Lavender Tea Milk Punch: A Libation to Toast the Returning Light

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It’s that magical time of the year—halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox—when we start to consider the returning light and warmer, softer days. The seeds in the earth are stirring and in some parts of the world (like ours) snowdrops are up and daffodils are already starting to peep through the soil. For my ancient ancestors, February was a time of great anticipation for the coming growing season. To ensure bountiful crops, productive livestock and healthy mothers and babes, they practiced fertility and purification rites—many of them featuring milk. Why, the Gaelic festival of Imbolc/Imbolg (Feb 1-4) has milk right in its name.

In light of the academic controversy that ultimately surrounds the term for this festival, the distinguished linguist Eric Hamp has conclusively proven that the second syllable for Imbolg can be traced to the Old Irish words for “milk” and “milking” which, in turn, was derived from the Proto-Indo-European root-word *Hmelǵ– signifying “purification”…Rekindling the Rites of Imbolg, W. MacMorrighan

Milk played an important role in these rites. It symbolized new life and so was considered sacred and pure. I imagine it was also dear. It seems unlikely to me that ancient peoples actually drank much milk. It would have been difficult to store and milk production was tied to the seasons. I reckon they made butter, cheese, yogurt, etc and possibly saved the milk drinking for ceremonies or for offerings to goddesses—particularly fertility goddesses.  Brighid, the mother/sun goddess associated with Imbolc, has a close association with milk. Legend has it that she was nourished exclusively on milk from an Otherworldly red heifer. Even post-sainthood, St. Brigid was considered a protector of herds and a producer of milky miracles. Pre-Christian and Christian worshippers of Brighid/St Brigid relied on the goddess/saint to bless and protect the milk supplies of their herds and the new mothers in their communities. Of course there’s a whole lot more to Brighid/Brigid than an affinity for dairy—like fire, poetry, herbs, healing…for starters.

In Scotland, dairymaids made libations of milk to the Gruagach, a female spectre of the class of brownies and a protector of herds. It was a practice that may have originated with ancient mother goddess worship and continued as recently as 1770, with an account of dairymaids on the Island of Trodda leaving daily offerings for milk on hollow stone. (source)

And so with a nod to milk-loving faeriefolk, fertility goddesses the world over and for my own ancestors who would have so revered dairy this time of year, I’m once again making this rich “milk punch” for my own midwinter feast. Danielle and I served this last year at our Midwinter Festival of Lights workshop and I’m so looking forward to lifting a cup or two (or three) again this weekend.

The recipe is pretty simple—it’s really just a heavenly mix of whole milk, cream, honey, tea and herbs & vanilla. Heat-loving herbs for a celebration to welcome the sun, makes sense to me. And so I went with lavender for it’s calming, healing and purification properties. You could experiment with other herbs and flavours. I’ve made this with rose and cardamom for a winter solstice party and it was delicious. Rosemary, another Brighid/Imbolc herb, might be interesting…Oh, and bourbon, brandy or any other favourite spirits make this ceremonial libation all the more magical! I serve this in a milk glass (of course) punch bowl with an ice ring (water & flowers frozen overnight in a bundt pan) and a sprinkling of lavender buds. You could also serve this with boozy whipped cream as you would with egg nog. For those avoiding dairy, I imagine you could do something quite spectacular with almond milk or coconut milk and coconut cream…

Recipe: Lavender Cream Libation

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Lavender Cream Libation by candlelight…and cake.

Ingredients 
1/2 cup + 1 1/2 cups whole milk (the most delicious you can find, grass-fed, organic, fresh,etc)
2 cups of good heavy cream (again, the good stuff, sans artificial thickeners)
4 teaspoons honey (more or less to taste – I use lavender-infused herbal honey)
1/2 a vanilla bean, split & scraped
2 cups of strong brewed lavender tea (use store-bought tea bags or make a tisane with fresh or dried lavender. I used a commercial chamomile & lavender tea. black lavender tea is also lovely. brew extra for blending to taste)
brandy (optional)
lavender buds for garnish (optional)

Instructions
Brew a pot of lavender herbal tea. You can make your own with dried/fresh lavender or buy herbal tea bags from the shop. I use multiple teabags and allow it to steep overnight or at least for a few hours to really get that nice herbal flavour. Remember you’re going to blend this with a whole lot of milk and cream, so your tea needs to be able to hold her own.

Once your tea is how you want it and cooled to room temperature, slowly heat a 1/2 cup of milk over low heat with the honey and vanilla. Stir to dissolve the honey and break up the vanilla bean seeds. Allow the sweetened milk to cool and chill.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk and cream in a large bowl. Add 2 cups of tea and remaining sweetened milk. Mix and tinker to taste! Add brandy if you like. Sprinkle with lavender buds or grate some nutmeg on top. Serve very cold or on ice. And if you have a bit to spare, go pour a bit in your garden to bless your own fields or leave a draught or two for the faeries. Happy almost-spring!

 

 

Tea & Bourbon Barmbrack for a Midwinter Festival of Light

I’m relatively new to Imbolc. In fact, I’m not even 100% comfortable calling this ancient February festival by it’s Gaelic name despite my Scots/Irish heritage. Gaelic blood hardly makes me privy to old customs. The geography of my foremothers aside, I am drawn to this midwinter festival of light with it’s irresistible magic, food and lore.

For my European ancestors, this time of year, between winter and spring, would have been a time for cautious optimism. Provisions would be running low, but as the days grew longer and the earth began to warm, animals would be mating or birthing (depending on your locale) and the fields would begin to thaw. This meant that larders would soon be filled again with milk, butter and eventually meat—that is, if everything went well. To hedge one’s bets in a world considerably harsher than our own, it would be wise to appeal to the goddesses who controlled such things, often with a festival. And you can imagine how welcome a celebration would be as the weight of a long cold winter began to shift.

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Star of Heaven (detail), Edward Robert Hughes

Customs vary but there are similarities across agricultural communities. Most rites included offerings to the land or to the goddesses of the land to ensure fertile crops and families for the coming years. For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to focus on cake, but obviously there was a whole lot more to these festivals. Ceremonial cakes, usually round (to mimic the sun?) were made by women. The cakes were made with the women’s hopes and desires for the coming year along with the best of what remained in their cupboards. Often a cake was made for feasting and another or a portion of the family cake was left for a goddess or taken to the field to bless the crops-to-be.

“Cakes, in the ancient world, had ties with the annual cycle, and people used them as offerings to the gods and spirits who exercised their powers at particular times of the year…Agricultural peoples around the globe made offerings of cakes prepared from the grains and fruits that arose from the soil. The types of ingredients used to make these cakes contributed to their symbolism…The cake’s size and shape were equally symbolic of its ritual purpose…round cakes symbolized the sun or the moon…All of these cakes had definitive links to the myths the people embraced.”
Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology, Tamra Andrews [ABC-CLIO:Santa Barbara CA] 2000 (p. 52-54) via foodtimeline.org

According to Bede’s De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time)the Anglo Saxon month of February was called Sol-monath, which can be translated to mean “cake month”… or “mud month”.  As round cakes and loaves were made to mark the occasion regardless, I feel like we can make a solid case for “cake month”.  We have the Anglo-Saxons and the Gaels making round cakes in and around early February, or at least around the time that we now call February. Around the same time in Sweden, the Disting or dísaþing (“Disir-Assembly”) was held to honour female spirits known as the Disir. I couldn’t find much information about what happened during this festival, but I’m going to go ahead and assume there would be feasting and sacrifices to these female deities and to the land…and you know, probably cake.

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The Dises (1909) Dorothy Hardy

So, we know the ancients made cakes for feast days throughout the seasons.For more fascinating cake history, Danielle goes more in-depth here.  We’re still trotting out ceremonial cakes, though today’s edible oil “ice-cream” monstrosities and $800 wedding cakes are a bit of a departure from the magical, symbolic rounds of yore. We can do better.

Right, so now that we’ve established the cake thing, there are many other beautiful rites for this loveliest of cross-quarter holidays that I won’t go too far into here. Danielle and I usually host an Imbolc celebration and try to incorporate the traditions that strike us as beautiful and meaningful. Generally, we have a lot of candles (like, a lot) a fire and a feast featuring many gorgeous ceremonial dishes like ewe’s milk hung yogurt cheeses, herbal butters, milk punch (note the dairy theme: milk=purification), braided seed breads and of course, cakes! We also weave Brigid’s crosses/sun wheels using local greenery and set intentions for the coming spring. You can see photos of our past celebrations here and here. Pretty, right?

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Imbolc altar with handmade lanterns and…cake! Albeit, not barmbrack…

And here is where I finally get to the barmbrack AKA barm brack, barnbreak, bairín breac/ bairínbreac, or bara brith (Welsh). No matter how I mispronounce any of these names, they all mean a yeasted or fermented “speckled bread”, as in bread speckled with dried fruit.  I opted for an unleavened version. I fancy the idea of a more ancient cake, before they figured out how to easily extract yeast from brewing. I know if I were an ancient Celt, I certainly wouldn’t bother with wild yeast in a cold February kitchen. I suspect this isn’t a terribly historically accurate notion of mine. I should also add, that not all sources associate barmbrack with Imbolc, but I found enough do to support serving this for a pre-spring festival. Also,  I was out of yeast…

No matter, I wouldn’t change it for the world. This recipe is to die for (a good pun, if you know that barmbrack is popular treat during Samhain). It’s rich and flavourful and really quite beautiful to behold. I made it for a previous Gather Imbolc workshop and it was well-received. My fruit cake-hating six-year-old even liked it. Thank you DoChara.com for the basic recipe. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly to include ancient/older grains, however you can easily use whole wheat or all purpose flour. When you’re making your barmbrack, put some intention into it. Think about your hopes for the coming year. Think about the friends and family you’re going to serve it to. And maybe keep a piece to crumble into your garden to bless your own fields.

Tea & Bourbon Barmbrack for Imbolc

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Adapted from dochara.com 

Keep in mind you need to soak the dried fruit overnight, so adjust your timing and expectations accordingly!

You’ll need a 7 or 8″ round tin – I doubled and made one 10″ round + a 6″ round

1 cup cold strong tea (I used Irish Breakfast because I’m all about congruity)
1/2 cup of bourbon or whisky of choice
1/2  cup organic soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses
1 fresh organic egg
3 cups mixed dried fruit (I used foraged wild blueberries, currants, mulberries and a few sultanas)
1.5 cups of organic red fife flour
1/2 cup of organic einkorn flour (if you can’t find einkorn, increase your red fife flour or whole wheat/all purpose to 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon mixed allspice
1/2  teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2  teaspoon grated orange peel

Put the tea/bourbon, sugar, citrus rind and dried fruit in a bowl. Stir well, then cover and leave to soak overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350ºF and grease the tin with a little butter. Beat the egg and mix it thoroughly with the fruit & remaining liquid. Add the molasses. Sieve the flour, spices and baking soda together and stir well into the fruit mixture.

Turn the batter into the tin, place in the oven and bake for 90 minutes. Allow the brack to cool for about 20 minutes in the tin before turning it out to cool on a wire rack.

This loaf, if sealed up properly, keeps for a good 10 days. It also freezes like a dream!

Woodland Shortbread: Two Recipes for Foraged Fir Biscuits

“For the first time since he had entered Narnia he saw the dark green of a fir tree.”

Since childhood, I’ve had a powerful affection for conifers. Growing up in Saskatchewan, these motherly trees provided deep dark refuge from the summer heat. We would travel five hours to spend two weeks among the Jack Pine, Balsam Fir & White Spruce that surrounded the northern campsites. They were magic. They could make June smell like Christmas and in an attempt to capture some of that magic, I would bring pocketfuls of needles back home with me where they’d inevitably be forgotten about until my mother did laundry. Turns out a dried pine needle can really embed itself under a mother’s fingernail. Yikes. Again in December, a fragrant conifer provided refuge once more—this time from the dark, lighting up the corner of our living room with 70’s pinks, blues and oranges. But, no matter how romantic my childlike musings, eating conifers didn’t occur to me until I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Since then, I’ve been making up for lost time. From lemony Hemlock tea and Grand Fir pots de creme to Danielle’s Grand Fir Nougat, I’ve explored the sensory experience of culinary pine in the most delightful ways.

And so, shortbread seemed like the next logical step. I experimented with several recipes and eventually settled on two that I love for different reasons. The brown sugar version makes for a wonderfully dense and sturdy cookie with a definite Douglas-fir flavour that pairs wonderfully with chocolate. And the brown butter recipe is just so refined with it’s more delicate texture and subtle fir notes. I love them both and I usually make both recipes at the same time. Once you’ve harvested needles, you may as well go all in.

You can use any pine or fir needle for this recipe, once you’ve tested for edibility. All pine and fir needles are edible. You will find some references cautioning against Ponderosa Pines, but that’s a very specific warning for pregnant women and even then, you’d have to consume a great deal of strongly extracted pine to cause a problem (source). So, choose what is available and what tastes nice to you.  And while we’re talking taste, do try to erase any ridiculous association you may have with pine cleaners. Conifers lend themselves wonderfully to baking. And these buttery, citrusy biscuits are positively bursting with forest magic! One can easily imagine them on Mr. Tumnus’ tea table or crisping up in the woodland ovens of the Seelie Court.

First thing’s first, you’re going to need some fir. Grand Fir is a crowd-pleaser with its tangerine notes and eyes-shot-heavenward fragrance. Douglas-fir, while not a true fir hence the hyphen, is a bit more resinous and “piney”. To me, Douglas-fir smells like Christmas.  I love them both, so really just go with what you can find. When you’re foraging for fir, look for the younger growth at the tips of the boughs. You can use spring growth, however, I think those tender, citrusy lime green tips are better enjoyed fresh in salads or for something less demanding than a chunky buttery shortbread. You want needles that have come into their proper piney selves. Needles that taste the way they smell. Avoid very old or dark green needles. They’re too resinous and lend a bitter, astringent aftertaste. Every tree has a unique flavour, so make time for a little coniferous taste testing. You really don’t have to harvest much to get the cup of needles needed to cover both of these recipes. Clip only what you need, don’t ravage any one tree and never snip the top off of a young tree—you’ll expose it to nasties and stunt its growth.

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Next, de-needle. The twiggy stems are definitely bitter, so you only want to be grinding up the needles. Working in batches, grind needles as finely as you can using a spice or coffee grinder. If you have something fancier like a Vitamix or whatnot…well, I’m jealous. Keep grinding until you have the 1/2 cup needed for each recipe. You can store leftover ground needles, sealed,  in the fridge for a few days.

Brown Sugar Foraged Fir Shortbread

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Ingredients

1 cup butter, softened (the best quality you can get your hands on)
1/2 cup of fresh evergreen needles (I used Douglas-fir), finely ground
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

Beat butter and sugar until creamy. I used my stand mixer. Add the ground needles and orange zest; then gradually stir in flour until well blended.

If you’re planning to roll out and cut your cookies, gather the dough into a disc and wrap it well with plastic wrap. Let it firm up in the fridge for at least an hour. If you’re using a cookie mould or want to simply slice rounds, roll the dough into a couple of logs, wrap and refrigerate. If you are slicing rounds, it’s nice to roll the logs of dough in sparkly, organic cane or chunky amber rock sugar for a pleasing crunchy ring-around-the-cookie effect.

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I like to use my Chinese moon cake mould to make large, beautiful gift-worthy shortbread cookies.

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Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).

Rolling/Cutting: On a lightly floured area, roll out the dough to 1/4″ thickness, cut into desired shapes (may I suggest a Christmas tree cutter?) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar, if you fancy.

Moulded/Rounds: Slice 1/4 ” rounds or pack your floured cookie mould with dough. Enjoy the therapeutic thwacking required to loosen the dough from the mould. Truly enjoyable, this part. Sprinkle tops with organic cane sugar.

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Regardless, of what you decide to do with the dough, keep in mind this is a very crispy recipe—so don’t go too thick or you’ll find yourself tottering over from toothsome to tooth breaker in a heartbeat. And if you find you’ve gotten distracted by (insert standard life disaster here) and your cookies may have warmed up a bit in your kitchen, just pop them into the freezer for 5 mins. This will prevent them from spreading.

Pop in the oven for a good 20-25 minutes or until the biscuits are firm to the (very gentle) touch. It’s a low & slow bake for an extra-crispy cookie. If you’ve used a cookie mould, your biscuits may be a bit thicker, so adjust your time accordingly. While the cookies cool, melt some high-quality chocolate over a double boiler. 16 ounces was enough for to cover 18 large molded cookies. Dip biscuits in the melted chocolate and allow to harden at room temperature before you either store in an airtight container or freeze. And these do freeze like a dream.

Brown Butter Evergreen Shortbread

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Ingredients

1/2 cup of  pine needles (roughly chopped to release essential oils – use a knife or scissors)
1 cup salted, good quality butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
Organic cane sugar for dusting

Instructions

Melt the butter over medium-low heat, cooking until it turns a deep golden brown. Remove the pot from the heat and add the pine needles and cover the pot with a lid. Allow the butter to infuse for at least a few hours. I let it infuse overnight. The next day (or later), warm the butter up enough just to melt it and strain out the needles. Pour the butter into a bowl and chill until solidified once more.

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Preheat oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a 10′ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Remove the butter from the fridge and let it return to room temperature.

Beat the butter until light and creamy. I used my stand mixer. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat on medium-high until fluffy. Add the orange zest and add the flour mixing just until it comes together

Press the dough into the tart pan, working quickly so as not to melt the dough with your fingers. Score the dough into wedges and prick the dough all over with a toothpick. Sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake for an hour or until lightly golden brown. Cut the shortbread into wedges along the score lines when the shortbread is still warm and fresh from the oven. Allow it to cool completely before you attempt transferring or serving.

Chestnuts, Neruda & A Recipe For Crème de Marrons

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I adore chestnut season. And by season, I mean post-windstorm sometime in mid-October. There’s just something so cheering and magical about fallen chestnuts. I know of only a few trees here in the city—tall, stately ones lining a couple of boulevards in older neighbourhoods.

Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground ~ Pablo Neruda
From bristly foliage you fell
complete, polished wood, gleaming mahogany,
as perfect as a violin newly
born of the treetops,
that falling
offers its sealed-in gifts
the hidden sweetness
that grew in secret
amid birds and leaves,
a model of form,
kin to wood and flour,
an oval instrument
that holds within it
intact delight, an edible rose

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A few weeks ago, we were expecting heavy storms to sweep through the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, it mostly bypassed the island, but not before high winds swept through the chestnut trees to rattle a bounty of nuts to the ground. We donned our slickers and braved the gusting rain to collect several baskets full. My six-year-old loves kicking through the spiky casings, looking for the small glossy treasures hidden inside. We made sure to wear thick wooly hats to protect our heads against falling chestnuts though that did little to protect my other bent over from from meeting the business end of a small bristling branch. It shocked me more than it hurt and it sent my son into seemingly never ending giggles. Seriously, he laughed for a long time. Butt injuries are hilarious to first graders. Schadenfreude is strong in that boy.

In the heights you abandoned
the sea-urchin burr
that parted its spines
in the light of the chestnut tree;
through that slit
you glimpsed the world,
birds bursting with syllables,
starry dew below,
the heads of boys and girls,
grasses stirring restlessly,
smoke rising, rising.

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Note: Make sure you’re not collecting Horse Chestnuts! These relatives of the sweet chestnut look somewhat similar to the untrained eye, but sadly aren’t good eating. Great topical medicine for oedema or even cellulite, but toxic when eaten. You probably won’t die, but you will experience severe GI distress. A little research and you’ll be able to tell the two apart easily.

You made your decision,
chestnut, and leaped to earth,
burnished and ready,
firm and smooth
as the small breasts
of the islands of America.

detail Anton Seder's chestnut

Detail of Anton Seder’s “Chestnut”

Right, now where was I? Oh, yes—waxing poetic about foraging for chestnuts. Now, the only real drawback to gathering chestnuts is that you actually have to do something with all those gorgeous impenetrable little fortresses of deliciousness. They do not give up their innards without a fight. We’ll get to that.

You fell,
you struck the ground,
but nothing happened,
the grass still stirred,
the old chestnut sighed with the mouths

of a forest of trees,
a red leaf of autumn fell,
resolutely, the hours marched on
across the earth.

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First thing’s first. You’ll have to go through the chestnuts and discard any wrinkly or weevily ones. I’m just going to go ahead and jinx myself here and announce that I’ve yet to come across a wormy chestnut. Wipe the chestnuts with a damp towel and lay them out on a table in a single layer. If you have such a thing as a drying rack, that would be wonderful. I laid my out on a table in a dry airy room and let them sit like that for four days. This will sweeten them up a bit.

Because you are only a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights,
silence 
prepared the germ,

the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.

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Chipped nails. Classic chestnut sacrifice.

Every year I approach the task of shelling chestnuts with a heartbreaking mix of unrealistic optimism and grim determination. I research the same sites over and over looking for tips to make the next few days of my life less miserable. And here’s what works best for me. And by best, I do mean the least shitty. Some nuts will burn your hands. Some will crumble when you try to peel them. Sometimes the tough hairy inner skin has a deathgrip on the lovely yellow nut underneath. Me? I simply lower my standards. I guarantee you I’ve eaten a lot of that inner skin. Who am I to get between that kind of devotion? If you’re eating them straight up, nothing beats roasted chestnuts. Just score them and roast them in a cast-iron pan for 30 minutes in a 400 C. But for the sake of this recipe, steaming works well. Chop them in half and steam them for 20 minutes

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And what exactly is crème de marrons? Well, obviously it translates to “cream of chestnuts”, but it’s not really a cream. It’s a terrifically sweet nut conserve and it’s very French. It was invented by French confectioner Clément Faugier in 1885 and since then Crème de Marrons de l’Ardèche has been a staple of French children and chefs alike. My half-French husband speaks wistfully of visiting Lyon as a child and eating it directly out of an aluminum tube.

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You can usually find it, usually tinned, in specialty food stores or at better grocers. But, that would be easy. That’s not for folks like you and me. We MAKE things. Sometimes until 3 AM. And then we curse the things we make. However, you’ve come this far, so let us make us some fancy French chestnut conserve. En français, s’il vous plaît! . This recipe is pretty much Frankensteined it together from different recipes and trial and error. Once you get past the shelling and shucking, it’s dead easy.



Recipe: Crème de Marrons (Chestnut Conserve)

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Ingredients:
fresh chestnuts
organic cane sugar
vanilla bean
water
sea salt

Step 1: Peel. Cut the chestnuts in half using a serrated edge knife. Bring a pot with 2 inches of water to a boil and fill a steamer basket with the chestnuts. Working in small batches (a cup at a time) lower the chestnuts into the pot so that they stay above the boiling water, cover  and steam 20 minutes. Remove the chestnuts from the steamer and start peeling as soon as you can bear it. Keep them wrapped in a kitchen towel to keep them warm. Once they cool they’re monstrous to peel. Pull off the thick brown shell and if the chestnut goddesses are smiling on you, the inner skin will come off, too. If not, try rubbing it off with the towel. If that fails use a small paring knife and get scraping! It’s exactly as fun as it sounds. Also, keep some aside for snacking. Chestnuts  are high in fibre, antioxidants and Vitamins B and A. They also help build stronger bones and contain complex carbohydrates to help maintain energy levels. You will need this after all that peeling.

Step 2: Cook. Put the peeled nuts and the inevitable frustrating little piles of chestnut crumble into a deep pot. Add a good pinch fo sea salt and enough water (you can use your chestnut water) just to cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes or until the nuts are tender. You may end up with extra liquid or you may not. This is one of those mysteries I have decided to move on from. Last year I had to drain them. This year I did not. Go figure.

Step 3: Purée. I used my trusty OXO food mill to purée the softened chestnuts. You can also use a food processor. Whatever mushes your chestnuts.

Step 4: Weigh. I used a kitchen scale to weigh the chestnut purée. You’ll want to add an equal amount of cane sugar. I wound up with 1300 grams. Put the sugar &purée back in the pot and stir. Add 100 ml of water for every 1 kg of sweetened purée. Add a split vanilla bean to the pot.

Step 5: Cook. Again. Bring the now already wonderfully fragrant mixture to a simmer. Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly to keep your hard won spoils from burning. It’s ready when it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot or when you like the look of it.

Step 6: Preserve your conserve. Remove the vanilla bean and pour the piping hot mixture into hot sterilized canning jars (washed and rinsed in boiling water). Now here is where it gets confusing. Because chestnuts aren’t acidic, the thought is that you cannot safely preserve this conserve in a hot water bath—it would have to be pressure canned. Though I think that might be overkill and could potentially compromise the jam. However, most European recipes recommend a hot water bath and storage in a cool space. There does seem to be consensus that the conserve will keep for a couple of months, unprocessed in the fridge. Not one to pick sides, I did a 15-minute hot water bath and then stored the preserved jars in the fridge. I don’t expect them to hang around too long as we’re going through it pretty quickly and I’ll be gifting the rest for Christmas. It’s kind of the perfect host gift.

Crème de marrons is best (in my opinion) served on a thick buttered slice of rustic bread. It’s also lovely between cake layers or dolloped in yogurt. Bon appetit!

Medicinal properties: Sweet Chestnut (Castanea vesca) leaves are astringent & high in Vitamin K. Tea made from the leaves is used to treat respiratory diseases such as whooping cough, and mixed with thyme makes a powerful medicinal syrup that is used to treat cough, diarrhea, backache and intoxication. (source)

Magical properties: fertility,  desire, abundance.

Yarrow: On Love & Marriage & Ale

Yarrow is blooming here on Vancouver Island! It’s one of my favourite herbs and I’m so happy to see it’s all at once delicate and sturdy white blossoms again. I plan to incorporate a lot of yarrow into my upcoming summer nuptials. And this is where I segue into my big announcement: I’m getting married in July…in the woods at the lovely Cedar Haven Weddings ..to Danielle’s brother, Christian. This promises to be Gather’s biggest project yet—so if wedding stuff bores you, you may want to avert your eyes for a couple of months. Though we will try to make it interesting. Promise.

Now where was I? Yarrow! It’s Latin name, Achillea millefolium, is attributed to the Greek hero, Achilles who was said to use it to heal his warriors wounds—at least according to Pliny the Elder. Turns out Achilles’ relationship with Yarrow is a little muddy… Here’s an interesting read on that, if you’d like to know more. Greek gods aside, yarrow’s been an important healing herb the world over for a very long time. And so it should come as no surprise that it has an equally long magical history. After all, our ancestors didn’t put nearly as much effort into separating magic and medicine as we do.

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Yarrow detail from Rima Staines’ Weed Wife

From casting the ancient I Ching in China to rounding out the seven herbs sacred to the Irish, yarrow has always been an important herb for protection, love, fidelity and divination. It was hung in doorways and on cradles to repel evil spirits, held against the eyes to bring on the second site, worn in shoes to give travellers fluency of speech and sewn into clothes to fend off…well, everything. And then there’s the love charms!  Singletons of yore sewed yarrow blossoms and leaves into little sachets, said a little prayer and tucked them under their pillows in hopes that their future betrothed would appear in their dreams.

Thou pretty herb of Venus tree
Thy true name be Yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be
Pray tell thou me tomorrow.

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Scottish girls silently gathered yarrow in the fields and then with eyes closed, recited:

Good morrow, good morrow
To thee, braw yarrow
And thrice good morrow to thee:
I pray thee tell me today or tomorrow 
Who is my true love to be. 

Upon opening their eyes, they’d scan the horizon for a male figure AKA their future husband (Dictionary of Plant Yore, D.C. Watts). Similar divination love charms and rituals involving yarrow were practiced across Europe and in colonized America. I wonder how many less than desirable bachelors cottoned on to this and scheduled their morning strolls accordingly… Of course, with such a long relationship with humans, yarrow also got dragged into the witch hunts. Graveyard yarrow was said to help uncover a witch and or protect someone from falling in love with one. Handy stuff, old yarrow is.

Beyond love divination and charms, yarrow was also a token of fidelity. Sprigs were tucked into wedding wreaths and hung over the newlyweds’ bed to guarantee seven years (and not a day more) of fidelity. Yarrow ale was also commonly served at medieval wedding festivals called bride-ales. And yes, this is where our modern word “bridal” comes from. These sometimes multi-day celebrations clearly involved a lot of ale drinking and sparked a tradition of brewing special bridal beers for the occasion.

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Also known as “Field Hops”, yarrow was commonly used as a bittering agent pre-hops, and was considered to make a headier brew than others. There is evidence that yarrow has mild psychotropic properties or “a thujone, hypnotic cannabinoid compound” (Green Man Ramblings) that scientifically explains these claims. Many herbalists have documented shifts in perception like colours brightening and heightened hearing after consuming certain yarrow plants—combine that with the inhibition-relieving effects of a fermented beverage and now you have a party. If anyone’s ever had to host the in-laws, never mind the entire village, you can see why a yarrow ale might be popular.

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And it’s in this tradition that David Woodward, head brewer of Axe and Barrel Brewing Co. is infusing his lovely IPA in yarrow and wee bit of rosemary (another important marital herb and possible future blog post subject) to create a special small batch brew for our wedding. David’s known for creating unique beers using foraged ingredients and interesting flavour combinations and I LOVE the idea of a special wedding ale, particularly when ancient herbs with all their healing properties and folklore are incorporated. Yarrow blossoms will also appear in my bouquet by local sustainable flower grower, Wild Edge and it’s fragrant sturdy white blooms will be tucked into one special boutonnière. With luck, our caterer Nature’s Chef will use a bit of it to flavour a dish or two (nudge-nudge, hint-hint, Tom). And while our bride-ale will run only a few short hours, I can’t think of a more wonderful way to ring in our marriage than with loved ones and such a magical plant ally!

Post Script:  While researching the history of herbs and beer, I stumbled across the fascinating history of women brewers and the convenient association with witchcraft that wiped many of them out, leaving the craft almost exclusively to men and pleasing the church in the process. I plan to explore further in a follow-up post already cleverly titled “Brewmasters & Broomsticks”. But that’s another story for another day… 

Springtime in a Bottle: Plum Blossom Cordial

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Sweet and fair, she craves not Spring for herself alone,
To be the harbinger of Spring she is content.
When the mountain flowers are in full bloom
She will smile mingling in their midst.

Mao Zedong

As a prairie ex-pat, the early spring blossoms of the Pacific Northwest never fail to amaze me. Flowers in February? Madness! The first trees to burst into blossom are the plum trees—wild, cultivated and ornamental alike. The plum blossom is one of the most important emblems of the Chinese New Year. Because it blooms at winter’s end, often among frost and snow, it symbolizes perseverance, endurance and rebirth. Plum Blossom is the only flower in the “Three Friends in the Cold”(岁寒三友:Sui Han San You) along with Bamboo and Pine Tree. These three plants are highly praised in Chinese literature and arts as three friends who gracefully survive and thrive in the winter.(source)

More delicate than the showy pink puffs of the soon-to-burst cherry trees, the flowering plum is almost ethereal with her pale, fragrant finery. And how about that fragrance? If you haven’t stood under blooming plum tree at dusk…well, you should make it a point to do so! Of course, any time of day will do. Plum blossoms warmed by the midday sun are a sensory sensation. But for me, the plum tree reigns over the in between time—between night and day, between winter and spring. That’s when you’ll find me under her boughs, inhaling greedily, dreaming of ways to preserve her springtime magic.

And I’m happy it report that not only can you capture that heady scent in a bottle—you can drink it, too! Yup. A plum blossom cordial is simple to make and can be used in all kinds of recipes to impart that gossamery flavour of spring. And yes, you can taste gossamer. You’ll see.

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pink ornamental plum blossoms | ornamental plum tree | white wild plum blossoms

First, collect your plum blossoms. They’re fairly easy to identify. The shape/profile of the tree is roundish and the bark is dark. Plum blossoms can be pink (with purple leaves) or white (with green leaves) and have smooth oval petals. The buds are round with only one blossom coming out of each bud sticking straight out from the branches on a short thin stem. The blossoms are plentiful, but take only what you need. Bees rely on the gorgeous nectar as one of the first foods of the season.

Snip the blossoms into a measuring cup, taking care to avoid adding leaves which contain trace amounts of the toxin which produces cyanide. A nibble won’t kill you, but excess consumption could be harmful. Two cups of loosely packed blossoms will get you about a cup of syrup.

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Here, I used white wild plum blossoms

 

Plum Blossom Cordial

2 cups of plum blossoms loosely packed (ornamental, wild or cultivated)

1 cup organic cane sugar

1 cup water

In a small heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water. Stir sugar and water over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 3 minutes.

Remove the syrup from the stovetop and allow it to cool a bit. I let it cool to hot but not boiling. Say, cuppa tea hot.

Pour the cuppa-tea-hot syrup over the blossoms and cover with a cloth. Now, if you’re using the pink blossoms wit purple leaves you can let the blossom steep for an hour and taste. I find that the pink blossoms get a little bitter if they infuse for too long. While the last batch I made with wild plum blossoms (white with green leaves) I left overnight with no bitterness. Play with it a bit. When you like the flavour, it’s ready to strain.

Pour the blossoms and syrup through a cheesecloth lined colander into a measuring cup. Now, if you don’t care about clarity, you’re good to go. I like to add vodka to my cordial and like it to be as clear as possible. So, I heat my plum blossom syrup gently until warm and then strain through a coffee filter-lined funnel into the bottle I plan to store it in.

The syrup will keep in the fridge for at least 2 weeks. Add it to sparkling water or vodka for a positively ethereal beverage or use the syrup to flavour everything from marshmallows to meringues. Oh, the gossamery goodness of it all!

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*To make a plum blossom liqueur, stuff blossoms into a mason jar and fill with vodka to cover. Seal and store in a dark place for a couple of days. Strain and combine equal amounts plain (or even plum blossom) sugar syrup and infused vodka. Pour into a bottle and share it with your very favourite visitors.

Herbal Honey: Ancient, Magical & Medicinal

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yarrow & lavender herbal honey

Herbalists talk a lot about their favourite medicines, menstrua and methods, but it is my unsolicited opinion that herbal honey doesn’t get near the attention it deserves.

I have recently been turned on to the joy of medicine-making with unpasteurized honey through my herbalism apprenticeship with Jessy Delleman of Fireweed Farm. She’s a(n) herbal honey master. She makes medicine go down a whole lot easier, teaspoon of sugar be damned! Seriously. Take her classes, peruse her herbs, buy her tinctures, order her herbal honey—you will not be disappointed.

Over the last couple of months I’ve made medicinal herbal honeys with red elderflower, grand fir tips, nettles, wild rose, linden, lavender & yarrow, grindelia and pineapple weed. I have big plans for Queen Anne’s Lace, mint, elecampane root, and Douglas Fir…

So, why do I have such a thing for herbal honeys. Well, first of all…honey. It’s the stuff of ancient magic. While fossils of honey bees date back a good 150 million years, the first recorded reference of beekeeping is from the first Egyptian dynasty. The Egyptian sun god Ra was believed to have created bees and humans from his tears. Temples kept bees to make offerings of honey to the gods in honey as well as to make medicines and ointments for ailing, well-to-do mortals. However, our relationship with bees predates the written word by thousands of years. Bronze Age hives made of straw and unbaked clay have been found near Jerusalem. In Spain, a 15,000 year-old cave painting depicts a figure bravely dipping past a swarm of bees and into a beehive and Neolithic Spaniards worshiped a Bee Goddess. From the “Queen Bee” Aphrodite and her Melissae, to ancient Celts (mead was believed to be a drink of the gods therefore, bees were legally protected in Ireland), our ancestors worshipped and worked with bees to harvest honey. And we’ve been adding herbs to honey for just as long. Remnants of mead (a fermented honey drink made with herbs) was found in a burial site from 1000 BC in Fife. Scottish Highlanders infused honey with Ox-eye daisies to treat coughs & wounds. And Indians have been creating Ayurvedic medicine using purified honey and herbs for the past 5000 years. I’ve barely even touched on the long, spiritual history of honey—it’s a story that could fill tomes. However, I encourage you to do some research. It’s fascinating. Here are just a few online resources: andrewgough.co.uk | mirrorofisis.freeyellow.comthequeensbeesproject.wordpress.com

And lest we forget, honey is medicine. Raw, unpasteurized honey is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic. It helps build blood and actively promotes the healing of tissues. And according to Stephen Buhner,

“Honey contains (among other things) a complex assortment of enzymes, organic acids, esters, antibiotic agents, trace minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, hormones, and antimicrobial compounds. One pound of the average honey contains 1333 calories (compared with white sugar at 1748 calories), 1.4 grams of protein, 23 milligrams of calcium, 73 milligrams of phosphorus, 4.1 milligrams of iron, 1 milligram of niacin, and 16 milligrams of vitamin C, and vitamin A, beta carotene, the complete complex of B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, potassium, iodine, sodium, copper, manganese, high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, and formic acid… and the list goes on. Honey contains more than 75 different compounds! Many of the remaining substances in honey are so complex (4-7 percent of the honey) that they have yet to be identified.” 

All this and we haven’t even added the plant medicine.

Also, herbal honeys are delicious and so incredibly pleasurable to make. Everything about the process is sensual and glorious, if a bit sticky (this is why we have tongues and window shades). There’s nothing quite so beautiful as honey lit up by sunshine. Combine that with the colours and scents of fresh herbs and you’ve got yourself a bonafide experience. Take your honey in tea, on toast, use it to make medicinal syrups or liqueurs or just eat it off the spoon.

Depending on the herb you choose, there are a couple of ways to make yourself an herbal honey—cold or warm infusion. More delicate plants like wild rose or elderflower do better with a cold infusion, while “tougher” herbs like rosemary or grindelia need heat to extract the flavour and medicine. Fresh herbs are much preferable to dried. I think the only dried herb I’d try would be maybe wild rose? But even then…I probably wouldn’t. Using fresh herbs allows you to harness much more medicine, flavour and magic. A good rule of thumb is a 1 parts herb to 12 parts honey for a cold infusion and 1 part herb to 5 parts honey for a warm infusion. You want more honey in a cold infusion as you won’t be evaporating off the plant waters with heat. More honey means less chance of spoilage.

Here’s how you make yourself one of each:

Cold Infusion: Wild Rose (Rosa nutkana) Honey

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Slow ‘n easy (2-4 weeks)

This method is a make and leave it sort of thing. Good for those of us with things to do in life.

The swoony scent of roses comes from delicate and very volatile oils, therefore it does much better in a cold infusion. A warm infusion would simply evaporate all that good stuff away. Medicinally, rose is high in vitamin C and acts an antidepressant, nutritive, mild astringent, mild laxative and mild diuretic. Wild roses carry the strongest rose energy for healing and love, and are associated with protection, love, emotional healing, warding, grounding and fairy blessings. In short, they definitely live up to the hype.

Weigh your fresh rose petals and multiply that amount by 12 to come up with the amount of raw, unpasteurized honey needed. For example: 50 grams of roses calls for 600 ml of honey.

Chop up your roses, place them in the bottom of a jar, pour in the honey and stir. Place the sealed jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight and allow to infuse for 2-4 weeks. For a milder herbal honey, start tasting at 2 weeks.

Quick & dirty (2 days)

Perfect method for us impatient types who can commit to 2 days of gentle honey-warming.

Follow the above directions, but instead of stashing the jar away—place the sealed jar in a hot water bath to speed up the infusion process. Gently warm the honey over a couple of days. I put the honey jar in a larger bowl and fill the bowl with boiling kettle water several times over 2 days. Works a charm. Never heat your honey over 60 degrees celsius or you’ll pasteurize it thus denaturing all those brilliant enzymes. Now if this happens, don’t chuck your infusion! You’ll still have extracted all that herbal wonderfulness and it will still be delicious—you’re just out some honey magic. Not the end of the world.

Decant

Once your infusion is complete (slow or quick), warm your honey until it’s nice and liquidy and pour through cheesecloth, pressing out your marc (rose petals) into a sterilized jar. And don’t throw out those honeyed petals! Toss them into hot water for tea or throw them in cake batter. Or…just eat them.  Use your wild rose herbal honey in everything from lemonade to baklava. Or treat yourself to a spoonful daily. It IS medicine, after all.

Herbs best suited for cold infusions:

Elderflower, Rose, Mint, Linden, Queen Anne’s Lace Blossoms
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And now, let’s heat things up a little…

Warm Infusion: Grindelia (Grindelia squarrosa) Honey

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Grindelia squarrosa, also known as Gumweed, is an amazing plant. The squarrosa found mostly around here on Vancouver Island is found growing on sunny seasides, sand dunes and beaches and is easily identified by it’s brilliant yellow blooms brimming with sticky, resinous medicine. Internally it acts as an expectorant, antimicrobial, antispasmodic and diuretic. It’s also useful in treating asthma, nervousness and anxiety. Externally grindelia heals rashes, minor wounds and relieves irritation from poison ivy. Best harvested in the warm sunshine when the resins are pooling in the barely opened buds and flower centres, grindelia makes THE most delicious honey. Hands-down, my favourite. And I’ve personally had success in staving off asthma with warmed honey in tea.

Method

Chop up and measure out 1 parts grindelia to 5 parts raw, unpasteurized honey. For example: 50 grams of grindelia to 250 ml of honey.

Place your chopped herb and honey into the top of double boiler and gently warm off and on for 3-5 days. Again do not heat your honey over 60 degrees celsius to avoid pasteurizing your honey.

Keep warming off and on until the plant waters have evaporated off and the mixture returns to a proper honey consistency. I’ve left rosemary honey on the stove for two weeks—mostly because I didn’t always remember to turn the heat on everyday…

Decant

Heat the honey up one last time and strain and press out your marc (grindelia) into a sterilized jar. Again, keep those honeyed grindelia blossoms. They make the most incredible sun tea. Grindelia has a certain Mediterranean flavour that I can’t quite describe. It’s like drinking high summer. Just the right about of bitterness counteracted by a certain warming richness. I really and truly love it. And since grindelia is absolutely thriving in this year’s drought-like conditions, I’ll be able to make enough herbal honey to last the year. Bravo, me!

Herbs best suited for warm infusions:

Grindelia, Fir tips, Lavender, Yarrow, Thyme, Rosemary, Wild Bergamot, St. John’s Wort, Balsam root, Holy Basil, Sweet Basil, Calendula

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Your honeys should keep indefinitely if you store them out of direct sunlight. So far I’ve been successful in removing excess plant waters and haven’t had any of my batches go off. Of course, that could be the happy result of gluttony. Who am I to question? Herbal honeys make a wonderful gift and make a perfect host or hostesss gift.

And a quick note: leave some blossoms for the bees! Forage responsibly, take only what you need and plant flowering herbs for our pollinating pals.

Oregon Grape Lavender Lemon Tart

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Just like lemon tarts but brimming with antioxidants…and pink.

Dull Leaf Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa) is one of my favourite local wild plants. Edible and medicinal from the tips of its evergreen holly-like leaves (eat them tender & new in spring), cheery yellow blossoms (lovely in salads) and antioxidant-rich blue berries to its beautiful orange-hued roots chockablock full of antibiotic and anti-fungal healing properties—not to mention a fabulous dye for textiles and Easter eggs! I’ll go into the medicine of Oregon grape in another post, but this hot July day is devoted to berries and just one of the wonderful ways to eat them—in a silky, bright, high summer tart!

It’s been a very dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest and as I write this the berries are struggling. It’s not looking good for many of the wild berries here and that’s terribly upsetting for all kinds of reasons. But today we’re walking on the sunny side of the street and talking about dessert. Thankfully, a non-native garden variety called Leatherleaf Oregon grape (Mahonia bealei) grows nearby and wherever folks have been watering, the berries are plentiful. I prefer the wild berries, but when life gives you Leatherleaf… well, you may as well make yourself a tart.

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Such pretty berries…

First, you have to “juice” your Oregon grape berries. You can do this up to a week before you plan to use the juice—i will keep covered in the fridge for at least that long.

Collect roughly 2 cups (400 grams) of berries, give them a wash in cold water and put them in a sauce pan with 100 ml of water. Bring the berries to a boil and allow them to simmer for a bit. Squish and stir the berries with a large spoon to extract as much juice as possible. Pour your berries through some cheesecloth or a jelly bag, give it a good squeeze and compost the seeds and bit of pulp left behind. You could avoid cooking the berries if you have a juicer or a press—this would be preferable.  However, I do not, therefore…to the stovetop! With Oregon grape juice in hand you’re now ready to bake a tart.

This recipe is basically an adapted version of the Simply Delicious Ultimate Lemon Tart. I’ve substituted half the lemon juice for Oregon grape juice and added lavender to the shortcrust—that’s it. You could use your favourite lemon tart recipe, but I have to say Alida Ryder’s version is brilliant. You can very easily, substitute all the lemon for Oregon grape and it would be just as delicious. I decided to go halfers because I was craving the brightness of lemon. I plan to make a straight up Oregon grape tart soon and I’ll report back. I imagine the colour will be a deeper purple with an earthier undertone. Oh, and maybe I’ll try a bit of rosemary in the crust? Swoon. Okay, back to the recipe at hand:

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Naked tart cooling. The lemon transforms the deep purple of the Oregon grape berries to a gorgeous pink…

Oregon Grape Lavender Tart

(recipe adapted from Simply Delicious)

Serves: 2x 28cm (11 inch) tarts – I used pie plates because apparently I do not own tart cases, even though I was pretty positive I did. Several hours of searching proved me wrong. Pie plates make for a more rustic presentation and it was little more difficult to serve, but totally doable. Note to self: BUY TART CASES.

Ingredients

Shortcrust pastry

  • 250g cold excellent pasture raised butter, cubed
  • 400g organic flour
  • 100g organic icing sugar
  • zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 1 T dried or fresh lavender buds
  • 2 farm fresh/organic egg yolks
  • 3-4T ice water
Tart filling
  • 500ml organic whipping cream
  • 250g organic cane sugar
  • 9 extra-large, organic/farm fresh eggs
  • 125ml lemon juice  (3-4 organic lemons)
  • 125 ml Oregon grape juice
  • zest of 2 organic lemons

Instructions

To make the pastry, combine the butter, icing sugar, flour and lemon zest and lavender in the bowl of a food processor. Or alternatively you can cut or rub the butter and follow this excellent handmade shortcrust tutorial over at Azelia’s Kitchen.

Pulse until the mixture resembles rough bread crumbs.

Add the egg yolks and with the blender running, pour in the water, spoon by spoon until the mixture comes together in a ball.

Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and shape into 2 discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Roll the chilled pastry out on a floured surface and press into 2x 28cm (11 inch) tart cases.

Blind bake the pastry for 10 minutes then remove the baking paper and baking beans and return the pastry back to the oven for another 10 minutes to finish baking.

Remove and set aside while you make the filling. Turn the oven down to 220°F.

For the filling, heat the cream and sugar in a saucepan until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, do not allow to boil.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.

When the cream is hot, slowly pour into the eggs, whilst continuously whisking.

Pour in the lemon juice, Oregon grape juice and lemon zest and mix well.

Strain the mixture into a large measuring cup or jug and carefully pour into the baked tart cases.

Bake the tart for 50 minutes until the edges are set and the centre is still slightly jiggly.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to cool completely.

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Top with fresh seasonal berries, sprigs of mint and edible flowers. Or keep it real simple-like—serve the berries on the side and let the lovely pink tart filling steal the show.

Mahonia aquifolium: antibiotic, antiseptic, antiamoebocidic, anti-inflammatory (root); high in vitamin C and antioxidants, used by First Nations people as a laxative and food source. (berries)

Magical properties: protector, prosperity

Nettled Eggs: Tasty Little Spring Devils

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This spring I’ve been blessed with multiple bumper nettle harvests and I’ve been able to try my hand at all sorts of nutritious and crazy delicious recipes like nettle lemon balm cupcakes, nettle ginger jelly, nettle chips, nettle-infused honey, nettle pesto and now…nettle devilled eggs!

I needed something to serve at our first Community-Supported Foraging Initiative meeting and due to my amazing powers of disorganization—it was going to have to be made from whatever I had on hand. Thankfully, I had a dozen Red Damsel Farm eggs and a 1/2 cup of pureed nettles just dying to meet each other…

Ingredients

1/2 cup of steamed & pureed nettle tops

12 organic, farm fresh eggs

2 tablespoons organic mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped crow garlic (wild garlic) + some for garnish

1 tablespoon finely chopped cleavers (tops)

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic mustard

sea salt & pepper

chive blossoms, dandelions, daisies, forget-me-nots, sweet woodruff, spring gold, rosemary flowers, sweet cicely blossoms

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Instructions

Boil the eggs in simmering water for 10 minutes. Drain them and cover with cold water.

Cut the eggs in half and pop out the yolks. In a medium bowl, mash the yolks with a fork.

Add the mayonnaise, lemon juice and cleavers. Mix thoroughly.

Start adding in the pureed nettles until you get the consistency you like. You can use a food processor for this if you’re after a silky smooth filling.

Stir in the chopped wild garlic mustard and crow garlic and season with sea salt & ground pepper to taste.

Pipe the filling into the halves and decorate with colourful blossoms. Chive and rosemary blossoms add a particularly wonderful flavour.

Sweet & Savoury Dandelion Rosemary Shortbread

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Growing up with Scottish grandparents, shortbread featured heavily in our family celebrations—Christmas, mainly. Each aunt made a version of my grandmother’s standard recipe, while my mother (a defiant non-Celt) makes a light whipped cookie with neon green and red cherry centres. I like my shortbread dense, crazy buttery and undecorated. Not quite like my grandmother’s, not quite like my mother’s… More like…mine. In fact, one could say I’m somewhat uptight about shortbread. But one, would be kind of nasty in saying so. So, let’s not even go there. What really matters here is that I pulled the proverbial butterstick out of my arse and broadened my shortbread horizons. We needed a gluten-free confection for an Urban Wild Foods Walk and Tasting. And so, I set to dreaming up something sweet, but not too sweet. Herbal, but not too herbal. Interesting but not too fussy. To me, these provisions described two of my favourite things perfectly—dandelions and shortbread. Traditional, simple, magical. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

2  cups brown or white rice flour

1 cup organic, unsalted butter

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup organic sugar of your choice

1/4 cup emmental cheese (Swiss cheese – You can substitute sharper hard cheeses, but watch the salt! If you go for parmesan or asiago, then skip the sea salt)

1/4 cup dandelion petals & greens, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely-chopped rosemary

black pepper to taste

sea salt to sprinkle on top

Preparation

In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar and honey until light & fluffy. Add in dandelion petals and chopped leaves. Be sure to remove the green sepals. I just pinch them until petals pop out. Mix in just until combined.

Stir the rice flour into butter mixture in 2 additions. After the first addition, stir in the emmental cheese, rosemary and a bit of fresh ground black pepper (to taste). Stir in the 2nd addition of flour to make smooth dough.

Roll the dough in waxed paper to form a firm cylinder. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C)

Slice your cylinder of gorgeous, dandelion/rosemary/pepper-flecked dough into 1 inch thick rounds (*note* in the photo the cookies are thinner – I was running short on dough and needed A LOT of cookies for an event, so I cut them thinner and reduced the time) using a sharp knife and place a good 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Bake for 20 minutes—rotating your pan half-way through. Keep a keen eyeball on them during the last few minutes. You want them just golden.

The cookies will be very delicate when they first come out of the oven. Spare yourself some heartache and let them cool on the cookie sheet. When cool, transfer them to…your mouth.

Dandelion: powerful, yet gentle diuretic; liver-supporting; stabilizes blood sugar levels; contains Vitamins C & A; high in iron; rich in potassium, regulates excess fluids—good for skin, liver & kidneys

Magical properties: Divination, wishes, calling spirits

Rosemary: tonic; astringent; diaphoretic; stimulant; excellent stomachic and nervine; good for headaches; externally used to treat dandruff

Magical properties: Fidelity, remembrance, dispels jealousy