Thursday, June 26, 2008

mulberrylicious

I've never seen a mulberry in a grocery store, have you?

Most people don't even know what they are. As I stood on a bench on Central Park West yesterday, reaching above me to gently pick the ripe fruit, an older woman sat down and asked what I was picking. I told her mulberries and asked if she'd like to try one. Clearly she thought I was trying to poison her, so I ate one first...then she took one.

She said she'd had a white mulberry tree once. She'd fed the leaves to silkworms and watched them spin silk, but she'd never thought about eating the fruit. Maybe it's just me, but if I had a tree that produced LOTS of berries, I'd at least do a little research to see if they were tasty.

I imagine mulberries aren't commercially available for several reasons. By the time they're ripe enough to eat they're so soft and juicy it's hard to pick them without squishing them. Also, they don't all ripen at once. You can pick from the same tree for 3-4 weeks, but you don't get the large harvests that might make commercial production viable.

This year I've vowed to get more creative with my fruit. Too many jams and jellies last year... couldn't give 'em all away. So last week, after Mark and I picked together in the park (it's much easier when one person pulls down a high branch while the other picks), I tried a variation on the strawberry-basil-balsamic vinegar recipe, substituting mulberries. After macerating the berries for about 90 minutes, the juicy mixture made a delicious topping for vanilla ice cream.

Last night Leda came for supper (after a frustrating, 2 hour strike-out hunting for mushrooms in the park) and the piece de la resistance was mulberry pudding! Pure mulberry goodness topped with a little unsweetened whipped cream, a sprinkle of basil leaves, and a few whole white mulberries. I used tapioca as a thickener, and I'm telling you, this recipe is a keeper. I see many puddings in my future.

1 c. mulberry puree
1.5 Tbs instant tapioca
1/3 c. sugar
combine in a saucepan and let sit 5 minutes
bring to a full boil (one that can't be stirred down) over medium heat, stirring so it doesn't stick
pour into bowls (or not) and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes

Do you like yours warm or cold? It's delicious both ways.



Sunday, June 15, 2008

bonanza!

It may not officially be summer, but with this week's bounty you could have fooled me!

The harvest began in NYC on Wednesday when I gathered a mess o' Mayapples. They weren't 100% ripe, but Mayapples are one of those obliging fruits that ripen on the windowsill. Four days later and the fruit is soft and yellow, ready to be turned into an as-yet-un-named delicacy. Leda suggests Mayapple ice cream which sounds like a wonderful idea to me. Any other suggestions?

Over the next few weeks, Mayapples will be ripening in woods all over the Northeast. Young Mayapple plants bearing only one leaf won't flower or produce fruit. But check under the foliage of any two-leaved Mayapple and you may find a small fruit. Give it a squeeze. Is it a little soft, a little yellow? If you answer yes to both these questions, it's time to harvest. Special note to Mum: go out and check your Mayapples! If they're ripe, pick them and call me!

Saturday morning was the first Barryville (NY) farmers' market and Penni and Pat brought me guinea fowl eggs. They remembered how fascinated I was last year by all the different sizes and colors of their eggs: quail, chicken, and duck. Guinea fowl eggs (on the left) are slightly smaller than chicken eggs (on the right). Penni couldn't vouch for their taste, but she warned me their shells were crazy thick. I had to smash that shell against the inside of the sink with considerable force, but it was worth it. The taste is similar to the taste of a chicken egg (a good, grass-fed chicken egg)...maybe a little stronger. But what's most fabulous is the yolk to white ratio. I always wish there were more yolk in an egg; isn't that everybody's favorite part? The guinea fowl yolk is surrounded by a mere centimeter's margin of white. Egg perfection.

Saturday afternoon, despite a litle rain, Mark and I harvested milkweed florets. That's an understatement. We hit the milkweed jackpot, baby! I like the florets even better than young milkweed shoots; they have the shape of broccoli florets but taste so much better. I sauteed a few onions in olive oil, added the milkweed, S & P, and we feasted on deliciousness.

Go ahead and tell me it's not summer. I know summer's bounty when I see it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

the cheese stands alone...or with a little bread

The day began by meeting the cows. Jonathan and Nina White of Bobolink Farms offer cheese making workshops on Sundays, and my friend Sara and I drove to Vernon, NJ in pursuit of education and good eats.

We started in the barn, where the cows who had already calved were being milked. I'd never tasted raw milk before; it was like a subtly sweet dessert: rich and dense, with a taste and texture so memorable that all future milks will be scorned as inadequate imitations.
Leaving the milk to ferment, we walked across the farm to meet the dry herd (calves, bulls, and cows who either weren't pregnant or hadn't yet calved). On this 90 degree June day, they wisely sought refuge in the shade. Most commercially raised cattle are confined to very small spaces and fed corn; a diet of corn produces big cows fast. However, since cows don't digest corn well, corn-fed cattle often require frequent antibiotics to combat illness and infection. The cows at Bobolink are grass fed and have plenty of room to walk around.

The pigs were considerably less concerned with keeping cool. Or perhaps the lure of leftover bread and whey was simply too strong to resist.

Bobolink bakes bread in a wood fired oven that works with retained heat. Different types of bread are baked in succession as the temperature drops during the day. We made epees and baked them at about 750 degrees F.

The dough is a delicious combination of partially hulled wheat, rye, and corn flours, with a little rosemary thrown in. And so pretty.


Back to the cheese-making room, where after an hour+ of fermentation, the addition of a little rennet, and Jonathan's expert stirring and slicing, the curds and the whey began to separate. Fresh curds don't have the tang of aged cheese but it's soft, warm, and my new favorite comfort food.We ended our day with lunch on the hill in the shade of a large Maple. Delicious focaccia pizzas topped with a combination of cheeses, kalamata olives, spring onions, and duck breast; a salad of spring greens and nasturtium flowers, home made sausage, fresh strawberries (it IS that time of year!), and several very fresh loaves topped with aged cheddar and a delicious, runny Amram cheese. The cows were feeding heavily on field garlic when they made the milk for the Amram, which gave the cheese a distinctive yellow color and strong taste. The texture was soft, almost spreadable. I wish I'd bought more.

I'll check back in with Bobolink as the season progresses; they have different kinds of cheeses at different times of year. And if you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend signing up for a workshop. It would be hard to find a more delicious, informative way to spend a Sunday morning.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

a photo essay

Every one should have a friend like John. John knows so much about NYC and it's a blast poking around in some of the more distant edges of the 5 boros. Today I took the afternoon off and we went to Coney Island & Brighton Beach. To say it was amazing sounds pat and clich├ęd, so instead I'll share some photos as proof positive of the wonderful afternoon. I wish I'd brought my real camera, but the iPhone did ok.

A token foraging shot: this field was full of deliciousness: knot, poke, and milk weeds, to name a few. Sadly, it had all been treated w/rat poison.
An emblem of Coney Island, the parachute fall has been closed since 1960.
Have a drink at Cha-Cha's Bar & Grill, then go Shoot a Freak!
Approaching the raison de voyage:
Disney ain't got nothin' on the Cyclone: a seriously rattling wooden track and 4 (count 'em 4) stomach jolting drops.
We decided to eat AFTER the roller coaster.
Walked back to the beach to eat our Russian specialties.
Pickled herring w/beets, onions, potatoes, and sour cream, pork and roast potatoes, potato pancakes, green borscht. Sadly, I smeared grease on my camera lens and all the food pictures are smudgy. Our view as we ate:
The subway station mirrors the roller coaster architecture.
Bye-bye, Coney Island (and Brighton Beach)! And thanks again, John.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

So many choices

Not that I'm complaining, but Spring offers so many delicious choices to the forager. It's an embarrassment of riches to be flush with knotweed and pokeweed and milkweed all at the same (almost) time. Sure I freeze, and can, and preserve, but there's nothing like eating these plants fresh.

I have friends coming to visit next weekend. Friends who are adventurous, excitable eaters, but who don't forage for themselves. I believe I've figured out a way to work all three of the above into the menu and I'm counting on their open-mindedness at suppertime. Should I tell them what they're eating or wait until the meal is over?

Last weekend Mark and I were on our way to a local nursery when I remembered where we'd found some poke last year. We pulled in and in less than 15 minutes had a large bag full. This weekend I walked across the road to my dependable milkweed patch and once again filled a bag in under 15 minutes. Can you tell the difference between the two?

No really, can you? I want to know!

If forced to choose a favorite, I choose milkweed. Not only because it's less work, but also because so many parts of the plant are edible. (Plus it's in the same family, Asclepidaceae, as my beloved Hoyas.) Most wild foods books tell you to cook milkweed in two or three changes of water, to remove the bitter taste. This is not necessary. After reading Sam Thayer's book, The Forager's Harvest, I tried his way of boiling it once, for about 20 minutes. Delicious, and not at all bitter! Since then I've experimented; my favorite way to prepare milkweed spears is to blanch them for a minute or two in boiling water, then drain, toss with olive oil, garlic, S&P, and grill or broil until just before they start to blacken. A little parmesan never goes amiss.

Pokeweed, on the other hand, requires a little more work. After stripping off the leaves (which are also edible, but can be cooked for less time), I boil the young shoots for 2-3 minutes. Have a second pot of boiling water on hand so the shoots can be removed from the first water, then immediately boiled a second time, again for 2-3 minutes. Key: from boiling water to boiling water...NOT from boiling water to cold water then brought to a boil.

Check back with me later in the season and I'll tell you about harvesting and cooking milkweed flowers and pods. Oh, and then there's the lilac wine I started this weekend... As Rosemary Clooney would say, "C'mon a my place, a my place, I'm a gonna give you candy."