Sunday, May 26, 2019

Eating wisteria flowers - an ephemeral treat


It seems a shame to let May go without looking back at the wonderful ways of wisteria blossom. North of us wisteria panicles are still dripping from wherever they twine. And at 1st Place, our last address, I found that pruning the rampant, ancient old vine there resulted in fresh blooms in July, so by all means hack back hard as soon as they have finished blooming if you would like to enjoy these perfumed flowers again in the sullen, hot days of late summer.

Wisteria sinensis is very invasive locally (it smothers and strangles trees and shrubs), and can be very aggressive. Which is good for foragers, since it has invaded our city forests. Native W. frutescens is slightly more laid back and a better choice if you would like to plant one at home.

Look in Forage, Harvest, Feast for these recipes. And if you happen to be one of the people who has left an Amazon review for the book, thank you very, very much! They really do help sales.


The recipe for this Concentrated Wisteria Syrup, above, is on page 441 of Forage, Harvest, Feast. It is very aromatic. I make syrup because I like to bake with it, and to make drinks:


...to wit: Like a julep, but I shook it up, instead. And there are black locust flowers in the background! Yes, they have their own book chapter, too.


Still julep-ing, and with wisteria ice cubes.


This is Misteria (my name for the plant when I was very small), page 442 - read all about it. Delicious with tart-sweet sumac sugar. That's another chapter... (but check out page 405).


Vinegar. Does anyone like vinegar as much as I do? I am lost without it. For slow cooking adobo-type dishes, for mixing low ABV drinks (the new mixology catch phrase: low alcohol by volume; last year they were mocktails), and for quick pickles. Salad dressing, of course. I have a quick vinegar method in FHF, but to ferment from scratch - very satisfying - follow the Common Milkweed Flower Vinegar method on page 98.


The vinegar is also very good for baking biscuits and Fluffy Wisteria Pancakes (page 444.)


I LOVE tahini with vinegar, as a vibrant, tongue-smacking, but creamy dressing. This chickpea salad is a riff on one I used to inhale at Anatoli on Sunday nights in long-ago Cape Town (made with giant white beans). It's really good with slivers of raw, red onion. Page 443.


This is made with summer wisteria. Basil's ready, real tomatoes are ripe (I always wait). Mint. Balsamic, salt. Hm, hm, hm


And to finish (especially on this hot, hot late May day and Memorial Day weekend), wisteria and Nigori sake popsicles. Page 443.

For grown ups. Or for loud children who need swift sedation.

Your choice.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

New wild walks


After an amazing walk in Inwood's forest yesterday (that is part of our picnic, above), I have a new schedule of pop up walks and picnics:

This Tuesday we will be in Prospect Park in the early evening, with wild inspired drinks and late spring forage snacks (like wild lettuce galettes).

And on Saturday we explore the shoreline at Fort Tilden, on the Rockaways, before the teeming hordes of beach bodies invade the currently peaceful and botanically exciting dunes.

See all the options (plus more in June) on my Forage Walks and Events page.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Pine Cone Jam


May was pine cone jam month, in my kitchen.

Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seem to like it. Pine cone jam (sometimes the resulting syrup is referred to as pine honey) is considered both treat and medicine. Used for coughs. The flavor is tartly sweet and lightly resinous. It's hard to imagine that these hard little cones become soft and chewable after cooking, but they do.

A traditional Caucasian and Russian way to enjoy them is a medicinal spoonful stirred into hot black tea. I like them on crunchy toast, or cooked with pan-seared pork chops, in the pan where a duck breast cooked (deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar), or for dessert, mixed with macerating strawberries, or churned into a wonderful ice cream. 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.


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


You want immature, very small cones, green inside; they are already about a year old by the time we harvest them (the current year's cones form on the tips of the growing pine "candles"in late spring and early summer - I find those just disintegrate when cooked).

It helps to have rubbing alcohol handy: Your fingers get very sticky, and the alcohol is very effective in dissolving the resin. 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.


In research mode I searched my old Russian cookbooks for recipes, but came up with nothing. Online was one recipe that claimed Georgian heritage. I experimented with five batches. For the first three I boiled the cones in water, then three times in syrup, in the tradition of Russian varenya, where entire fruit (or pine cones) are cooked and cooled - important -  multiple times in syrup. I also boiled four times, and for the last batch made the jam without the water bath, and using honey instead of sugar. That last version was more resinous. But I liked them all.


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.


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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...

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