The Onion Flower

Writer and Horticulturist


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Wildcraft Wednesday

It’s been raining so much lately that it hasn’t been easy getting out to forage for wild foods. To make up for the rainy weather I’ve concentrated on gathering tea herbs, some are wild but most grow in my garden.

In the garden I harvest pineapple mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, lemon balm, lavender, monarda (bergamot), anise hyssop, violet leaves, catmint, raspberry and blackberry leaves. Add to this the wild mint, ox-eye daisy petals, roses, mallow flowers and red clover that I’ve gathered wild. These are the flavours that I like best in my tea, sometimes I’ll open a few decaffeinated green tea bags to add to the mixture and up the anti-oxidant factor. I either use the mixture loose in a tea ball if I’m making a pot or stuff it into tea bags with a fold-over flap that I purchased online. These I find most handy since they come in various sizes and work best for bringing tea in my thermos.

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Pineapple mint, slow growing and non-invasive in my garden

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Red monarda petals I’ve been harvesting

Generally speaking herbs are at their most flavourful before they flower, although I don’t always get around to picking them in time. After I pick my herbs I let them sit on the back porch for a few hours to wilt and so that any critters that might be hiding can take the chance to leave. After that I gently soak them in water, letting dirt sink to the bottom. If they’re on long stems and it’s a dry day outside I’ll sometimes clip them to the clothesline, although drying in a dark place is best to preserve the essential oils. For small herbs I’ll strew them on newspaper sheets or put them in paper bags to dry. Removing the stems from the leaves will speed up the drying process. I have also used a dehydrator in the past but it’s not usually necessary with something as thin as herbs, I tend to use it more for drying fruit with a high moisture content.

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Mint drying on newspaper

Once everything is well and truly dried I seal them in glass jars until I’ve gathered all my herbs for the summer, at which point I’ll decide what kind of blends to make and label the jars accordingly. I sometimes add spices or dried fruit peel as well such as lemon or ginger for a tea that’s more warming. It’s a very comforting feeling knowing you have enough hot soothing tea to get you through a cold winter.

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Dried tea herbs in jars

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Violet leaves, lemon balm and rose tea. Pale straw colour with a soft rose scent.

 

 What’s your favourite tea blend?

 

 


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Tea For Two

The night-time hum of the dehydrator has been constant lately. It’s a welcome sound and it gives off a bit of heat which is nice with the cold nights we’ve been having.

Last week I harvested many of the herbs I’ve been growing for tea.

Peppermint, Spearmint, Pineapple Mint, Chocolate Mint

Anise Hyssop

Chamomile

Although I normally dry herbs in the summer by hanging them in a warm sheltered area, these herbs are damp and risk mildewing if they’re not dried quickly; hence the dehydrator.

Dehydrator

I’ve been making some of my favourite winter tea blends using everything I’ve grown: a motley of different mints, lemon balm, anise hyssop, bergamot, sage, lemon thyme, chamomile, catmint, catnip and stevia. I’m also adding some of the herbs I’ve foraged such as red clover, violet leaves, yarrow, mallow flowers, rose hips and raspberry leaves. Violet leaves and rose hips in particular pack a wallop of vitamin C  and are great for helping to fight cold symptoms.

There are times when only the right cup of tea will do. When you might want something that cools a hot, itchy throat like mint or raspberry leaf or maybe you need to be comforted and soothed with chamomile and lemon balm.

Do you have a favourite tea ?


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Wild Violet Jelly

Wild Violets

Wild violets are everywhere right now, they are one of the few things growing with abandon in this cold wet spring. If jelly isn’t your thing wild violets have many other uses – eat the flowers and leaves fresh in salads, dry them for tea or make a flavoured vinegar with them.  I use wild violets in my homemade skin products – steeping them with sweet almond oil for a skin softener or with distilled water to create a refreshing toner. Wild violets are high in anti-oxidants, vitamin A and C and have been used medicinally for hundreds of years. They’re one more part of the urban landscape that often goes unnoticed until you develop a relationship with it. Now I notice and remember where they grow and anticipate them the following year.

To make six 4 ounce jars of jelly

Pick the open flower head, leaving behind the stem. You’ll need about 3 heaping cups. That’s a lot of violets and a wonderful way to spend a lazy afternoon but if like me you don’t have whole afternoons to while away in picturesque meadows then you could pick about 15 minutes a day over the course of a week like I did; meandering and stopping on my lunchtime walks whenever I saw a large patch, always leaving some behind. Be sure to pick them from someplace that doesn’t spray herbicides and away from car exhaust or construction debris.

3 Cups Wild Violets

If you’re not using them right away store your flowers in the refrigerator to keep them fresh. When ready, immerse your violets in cold water and swish gently to clean, changing the water a few times until there is no grit left at the bottom of the bowl. Put into a large glass jar or container with a lid and pour enough boiling water over the flowers to cover by half, roughly 5 cups. Stir until all the violets are under water and let sit for 24 hours. The water will turn a beautiful shade of teal and the next day it will have deepened to a rich purple. Drain the violet water into a saucepan, pressing very gently down on the flowers, pressing too hard will produce a cloudy jelly. Bring this liquid to a boil.

Add Boiling Water to Cover by Half

Follow directions depending on what kind of pectin you are using, I used a package of Certo powder and added 2 and ¾ cups of sugar and ¼ cup of lemon juice. Many recipes call for more sugar but the violets have a very delicate flavour which is easily overpowered by sweetness. The next time I make this I will try to find Pomona pectin which doesn’t require sugar to set. Once you’ve added the lemon juice and pectin the water will turn a bright fuchsia pink. The colour alone is enough to make this experiment fun. Stir until the sugar dissolves and bring back to a boil. Let everything boil merrily away until  the jelly passes the ‘set’ test. Dribble a little jelly on a cold plate; it should firm up and when you run your finger through the jelly it should stay put.  1 to 5 minutes is usually recommended but because I used less sugar mine needed to boil longer. When it is ready pour into glass jars still hot from the dishwasher or sink, leaving one inch head space. You could also water-bath can them for 10 minutes at this point but with the sugar content and the few jars produced I know we will be eating these too soon to bother.

Boil Jelly

There are many recipes online for making your own jelly, I combined some of them to get the results I wanted. A very thick jelly with good flavour and less sugar. Making jelly isn’t rocket science but it doesn’t always work perfectly the first time. No need to panic. Just start over and boil your mixture longer until you achieve a good set.

Wild Violet Jelly


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How To Stay Warm

Apricot & Vanilla Bean Liqueur

Although spring is supposedly ‘just around the corner’ this March weather looks more like January to me. In an effort to stay warm and cheer myself up I’m indulging in a homemade drink. After all, why pay for fancy liqueurs when you can make your own for a quarter of the price?

Get yourself a pretty jar with a tight seal, fill it three-quarters of the way with vodka or another neutral flavoured alcohol. Add sugar to your liking, (3 tbsp or so depending on the sourness of the fruit) and shake until it begins to dissolve.

Apricots

Wash and add the fruit of your choice to the jar, filling to the top. Prick the fruit all over with a toothpick or slice it up(whole fruit looks prettier but will take longer to flavour the vodka). Local, organic and seasonal fruit is the preferred choice but in winter 1 out of 3 ain’t bad. I’ve tried making this with my own frozen berries but the flavour is always lacking compared to fresh. Add spices or herbs for an extra dimension of flavour; in fact it doesn’t have to be fruit flavoured at all. Think ginger, rosemary or chili for mixed drinks and Bloody Marys’.

Vodka Infusion

Seal the jar tightly and put away for at least 1 month out of sunlight, shaking occasionally. Start sampling after one month. Once the fruit has finished infusing strain it through cheesecloth or a clean dishcloth and either decant into a bottle for easy pouring or keep in the same jar. Make your first batch small since you might want to adjust the flavour next time.
Don’t throw away that good fruit! It’s perfect for a boozy trifle or spooned over vanilla ice cream.


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Delayed Gratification

I have a taste for sour and fermented foods. Always have.

Dill pickles, pickled beets, miso, sauerkraut, kimchee, green tomato chow chow…You name it I eat it.  Fermenting foods is an ancient practice that requires no energy to preserve its freshness. The natural fermentation process does all the work for you and transforms it into a nutritious and tasty food that can store potentially for years. Since I’m trying to avoid store-bought foods that I can make myself I thought I would try my hand at sauerkraut. There are more recipes for sauerkraut than you can imagine but mine is based on a version from Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation; it is considered by many to be the bible of fermented foods. He also has a great website, http://www.wildfermentation.com/

Many of the recipes I found online were as simple as: slice cabbage, pound cabbage with salt, let cabbage sit. The following is what I did but remember that you really can’t do this wrong, nature follows its own rules here.

I used only half a cabbage, enough to give me two one litre glass jars of sauerkraut; but make as much as you need.

  1. Choose a medium-sized head of fresh cabbage, any colour or variety is fine. Split in half and cut out the heart. Either chop finely or shred, I prefer the texture of chopped. Layer in whatever you like for flavour and colour – grated carrots, onion or swiss chard work well. For spices, carraway and dill are classic but choose any combination you enjoy.

    Add Spices or Vegetables

    As you are chopping you can either throw the cabbage pieces into a large bowl or directly into jars. Sprinkle each large handful with salt, roughly half a teaspoon is what I used. Press down on each layer of cabbage – you want to push out the air as well as get the salt working to pull water out from the cabbage cells.

  2. Begin pounding the cabbage to draw out the moisture and compact it even more. Continue reading