Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Pine Cone Jam

A recent weekend walk along the local barrier island shoreline (while the Frenchman ran along the low tide beach in the dense mist) led to a serendipitous discovery of tiny young pine cones (and also pollen - pines have male and female parts, but that is another story). I had been hoping to collect some this year, to make the jam I had only heard about. Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seems to like it. It is considered both treat and medicine. Good for coughs, they say.

The pines were mostly exotic Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), popular in  local seashore landscape and park plantings because of their salt-tolerance. Native pitch pine (Pinus stricta) occurs, too, and its little cones are very sharp and rough on the fingers. The black pine cones are much easier to gather.

It helps to have rubbing alcohol wipes handy (part of my basic forage supplies, against poison ivy): Your fingers get very sticky.

In research mode at home I searched my old Russian cookbooks for recipes, but came up with nothing. Online was one recipe that claimed Georgian heritage. I experimented with several batches (having returned to get more cones, later), and eventually settled on a routine of: boil in water, then four subsequent times in syrup, more or less in the tradition of Russian varenya, where entire fruit (or pine cones) are cooked and cooled multiple times in syrup.

It's hard to imagine but these hard little cones become soft and chewable after boiling, and are packed with bright flavor. A traditional Caucasian and Russian way to enjoy them is a medicinal spoonful stirred into black tea. I like them on crunchy toast, or cooked with pan-seared pork chops. Or in the pan where a duck breast cooked, deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar.

To make pine syrup gin or vodka, add a quarter cup of the syrup with cones to 2 cups of the liquor. Leave for a day, shaking now and then, until the syrup has dissolved. Strain and bottle.

For clean up after cooking, use rubbing alcohol, again - to dissolve the very tenacious resin residue on the edges of your pot and any implements you use. Wipe it onto your pot after it has cooled.

For three medium jars of pine cone jam you need:

8 oz (about 2.25 cups) finger-nail-sized immature pine cones
2.5 cups sugar
2.5 cups water

Fill a stainless steel pot (easier to clean, later) with water and pine cones and bring to a boil. Cook at a gentle boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. A layer of resin will collect on the surface like a little oil slick - carefully pour this layer off, tilting the pot gently over the sink. (And do yourself a favor: do not dump it through a sieve - the resin will stick the cones again and when cool will clog the mesh unless you boil the sieve!). Tilt it off.

Once all the water is poured off, add the sugar and water to the pot with the boiled cones. Return to the stove and and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and cool completely. Bring to a boil again. Turn off at once and cool (it it cooks too long you will lose too much moisture). Bring to a boil for a third time, turn off the heat, then cool again. One more time: bring to a boil and allow to cool for a fourth time.*

* When  boiling three times the syrup remains stickily runny.  Four boils (above) results in a taffy-like texture once cooled, but this melts again, in heat. Up to you. Play.

Ladle the cones and their warm syrup into sterilized glass jars. When cool screw on the lids.


New Forage Walks

Inwood Hill Park
18 May 2018
12pm - 3pm
$50 (Two tickets left)

In mid May beautiful Inwood Hill Park is bursting at the seams with edible spring things. We will walk in the leafy woods, beginning in the valley of spicebush before cresting a ridge where nettles and pokeweed share the woodlands with late-season garlic mustard and field garlic. We will find the Japanese knotweed fully grown (we can harvest the tips), and lovage-like ground elder. The native blueberry bushes should be in bloom.

This is a walk that covers a lot of ground, with hills, solitude, silence, a roaring highway (we pass underneath, leaving it behind), the Hudson River and a beautiful bridge. Moderate fitness is required!

We recover from this all with a picnic beside the water. 

The nearest subway is the A to 207th Street.

Details will be emailed to you the week of the walk.


Forage Cocktails 
Prospect Park
21 May 2019
5.30pm - 7pm

Join me for a late spring stroll along the green and leafy edges of Prospect Park, where we will identify lemony spruce tips and linden blossoms-to-be, ending with cocktail hour sips of =wild-inspired drinks, featuring pine syrup, spruce tips, rhubarb and earlyspring's magnolia.

Snacks will include spring vegetable galettes and quail's eggs with ramp leaf dipping salt.


Scents and Serviceberries Streetwalk
Gowanus, Brooklyn
15 June 2018
11am - 1pm

It's mid June and we are hitting the streets to learn what grows up, what grows down, and to forage some delicious seasonal serviceberries. We will visit a sidewalk garden (above), and take this opportunity to learn about tough plants, soil pollution and remediation, and how different plants take up, or do not take up, heavy metals. 

You'd be surprised. 

The air will smell like linden blossom and common milkweed, and perhaps a little canal-ish, too. After the walk we will picnic on a brunch featuring lamb's quarter galettes, serviceberry bread, and common milkweed and pine pollen madeleines.

Meet up details will be emailed upon sign up.


Forest Bath
Prospect Park
22 June 2019
11am - 1pm

The day after the longest day and the urban forest is lush and green. Come and lose yourself on soft paths under a soothing canopy of tall trees. In the edible ground elder understory we will learn to identify native prickly ash and elderflower shrubs, as well as spicebush in its anonymous summer camouflage. Our picnic will feature the greens of summer: amaranth and lamb's quarters, with seasonal surprises.

More details will be emailed upon sign up.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The mothers

Nomatiptip at Babylonstoren, on January 23rd, two months to the day that my father died. He died on her birthday.

Names: When the little, bright girl arrived at the farm school that she would walk to every day, barefoot and for miles, the white female teacher asked her name, as she did with the whole roomful of children. When Tipsy gave her name, the teacher said, You are now Selina. So each child was rebranded on the spot. And those were the names they carried into the white, ruling world.

When I am trying to locate Tipsy and don't know where she is I sing in a high voice, Teep? Teep? And she sings back, Hooooooo! And I find her.

Since I was 14, she has cared for my family, protected, deflected, absorbed. She has given. She has held secrets. She has held her tongue. She has spoken out.  She has cheered. There are so many stories, and some I am still learning, from Thabang, her son, who grew up without his mother, and suffered for it. The great tragedy was that I benefited from his mother's warmth where he had not. And this is just tip of the iceberg stuff.

So two months later we went Babylostoren for the day as a belated birthday, and walked the beautiful gardens and picked figs and ate lunch, and talked.

And here is my mom, on Sunday, December 2nd last year, with the patio table set for an incongruous three. This was her birthday, a day after the memorial for my father in this garden. The Frenchman had flown in the previous week, when I knew my father would die, and he had the chance to say goodbye to him. And to be with us. For my mom's birthday we drank bubbly, and didn't try to be happy. But we popped the cork loudly over the patio, as my father would have done. He didn't believe in a discreet pffft.

So it has been a hard year, and for all kinds of reasons that would require a novel to explain. But for now the two mothers have each other. And sometime today two beautiful bouquets arrived for them (thank you, Lush, as always). Tipsy will see hers late, when Thabang brings her home from the house my father bought for her some years ago, and where she sees her family every weekend.

Mother's Day, Father's Day - my father was scornful of these so-called holidays, thinking them cash cows for businesses and pressure for people who could not afford the splurge. I think I belong to his camp. Why just the one day? And how hard is the hooplah for parents who have lost children, whose children don't care, or for children who have lost parents, or simply want nothing to do with them, possibly for very good reasons? One size does not fit all.

So don't go chirping, Happy Mother's Day! without thinking.

Sometimes, it isn't.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Checking in

There has not been time for catching breath (a.k.a. blogging, hence my love of Instagram, like a microblog). There have been many wild walks, dinners, and picnics for paying customers (who are often also friends). And lots of rain. Hundreds of photos must be downloaded and uploaded (my phone camera stores images in the cloud, my camera on a memory stick, so... down and up) and sorted into their respective files on my computer (and then backed up, note-to-self), the result of weeks of lush spring foraging, gardening and recipe creation. And I look forward to a full day of Sunday rain to catch up, and just sort. An unsorted life really rattles me.

Also, I will vacuum.

The drink is delicious. The pink is from the syrup of the pine cone jam I have been making this last week - baby pine cones cooked till soft in syrup; for the drink, add gin and good tonic, and a pollen-heavy male pine cone cluster for effect. It is being sipped at 7pm on the terrace to the tune of a singing robin, a declaring cardinal, and chirping sparrows. The huge trees across the empty roofs of the benign business that envelopes our little row of townhouses are a very fresh green. In the windowboxes on the railings the arugula and lettuce, herbs and pansies are looking like I had hoped they would, in early April. We are already eating our own salads, cilantro and mint. I just sowed some purple basil. Yesterday I moved the cardamom plant outside. I even planted  a rose. We'll see.

As I write the Frenchman is headed home to Brooklyn after an afternoon's paragliding, upstate. And in a few weeks - it does not seem real - we take a short vacation to the French Alps, where he will fly, and I will hike and look at plants. We will get together every evening and discuss. I fell in love with the Alps when I was a teenager and my mother took me to Switzerland. I may not come home. It will be our first vacation together (ever) that is not to visit family. And my first Elsewhere since 2006. For as long as I have lived 8,000 miles from home I have gone home, and nowhere else. And Else beckons, loudly. It always has. I itch to travel, and my French husband longs for the land that stamped his DNA. So fuckit. We have broken loose. Thank goodness for AirBnB.

The first drops of rain are falling. Supper calls. I think an aubergine just exploded...


Monday, April 29, 2019

Dead Horse Bay on May Day

Workers of the city, rise up from your desks and walk out into the dandelion wilds this May Day (otherwise known as midweek Wednesday)! Dead Horse Bay is alive with spring things, including carpets of dandelions and violets.

...and sheep sorrel.

We will explore the grassy paths before finding ourselves on the beach (our visit is timed for low tide), where the famous bottles and bits of vintage detritus clink as the baby waves wash over them.

This weird urban habitat feels very jungle-wild and shows us everything from invasive and delicious edible weeds (like garlic mustard, above) to shoreline natives like bayberry whose flavors sing of the Northeast.

We will enjoy them all in our wild-inspired picnic (the one above is from our foray last September).

Dead Horse Bay is accessible by subway and bus, and there is parking across the road at Floyd Bennet Field. You can also ride with me from Windsor Terrace, I have space for two more.

The walk starts at 12pm and ends at 3pm. But add travel time.

Details will be emailed to you upon sign up. Sign up fast!

For more information about my walks and booking policies, please visit my Forage Walks and Classes page.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Stolen Schwinn

I just took the trash out and discovered that my beloved Schwinn bicycle has been stolen.**

[***Update: our Korean downstairs neighbor just texted me. They saw an "Asian guy in his 20's to 30's" walking the bike away around 9pm. The cops, when I reported the bicycle stolen, said that there is a trend to steal bikes for food deliveries - so please eyeball your delivery guy's bike...]

It was locked to the wrought iron railing in front of our building in Windsor Terrace. Sometime between 5.50pm and 9.30pm the lock's cable was neatly cut. 

My Schwinn has seven gears, a removable black pouch behind the black Schwinn seat, a black bell. It's in great shape.

The thief would quickly remove the vintage wooden crate from the back. The crate has steel corners.

I loved this bike. It was the best gift, ever, from the Frenchman. 

I went from walking and subwaying everywhere to pedaling with wings. It took me everywhere. I sometimes think it saved my life. 

It was an excellent forage bike, transporting elderflowers... 

...and cattail shoots (foraged by invitation when the bog needed thinning).

And fragile giant puffballs. 

It carried glassware and porcelain, props for the food photos in Forage, Harvest, Feast.

And took knives to be sharpened. 

And delivered laundry in the snow.

It fetched pots from the Gowanus Nursery when I dug up our whole garden for the plant party, when we moved from 1st Place.

Please share this post in NYC. Of course there is a reward. And a pair of bolt cutters for the thief's balls, or for what passes for them.

Because in this twist: it seems this bike was left in its place. A few feet away, unsecured. WTF?

And is this your bike???


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Wild Dinner and Walk at Stone Acres Farm, Connecticut

On Thursday I am driving up to Stonington, Connecticut (in our beloved Ntiniwe), to forage in New England's early spring. It will be like going back in time - further south we are several weeks ahead of the Connecticut shore; how often is one allowed to rewind spring? Very exciting.

Roast ramp leaf oil from Forage, Harvest Feast

On Friday evening those forages, and the ones chef James Wayman and his crew are preparing this week, will come together at Stone Acres Farm in a fireside evening inspired by my book Forage, Harvest Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine.

Vermouth from the Mugwort chapter

There will be feral cocktails, regional vermouth, and flights of wild treats, ranging from local shellfish (clams, oysters), to grass-raised beef, and desserts featuring regional native herbs like spicebush and bayberry.

James is the founder of Mystic's stand-out eateries The Oyster Club, Engine Room, and Grass and Bone, and is the visionary behind the local farm to table, field to table, and sea to table movement, where he is literally helping shape the food scene, bringing regional and ethical fare to local tables. He is an avid forager and a real food hero and I am thrilled to be cohosting this spring fling with him. Copies of Forage, Harvest, Feast are included in the ticket price.

If you'd like to make a weekend of it, stay over and come foraging with me the next day, too. This is a gorgeous part of the world (and the shoreline, oysters and outstanding restaurants are worth the trip, even if you can't make this date.)

Stone Acres Farm, Stonington, CT
26 April 2019
6.30pm - 9.30pm

Please book here

And on Saturday the 27th, I will be back at Stone Acres Leading a forage walk at in the morning, where we collect the fixings for our lunch, which follows. Yes, you get to cook your own wild lunch. I promise it will be OK.

Please book for the forage walk and lunch via the Yellow Farmhouse Education Center.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Spring Thugs Walk

What is a botanical thug? What is a weed? And why?

Join us on a spring stroll this Sunday in Prospect Park to count the edible weeds beneath our feet, and talk about why we decide to poison some plants, but not others.

Highly invasive Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) tastes like a cross between rhubarb and sorrel. It is crisp when raw, meltingly soft when cooked. It is sour. In Forage Harvest Feast I wax rhapsodic about its culinary potential via recipes ranging from pickles to slow spring stews. Come and learn to identify its spring shoots, so asparagus-like in appearance at this time of year, and explore ways to eat it at home.  

We will also meet and greet day lilies, dead nettle, field garlic, dandelions, ground elder, lesser celandine, garlic mustard and mugwort.

The wild-inspired tasting picnic will feature, you guessed it: weeds.


Book a Spring Walk
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