Crabapple jelly

CRABAPPLES

Crabapples are the cutest little fruit, looking just like a miniture apple. They ripen just before their relatives the apple. They’re tart when eaten fresh but the flavour can be mellowed by stewing them. Once stewed they can be run through a food mill to remove the seeds and used like apple puree. They’re high in pectin and a pectin stock can be made with them to use throughout the year for other jams and jellies. They would be good to mix with blackberries which are in season at the moment but low in pectin. Like regular apples these come in all sorts of colours and flavours and the green ones are the most tart. I foraged these from a tree at the local youth centre. They were just dropping on the ground so I figured it was ok to pick some from the tree.

Crabapple jelly recipe

Crabapples

Water

Sugar

Soak the fruit in a sink with hot water and about a cup of vinegar. This will lift off any dirt and clean the fruit. Remove any bruised fruit. No need to cut the fruit, just rinse and then place in a heavy based pot. Add just enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to a boil and a rolling simmer for 30 mins. It’s ok if it cooks a bit longer, you just want it soft and for the flavour and pectin to release in the water.

Once it’s cooked set up a strainer over a large bowl and line it with a clean cloth. I used calico but any clean cloth will do. Place a small plate into the strainer to stop the big particles pushing through the cloth. This will result in a clearer jelly. Pour all the crapapples into the strainer and carefully remove the small plate. Don’t gather up the sides of the cloth and squeeze or you will get cloudy jelly. Leave to drain into the bigger bowl overnight. In the morning I had a delicate pink coloured opaque liquid from this batch. I kept mine in the fridge until I was ready to do next step the next day.

At this point instead of continuing with making jelly you could freeze the liquid in 1 cup batches and use as pectin stock later. You will have left over stewed fruit which can be run through a food mill and use like an apple puree.

Back to the recipe – when ready add 1 part crabapple liquid to 0.7 parts sugar. I used 1 cup to just over 2/3 cup sugar. Bring to a hard boil for at least 10 minutes to help it reach setting point. Do the plate test to check if it’s ready. Try to put in the sterilised jars straight away or it will start setting in the pot. If you pour it in down side of jar you won’t get air bubbles in it like I have in the picture below. Preserve by giving the sealed jars a bath for 10 mins then cook and store in dark cupboard. Eat within the year.

And here’s the finished result – crabapple jelly.

finished jelly

Macadamia mylk

MYLK

It’s a moment that I chase everyday while growing and foraging my own food. It’s the moment my mind is blown by the flavour of what I’m eating. I had one of these moments drinking some homemade macadamia mylk. I’m sure it was because the macadamia nuts were so fresh. They dropped off the tree a week ago and were cracked open to make this recipe.

Macadamia mylk recipe

1/2 cup raw macadamia nuts

water for soaking

500ml water

pinch of salt (optional)

1 medjool date, take out pip (optional)

  1. Crack open nuts. Rinse the nuts well to make sure they are clean. Soak in water for 2 hours make sure they are covered well and there is some space for them to expand a little. Take nuts out of the soaking water, drain and rinse well. Discard soaking water.
  2. Blend nuts and 500ml fresh water for one minute, I use a nutribullet. There’s no need to strain when finished. Bottle and keep in the fridge.
  3. If you want a sweeter mylk add the medjool date and include when doing step 2 above.

Harvesting macadamia nuts

macadamsia-nuts

Macadamia nuts are the queen of nuts and I love them. I have wonderful memories of whiling away the hours cracking nuts from the tree in my backyard. I used to gather up the nuts and crack them and eat fresh or add into pesto. Any that were crushed too much in the cracking process were fed to my chickens who absolutely loved them. These chickens were spoilt as at the time I worked on a blueberry farm and used to bring home the blueberries with the caterpillars in them. They would gobble them up as quickly as they could. They had the shiniest coats and were incredibly healthy. They laid the nicest eggs I think I will ever eat ever again.

Moving to Adelaide I lamented the loss of living in a subtropical zone. More so for the loss of knowledge of plants. When I looked at the landscape then I could read it like a book. Its plants were like characters where the names, history and relationships were known. It was a happy day when I found out Macadamia’s grew on the Adelaide Plains and even better when I found a few growing on public land. Macadamia trees are a good contender for a guerilla gardening plant and would be cheirshed by other foragers for many years to come.

The nuts start dropping to the ground from late March to September. In the lead up to the season the tree will start dropping baby nuts and some mature nuts. The nut needs to be taken out of the husk as soon as possible so it doesn’t get damaged. You don’t need to cut the husk, just wait for the green husk to split open then remove. I put them in a basket in a warm spot to speed up the husk splitting open.

Put them back in the basket in the warm spot until they rattle around inside the shell and then they’re ready to crack open. Use a hammer to crack the nut open on a surface with a little indentation so the nut doesn’t roll away while cracking. If you have a regular steady supply then it would be worth investing in a purpose built macadamia nut cracker.

Harvesting walnuts

There are plenty of old walnuts trees growing around Adelaide. Some kind souls probably planted them for the generations to come. I don’t think they’d come up on their own. The one growing next door gets visited regularly by a flock of white cockatoos who have a great time munching away on them. There are also a few trees I know about on public land that can be foraged. I went to one of those trees to see if they were ready for harvest and managed to collect a full bucket in about 15 minutes.

walnuts

It’s better to collect them while the whole husk is green as the rotting husk damages the inner nut and shell.  Before you start thinking about dehusking the nut make sure you keep in mind that the husk will create a pretty permanent dark brown stain on any surface it comes in contact with, including your hands so use gloves. To dehusk, get the shell and roll it under your foot on a hard surface. The husk will crack and sort of lift of the shell. If you add too much pressure the nut will crack. Once you’ve rolled it around a bit pick it up and peel off the husk. Most of it should come off. Then place it in a bucket of hot water. Soak the nuts in the hot water for a couple of hours. This will soften any left over husk and the ones that sink are the good ones. Scrape of the rest of the husk with steel wool or a knife and place in a tray to dry.

hulled-walnuts

Let the nuts cure for a few weeks in a shaded ventalated space outside. Protect them from rats and birds but ensure they get good ventilation. The lighter ones in the above photo were the one from the green husks and the darker to black ones had more rotting husk on it they are most likely no good for eating but the light ones should be good.

 

Start of blackberry season

blackberries1

The Adelaide Hills are full of blackberries right now. Big, juicy and flavoursome berries free to anyone who doesn’t mind being spiked repeatedly in the hands and having their clothes pulled and torn while picking them. This is just part of the fun of the harvest. It reminds me a bit of the kids game ‘Operation’, where you have a pair of tweezers and need to pull out the different bones without touching the sides or the buzzer goes off. You feel a great sense of achievement picking the berries without touching any other part of the plant. You know straight away if you have touched anything as the buzzer in this case is the spikey thorns.

The spikes are the least of your problems, the real danger to picking them is making sure the plants haven’t been doused in poison. Blackberries are a weed of national significance. They are on the hit list of councils, national parks and private land owners – but with approximately 9 million hectares of it across Australia it physically can’t all be sprayed.

Try to pick them on private land and talk to the person who looks after the land about how they are managed to know if the berries are safe to eat. This patch above was like a wall and was taller than me and fairly deep. I harvested along the edge. If the patch was shorter you can beat a ladder down or a piece of timber on top to create more edge to harvest from. Take a little hook to pull out any bunches hanging just out of reach.

Stay away from patches growing along roadsides as the probability is higher that these would be sprayed by councils. Anyhow, these wouldn’t be as good as those berries would be more dusty from the passing cars. Apparently, a dye is used so you can tell if it’s been sprayed recently. The spray is said to smell like kerosene so stay away if you smell this or anything unusual. Another tell tale sign someone has been poisoning it is if the branches have been slashed back or leaves are dying back.

Blackberries don’t ripen after they are picked so make sure you pick ripe fruit. It’s ripe when it’s all black and shiny. Don’t pick the fruit that looks a little dried out, it’s old. I don’t mind a bit of tartness so I’ll also pick the ones with a few pinkish cells. Use a baking tray or large shallow container when collecting so the fruit doesn’t get squashed. The fruit freezes well for use throughout the year. It can also be made into jam and wine amongst other things.

 

 

 

Mallow

mallow-seeds

Spotted these mallow seeds in the garden the other day and ate them fresh. I also fried them up for a few minutes with some small mallow leaves in a little b.d farm butter and Murray river salt as a little snack. Pick the seed heads while they are still young and green. They are still ok when turning mauve but once they are brown and dry they are too tough to eat.

There’s a saying in southern Italy ‘La malva da ogni male ti salva’ meaning Mallow saves you from every disease. Mallow has been used extensively across the planet as both food and medicine. In China they have used mallow as a staple vegetable for over 2500 years. The Egyptians and later the french also used the mallow Althaea officinalis to make a marshmallow dessert. This was the healthy precursor to the modern factory made sweet of the same name.

Malva negecta and over twenty other similar Malvas are edible. In the garden it:

  • acts a a nursing plant to seedlings
  • breaks up and aerates heavy clay soil
  • retains moisture in the soil.

The young leaves can be used in salads and older leaves can replace spinach in recipes. Leaves can be added to pesto and green juices. The young green seed heads can be pickled like capers, eaten fresh, added to any salad or cooked dish, or fried in butter and salt and added as garnish to dishes. The root can be used like a potato. The blended root can be used as an alternative to dairy milk. Mallow leaves can be dried and made into tea with a clearer stimulant effect on the body than caffeine. Any part of the mallow can be eaten including the flowers.

Beyond food, older stems and roots of mallow can be prepared into fibre. Soak in overnight and crush the roots, the fibres break apart and can be woven together to make twine. Mallow has also been used as medicine all over the world as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, anti-bacterial, and an emollient to name a few uses.

Mallow root milk

1 cup mallow root, chopped

3 cups water

1 teaspoon, homemade vanilla essence

1 medjool date or 2 tablespoons of honey

optional – 1/2 cup almonds, soaked overnight

Blend all ingredients and strain. Store in fridge and use in place of dairy milk.

 

Dolmades

dolmades

Grape vine leaves are in abundance at the moment and are sending out lots of growth. I’ve seen grape vines growing in lots of public places and it wouldn’t be difficult to forage some. I’m choosing to pick the vines growing over our fence that come in from our neighbours yard because I know they aren’t sprayed. Pick young leaves around the size of your hand for this recipe. Don’t pick any damaged leaves as the stuffing will just fall out. Try to pick in the morning and don’t pick leaves that are providing grapes with shade. Pick one or two lighter green leaves from each branch/shoot from the under story of the vine. Pick the leaves in early summer. Older leaves are tougher, more fibrous and can be bitter.

40 vine leaves

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion

100 gm uncooked basmati rice

50 gm quinoa

50 gm pine nuts

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon five spice

1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup mint, chopped finely

50 ml lemon juice

600ml vegetable stock or water

enough tomato to line base of pot

Wash the vine leaves and cut off stem with scissors. Blanch in salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and then set aside in a tea towel. The leaves will turn a dull olive green.

Fry the onion gently until translucent. Mix dry ingredients and mint together in a bowl. Add cooked onion. I used whole cherry tomatoes to line the base of the pot. You could also line pot with sliced larger tomatoes.

Place a heaped teaspoon of the stuffing on each vine leave and roll up leaf. Start rolling from base of leaf upwards, then firmly tuck sides in. It’s ok to overlap smaller leaves to get a better rolling surface. Pack each rolled leaf firmly next to each other with the flap of the leaf on the bottom. This will stop it unrolling while its being stacked and while its cooking. Keep adding layers until all the rolls are packed in. Put a plate on top layer of the vines to stop them from moving in the water. Mix the lemon juice and stock and pour over the plate and bundles.

Bring to boil then simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 30 minutes in the pot before removing.

Wild fennel pollen

This time of year wild fennel is flowering all over the Adelaide plains and the hills. While it grows a lot on the sides of roads, councils tend to spray poison a lot there too. This patch was growing near a creek. Wild fennel doesn’t grow bulbs like the stuff sold in the shops. The young fronds, seeds and pollen are edible.

wild-fennel

When I stopped to check this patch I also found a lovely fig tree with large plump figs on it. I’ll go back and collect those later when ripe.

I collected flower heads with firm yellow flowers on it like the photo below for saving the pollen. Be careful not to collect all the heads as these are food for bees and the flowers will turn into seeds which can be eaten green or at maturity. The mature seeds will also drop making new plants.

fennel.jpgThe flower heads should be put in a paper bag when transporting to catch any pollen that may fall out. When you get home take the flower heads out of the bag and rub together over a piece of white paper. You should see little yellow fluff dropping, this is the fresh fennel pollen. If you want dried pollen just leave the heads in the paper bag till it dries out then shake it loose from flower heads and store pollen in jar in the cupboard. Eight flower clusters will make about a tablespoon of pollen. I’m holding one cluster in the photo above.

I put my fresh pollen in the freezer overnight to kill any miniature bugs that may hiding in the pollen, then keep it in the fridge. The fresh pollen can be used as a spice and you don’t need much, just a pinch. It has a delicate aniseed flower. It can be added to cooked meals like pasta or to add flavour to a salad dressing.

Nasturtsiums

I felt like eating some nasturtium flowers and leaves today but the plant in my garden is looking pretty sad at the moment. It died back recently and has about four tiny leaves on it. I had to look further afield so I went down to a patch I know that grows by the river near my house. When I got there it looked like the whole area had been sprayed. Everything was dry and dead, which is why I don’t like foraging in public spaces.

Nasturtiums are pretty prolific so I knew I’d pass some on the way home which I did. The nasturtiums were growing through someones fence onto the sidewalk. There were plenty so I helped myself to some. Nasturtiums can be used medicinally, they are high in vitamin C and have antibiotic properties. I will be using the flowers and young leaves below in a salad.

nastursium

Previously I have also pickled the seeds. A couple of years ago I visited a friends property. She had a huge patch of nasturtiums and doesn’t spray them. They had all gone to seed and there were literally thousands of seeds to collect. I collected the young green seeds for this recipe. The older brown seeds are no good for pickling but can be used to grow new plants. Use the following pickled seeds like you would use capers.

Pickled nasturtium seeds (garden betty recipe)

2/3 cup young green nasturtium seed pods
1/4 cup salt
2 cups water
2/3 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf

Separate the pods into individual seeds, and give them a rinse to remove any dirt. In a jar dissolve the salt in water. Add the nasturtium seeds, and keep the seeds submerged. Let the brine sit for a couple of days at room temperature. The seeds will turn a dull green during this stage.

Strain the seeds and rinse again to remove excess salt.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar and sugar to a low boil for 1 minute and stir to dissolve.

Divide your seeds into small jars, then pour the hot vinegar over the seeds, covering them completely.Add a bay leaf to each jar.

Let the jars cool to room temperature before sealing with lids. At this point, you can either keep the jars at room temp or store them in the fridge.

The pickled pods will keep indefinitely in the vinegar, just use a clean utensil to remove the pods from the jar.

 

 

Urban foraging

Truth be told that most urban areas are not known for having edible plants growing in public spaces. Some notable exceptions to this include Cuba’s urban farming and the town of Todmorden in the UK. In Australia we have Buderim’s food street where the verges have been planted out with edibles to share. I really hope these exceptions become the norm one day.

Not incorporating edibles into urban landscapes is not only a shame but also means so many lost opportunities. So many lost opportunities to:

  • recognise the seasons and see what amazing produce is on offer
  • connect with others living in the community while picking and preserving the produce
  • taste produce at its best
  • have a closer connection to our environment
  • provide greater self reliance to get through difficult times.

There are laws around foraging in public places and while I’m not an expert it’s generally not encouraged. For example, in South Australia native plants can only be picked on crown land if you have a permit. It’s ok to forage natives on private property as long as it’s done responsibly and the local population remains intact. In urban areas issues of private land ownership arise and over harvesting of plant populations come into play. Most of the problems with foraging seem to stem from plant illiteracy and greed when people wish to profit from their finds.

I’m not going to go into detail about the principles of responsible foraging here other than:

  • know what you are picking
  • make sure you responsibly harvest whatever you are picking
  • pick what you need and leave what you don’t.

In my local area I have discovered some edibles growing along a council drain following an initial discovery of a plum tree. While picking the plums I noticed that there were also nectarines in the drain next to some of the dropped plums. I wandered up the drain to find where the nectarines were coming from. They were falling off a tree that was hanging over the fence. I also found in a very short distance a banana tree, grape vine, rosemary and mulberry tree.

This space is a great contender for some guerrilla gardening. The eroded drain provides a source of ground water for the established trees as well as a seasonal supply for watering the baby trees and plants by hand. Usually the drain is well dry at this time of year but had some water flowing due to the recent unusual storms. I’ll need to ponder a bit more about future guerrilla plantings in this space.

drain

Back to the plums. I gathered up some plums before Christmas and we ate them fresh. They were very tasty and tart which is how I like my plums. We went away for a week and during that time there was a four day heat wave. When I went back to the tree most of the fruit seemed to have fallen and it was now very ripe. They were still tasty so I collected some to make some fruit leather.

Plum leather recipe

plums

Get a large pot and a bowl ready for pips. Take the plums and squeeze between fingers over the pot. The seed should become loose and easy to remove. Place pips in bowl. Once all the plums have had their seeds removed squeeze some lemon over them. I used about half a lemon for 2 kgs of fruit. Put pot on medium heat on stove. Once the juices start releasing turn the heat down to simmer. Once enough juice has been released, use a stick blender to blend plums into a puree. Simmer for 10 mins and turn heat off.

At this point the puree needs to be dehydrated. If you have a dehydrator use that. I don’t have one so I use the oven. Prepare some baking trays by placing baking paper on them. Get a soup ladle and put the puree on the baking paper about 1/2 cm thick. Spread out puree evenly on tray using the back of a spoon and gently tap it to level out the puree. Place all the trays in the oven and cook on low heat 80c. Check regularly but expect it to take up to 8 hours to dehydrate. It’s ready when the mixture peels back from the baking paper.