3 dozen oysters. What should I do with all my leftover mignonette? Bonus if the answer also involves some of this ridiculous haul of lobster mushrooms I picked up on the way out of the park (while spitefully ignoring an almost equally generous bloom of Suillus lakei. Sorry, consolation prize mushrooms, but state parks have a 2 gallon mushroom limit and you don’t make the cut! Suckers!).

Oh, one more lesson: All seaweeds around here are edible enough to nibble on, but not all of them are tasty, and not all of the ones that seem tasty are actually good for food. I brought back a clump of ok-tasting mystery seaweed intending to dry it and use it as furikake or something, but then when I identified it… sulfuric acid, really? Harrumph.

Daucus carota Seeds: What’ll They Do to Your Hormones?

This summer I leveled up in foraging by carefully studying poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), which both grow in profusion along the bike trail. Poison hemlock is one of the first plants, possibly the first, that every forager needs to learn, because even small amounts of it can no-shit for-real kill you. The same is true for another carrot family member, water hemlock.

The carrot family is some scary shit, mostly not for beginners. (Fennel is probably the one exception – between the distinctive smell and the threadlike leaves, it’s not likely to be confused with any of its poisonous relatives.)

But once you’re used to the process of identifying plants using reputable field guides, dichotomous keys, and paying attention to botanically relevant traits beyond just leaf shape, sorting out the carrots isn’t so bad. If you pay attention to them over the course of a growing season, the differences between poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s lace become pretty obvious; Butter has a great rundown of most of them, but she doesn’t mention the seeds.

If your suspected wild carrot is in fruit then it’s easy to verify its identity: Daucus seeds have rows of bristles growing from parallel ribs while Conium seeds are smooth. The only other carrot family members with bristly seeds found in the coastal Pacific Northwest are sanicles (Sanicula spp.), but sanicle seed bristles aren’t arranged in rows like Daucus seed bristles.

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(I am super excited about my new microscope. Turns out just holding my phone up to the eyepiece works pretty well for taking pictures. Photo above is a wild carrot seed at 30x magnification.)

So I infused some flowers into simple syrup for a soda, which was good – and I think much improved by the carbonation – and didn’t kill me. And after nibbling on a couple of fruits to verify that Queen Anne’s lace seeds are indeed delicious, I brought home a bunch of seed heads. Seriously, the seeds are indeed delicious – like a warmer, spicier version of carrots. I could happily munch on them plain as a snack.

Here’s my problem though: Daucus carota seeds have a history of use as birth control. Herbalists recommend eating a teaspoon of seeds daily after sex or around ovulation, which is an amount I could easily exceed by using carrot seeds as a spice. Although I’m not trying to make a baby, I don’t want to put a bunch of ground-up Plan B in my granola bars without knowing more about the side effects.

So it’s off to PubMed I go.

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Cleavers Seed Coffee

coffee cup with pale brown liquid

Cleavers (Galium aparine) seeds can be easily harvested this time of year by simply trying to pick some elderberries, and then scraping the seeds off your pants when you emerge from the ravine. I’d read the seeds could be used as a coffee substitute, so despite my general suspicion of the whole concept of “coffee substitutes” I decided to bring a few home.

This morning we ran out of coffee after our first cups, so I figured it’d be a good day to try a weird, disappointing replacement. Atomic Shrimp has a good overview of the preparation process. I roasted my seeds at 325ºF for 12 minutes, and then rubbed off most of the seed coats – though I was lazy and left the more stubborn ones on. I ran them through a spice grinder and brewed them up cowboy-style in my smallest mug.

The results, like Atomic Shrimp’s, were weak, but otherwise not bad. The tea was mild enough that I drank it black (usually I am a milk and sugar coffee kind of girl). I probably won’t bother with it again – even though the harvesting is basically a sunk cost, since I end up having to scrape seeds off my pants no matter what I do, the roasting and de-coating is still more than I want to bother with for an ok-but-not-great beverage.

While I was trying to figure out if the seeds might have any caffeine (cleavers is a relative of coffee, so it seemed plausible, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to be true) I ran across an article identifying a UV-fluorescent anthroquinone in cleavers sprouts. I immediately pulled out a blacklight but the tea didn’t glow; I’ll try again the next time I make cleaverade from young shoots.

Health warning: If you are a chicken, do not eat cleavers seeds – they might clog your gizzard with fatal results.

Cornel Vanilla Cream Pie

The Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is cultivated for its fruit in Eastern Europe down through Iran, but in the U.S. it’s usually planted as an ornamental. I’ve been riding by a whole grove of them on the bike trail for years without ever really registering it as food, but the other week when I’d gone further west than usual for a foraging expedition (looking for a particular stand of fennel) I stopped on my way back to check out the bright red fruit.

Oh man, I’m glad I did. For one thing, cornels are easy to pick. Once you’ve let them ripen off the tree, they have a tart-sweet berry flavor. They do have annoying pits (which one article claims are delicious in their own right) but those are easy enough to handle in a food mill.

I cooked my first cornels just long enough to soften them up for the food mill, and added as much sugar as it took to make them taste right. I think I might’ve been a little early with these – even after they’d spent a week on my counter turning deep red, they were pretty tart, and there was still a hint of mouth-drying astringency to them. Still, the sauce was pretty tasty. Different trees seem to be ripening at very different paces, even within the same stand, so there will be plenty of opportunity to go back for more.

The cornel sauce was a good balance for a rich vanilla cream pie.
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Fennel Pollen Collector

grocery bag and twist-tie drying rack / pollen collection

We’ve reached the part of the summer where my kitchen is encrusted with rickety twist-tie apparatuses. This is the first time I’ve done fennel pollen; I have little bundles of flowers suspended on long twist-ties inside a couple of paper grocery bags that are just sitting on the floor. We’ll see. I’m very fortunate that my cat doesn’t like to hide in bags or boxes (like a fire safety inspector, she requires at least two exits), otherwise this would definitely never work.

Other herbs are hanging in bundles from the shelves (lemon balm, mugwort) or spread out on pie tins (dandelion roots dug up while pulling the spring garden to make way for fall crops).

A few other things, not quite exciting enough for their own blog entries:

  • It was a warm spring, so all the berries are early. Last night I made my first batch of purple jam – blackberries, oregon grapes, salal, a handful of early elderberries.
  • Lemon balm / borage tuna salad is super great. Borage is commonly said to taste like cucumber, and I’m learning to be wary of that particular comparison, because there are a lot of things that taste sort of like cucumber in very different ways. I think borage tastes more like the sea – you know, if the sea were going to be a land plant. Maybe it’s nonadienal?
  • Thimbleberry freezer jam! You know you have good friends when they go thimbleberry-picking with you on the 4th of July, and give you some of what they pick instead of stuffing it all into their faces. I hope this jam holds its flavor better than the jars that I canned last year.
  • Thimbleberry liqueur! I poured some vodka over the seeds & pulp left in the food mill after making the jam.

Finally: I’m finding that my seasonal preference for grilling and frying, rather than stewing, and definitely NOT for making hearty soups or drinking mugs of broth as a snack like I do when it’s chilly… makes it hard to use up enough kitchen-scrap stock to keep my freezer in balance. I still cook whole grains in stock instead of water but that’s about it. What are your favorite ways to use broth in the summer?

Recipe Ideas from the Search Logs

One of the traditional indulgences of owning a blog is looking through your referral logs to giggle at how people have found your site. In addition to the usual sex, typos and WTFery (“joys and nose”?!) there are people with some food ideas in their heads:

  • lilac bitters
  • lilac bitter cocktail
  • fir needle sauve recipe
  • blackberry floating pie
  • unripe blackberry pie
  • mcdonalds durian pie
  • oregon grape and cardamom jelly
  • locust egg soup

It’s unclear whether the fir needle search was a misspelling of Saveur (did they ever feature a fir needle recipe?) or a reference to the town of Sauve in the south of France or something else entirely… but using fir needles in herbes de Provence seems like a completely reasonable thing to do.

Pretty sure a floating pie would be more of an engineering project than I want to take on though.

Yarrow-weizen

I made my first gruit ale last night, and if I don’t blog the recipe I’ll lose it. Continue Reading »

Red Elderberry Juice

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Image credit: Scott Loarie

Nancy Turner summarizes the general PNW native opinion of red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa, not to be confused with the much more delicious black and blue elderberries) as follows: “Red Elderberries were not generally regarded highly as food, and were frequently mixed with other types of berries to make them more palatable. But some people really enjoy them.” Hank Shaw deems them “at best nasty”.

Taking these sorts of statement as a challenge is one of my fundamental character flaws – the same flaw that drives me to bypass perfectly adequate chain restaurants by the side of the highway in favor of a greasy shack that is not going to be the home of the world’s best-kept secret amazing hamburger. (Unless you think the best-kept secret amazing hamburger is delivered to ramshackle dives across the country by a Sysco truck and served while it’s still a little bit frozen in the middle.) Still, I keep thinking that maybe this time it will be different. Maybe I will be part of the tiny minority of persons who really enjoy red elderberries!

So I picked some berries, laboriously de-stemmed them (the stems are poisonous), ran them through a food mill, boiled the juice for half an hour to denature the cyanogenic glycosides, and then strained the juice through my hops bag to remove all the seeds the food mill didn’t catch (the seeds are poisonous). The juice tasted pretty gross by itself, so I left it in the fridge for a week before I finally screwed up the courage to try some different ways of making it palatable.

The Mr. wrinkled up his nose and insisted that it had “that nasty vegetable flavor”, but he is very silly, because it is obviously a completely different nasty vegetable flavor than the one that’s been plaguing me in my vodka infusions – I could taste some bitterness but it wasn’t sulfurous.

So I guess if you use the phrase “really enjoy” to mean “tolerate if mixed with a lot of sugar and a little salt” then I am in fact one of the tiny minority of persons who really enjoys red elderberries! I think the flavor is something like tomatoes combined with cranberries combined with orange juice that’s gone a bit off.
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