Posts Tagged ‘edible landscaping’

Fall Summation IV part 2: Further Perennials

In my last post, I started to sum up a few perennial edibles around my yard, and found that there are actually a lot more of them then I realized. So here’s part two.

Bladder campion, Silene vulgaris, is always my first green of spring and my last green of fall. It is better cooked than raw in my opinion, but some leaves in a mixed salad will certainly not hurt anything and have a pleasant substantial texture. I had to buy seed of this one to get it started, and it was a couple of years before it really begin to grow well, but now I have enough to need to weed out some. It has never been a problem weed or gotten out of control under my conditions. It seeds itself around a bit, but not unreasonably.

Curled dock is a common weed that most people could not imagine planting on purpose, but in my area it grows mostly along the irrigation ditches, which are also frequented by dogs. So to have a good clean supply, I do grow some in my weed patch. The slightly lemony greens are very good in mixed greens but rapidly get bitter as the weather warms. Get them early. And then get them again late, because like so many perennials, they produce a smaller but useful second crop of leaves in late fall.  This one does seed it self around like crazy, and every single seed seems to be viable, so do be careful to cut off the flower stalks early unless you want a lot more plants. There is a great deal written about the culinary uses of the seeds. I don’t care for them at all, but you can read about this elsewhere if you are interested.  Some people also use the roots medicinally, and that also could be researched elsewhere.

Bronze fennel is a lovely ornamental as well as a delicious seasoning herb and vegetable. I find the flavor a little more pronounced and anisey than that of green fennel. It’s also prettier. In Samuel Thayer‘s newest book, Incredible Wild Edibles, there is a wonderful chapter on how to use fennel.  My very favorite part is the young shoot, and so far I have not been able to induce my plants to make tender shoots in the fall, but I’m still trying. The leaves are a wonderful seasoning for fish and seafood, and are great chopped and sprinkled lavishly over salads.

Burdock has not been a success for me so far, due to personal taste preferences. Even the youngest spring leaves taste rank and have a rough texture, the root is bland and turns an unpleasant color even when cooked with some lemon juice, and the peeled flower stalk is no more than passable to my palate. I think that the peeled stalk chunks might be tastier when cooked with stronger seasonings or perhaps grilled, and I’ll try that next year. It often happens that an edible perennial hangs around my place for years before I learn to use it in ways that I really like, so I think of burdock as a potential vegetable that I haven’t really learned about yet. I am happy enough to give it some space because my goat is crazy about the leaves and leaf stalks, but be aware that even if you think you are cutting down all the flower stalks, it ingeniously forms some tiny short ones that get past you and scatter seeds everywhere. Bees enjoy the flowers and birds enjoy the seeds, but the price of having it around is eternal vigilance and a fair amount of grunt weeding.

Dandelion is not a common weed in my area, believe it or not, and I had to buy seeds to get it started.  But I wanted it and was happy to persevere until I got some to germinate. The young leaves of dandelion have a fair amount of bitterness and might be an acquired taste, and most people start out by disliking them, then later in their foraging career begin to like them, and ultimately crave them.  I’m at the craving stage. I also enjoy using the flowers, although the bitter green sepals have to be pulled off, which is a bit tedious.  I think that the petals might be useful in fritters and similar preparations, but I haven’t done that yet.  There is always more to learn. I do like the young, tightly closed buds when I can get enough of them to bother cooking. I am not a fan of the root, and this is another plant where I leave the root in place to produce the parts that I like better.  Here in the  high desert I like to grow mine in partial shade because the leaves get more tender, less bitter, and quite a bit bigger. Incidentally, I bought some seeds called French Thick Leaf that were supposed to be very superior, and used some seeds from a northeastern person’s yard, and the plants are all pretty much identical.

Common milkweed is another weed that just does not grow in my area, although I often see it when vacationing further north in Colorado. It took me a few tries to start it from seed, and it needs winter stratification. So far I have only had a few bites each of spring shoots and buds, plus one young pod, on my plate because it’s still getting established. But it has the mild “foody” flavor that I remember, especially good with butter. The vanilla-scented flowers are wildly attractive to bees, and of course this is the food plant of the monarch butterfly. Once established, it doesn’t need too much water, but it needs a fair amount to get started. Be sure that you know how to identify it as Asclepius syraica because there are some thin-leaved toxic milkweeds, and if you are foraging it in the wild I strongly suggest reading Samuel Thayer on how to tell the young shoots from dogsbane,  which resemble them in ways but are very bitter. I hope to have a lot of it around in the future.

Pokeweed was one of my favorite wild foods when I was first getting interested in foraging. It’s a big rank plant, up to six feet high and as much across, and has to be sited accordingly. It also REQUIRES preboiling in a large volume of water, which is then thrown out, before further preparation for eating. It is toxic if not prepared properly. Please consult Samuel Thayer’s Incredible Wild Edibles before trying to eat it. Then you’ll have all the information you need to eat it safely. It doesn’t grow in the Southwest, but I finally got two plants started from seed, and hope to have more in the future. Euell Gibbons wrote about forcing pokeweed shoots in winter, and one day I may try some version of that.

Goji Shoots come up everywhere after you’ve grown goji berries for a few years. They are very tasty sautéed in butter or olive oil. To enjoy them, you have to get new shoots as shown. They should be green all over and tender enough to snap when bent. If they have anything resembling brown bark, or have to be cut, skip them. I cut my plants back in late winter and harvest some shoots in spring, and this year I cut some plants back in late fall and put frost blankets over them to see if I can get some winter shoots. I’ll report back.

Hosta shoots are a new vegetable for me, because when I moved to my current home it was a flat lot covered with tumbleweed and baked into adobe by the blazing sun. It’s only now, eight years later, that my trees are big enough to provide shade for the shade-loving hostas. I chose the biggest ones that I could find because the shoots are bigger. I have only eaten them once because my plants are young and I don’t want to weaken them. They were mild and good steamed and eaten with a soy-ginger sauce. There is nothing especially distinctive about the flavor but nothing objectionable either, and the texture is tender as long as you get them before they unfurl. They would probably be a good addition to salads if sliced, although I haven’t tried that yet. It takes a couple of years before they’re established enough to harvest, which is usual with perennials. Once established, they could be harvested for a couple of weeks in spring, then allowed to form ornamental foliage. When the leaves get ratty in late summer they could be cut back, then a few shoots harvested again as they refurbish themselves. Of note, this is an edible perennial that would pass muster with the strictest homeowners’ association so you can grow it whatever your circumstances.

The Greens of Fall: Nasturtiums II

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After several light frosts and a couple of hard frosts, the nasturtiums in my front yard are still holding their leaves in good condition, and still blooming a bit.  They won’t last much longer though, so this is the time to take advantage of them.  They are always good in salads or used to make hand rolls as suggested in my last post, because they combine a snappy watercress peppery flavor with a tender texture.  Cooked, they lose a lot of their sharpness but remain delicious.

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I grow the trailing nasturtiums that wind so nicely among other things in the bed, and at this time of year I grab about the last foot of stem. I snap them off wherever the stem snaps cleanly, which is usually while they are still smaller than a pencil. I take everything above that into the kitchen  for cleaning. I wash them and lay them out on the cutting board. The flowers are devoured on the spot as a cook’s treat, or can be saved for the top of a salad.  What remains is cut crosswise into half-inch segments. It’s important to keep them out about this length, or the stems can seem fibrous.

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Now  stir the sections around a bit with your fingers, then lift off the leaves which are mostly on top and set them to one side, leaving most of the stem segments on the other. There will be a few of each item in the pile of the other, and it doesn’t matter.  This step is so you can give the stems a bit more cooking than the leaves.

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Now, cook them in any way that you would use other greens, cooking the stem sections for a couple of minutes longer than the leaves. I have two favorite ways. One is to sauté them fast in a tablespoon or so of hot flavorful olive oil, putting the stems in, sautéing for two minutes, then add in the leaves and sauté in for another minute.  Serve with salt and freshly ground pepper. Simple and good.

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My other favorite use for them is a quick sort of sweet and sour pickle, which I like with grilled meat or dishes in the Japanese fashion.   For a heaping a handful of chopped nasturtium, eat half a cup of water in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar or to taste, or you can use artificial sweetener if it is one that does well with cooking.  And a scant teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. When it is boiling, put in the stems, boil for about two minutes, and the leaves, and take off the heat immediately and let it sit in the “pickling liquid” until room temperature.  serve immediately or keep in the refrigerator for a day or two.

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For my taste the flavors in this quick “pickle” are too strong to use it as a side dish, but you could always use less vinegar and sweetening and salt, and use it as a side dish if you prefer that. When I was growing up in the south, collards were sometimes cooked this way, and I seem to remember that they were good.

Some people think highly of the nasturtium as a medicinal herb. If you wish to research this, please keep in mind that the nasturtium flower we are dealing with here is Tropaeolum majus, while  Nasturtium officinale is actually watercress.  This is why we use botanical names; in the long run, it avoids a lot of confusion.   In my view, the fact that they are green and lovely in cold weather and taste good is reason enough to eat them.

 

Clove Currants

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The native clove currant, Ribies odoratum, grows beautifully in my area. It is sturdy, healthy, drought-tolerant, will tolerate some shade, suffers from no bugs or diseases, and is reasonably attractive, especially in spring when covered with thousands of tiny yellow flowers that have a soft pleasant scent. I haven’t found them growing wild in my area but I have a bush that was planted by birds; they grow that easily, and start to bear within three years.  I have several large bushes and would have planted more if not for one major disadvantage: I thought the fruit tasted awful.  The fruits, like most berries, are relatively low-carb for fruits and probably contain a good set of antioxidants, but eating things prescriptively rather than for pleasure is just not my style.

But sometimes plants just have to hang around my yard until I learn to use them well. This year, after living with clove currants for five years, I finally figured out (duh) that the fruits are not ready to eat when they turn black. Don’t grab those first black shiny fruits. Leave them on the bush for another couple of weeks. Taste every few days, and when they taste sweet and spicy (still very tart but with a balance of acid and sweetness) they’re ripe. The fruits actually get a little smaller as they ripen, and some will look a bit wrinkled. Don’t worry. Don’t use any that are dry and shriveled, but a little loss of turgor just intensifies the flavor.

I enjoy eating a handful in the garden when I make my morning rounds, but my favorite use for them is in cobbler. If you are low-carb, use my recipe for red, white, and blue cobbler, using clove currants alone or adding in some frozen wild blueberries to make up the fruit volume if you don’t have enough clove currants. Work the sweeteners into the fruit with your fingers, crushing the fruits a bit as you go. If you eat sugar and flour, just use your own favorite cobbler recipe. Be sure to grate a little fresh nutmeg into the fruit mixture to bring out the spiciness.
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The fruit clings to the stems and often has a little wiry “tail” clinging to the blossom end which has to be removed, so harvesting them is a bit tedious. I wait until early evening and then sit comfortably under the bushes with a bowl, pulling off stems and tails as I go so that fruits that hit the bowl are ready to use. I eat a few along the way. The laborer is worthy of her hire, after all.

I’ve been thinking of other ways to use them, and I think that they might be good in sauces for meat and game. I can recall reading a British recipe for a blackberry sauce for venison, and along those lines I plan to try using clove currants for a sauce for roasted pork. But right now they are going into cobbler or disappearing straight down my greedy gullet.
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I also have a couple of bushes of Golden currant, also known as wax currant, but they are slower to bear and I haven’t had enough fruit to experiment with yet. More on that later.

 

Passing Pleasures: more on hops shoots

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Two posts ago I wrote about learning to use spring hops shoots as a vegetable, and a couple of weeks after my first taste, they are nearly over for the year. I hit a tiny second harvest by breaking off the tips when the vines were as tall as I wanted. These “upper shoots”have even more of the wild, feral, slightly bitter flavor than the first emerging growth has, and are quite addictive. My favorite preparation so far is to cut them into segments about an inch long, sizzle them in butter or olive oil over medium-high Heat until the stems are crisp-tender and the infant leaves are fried crisp, salt to taste, and crumble the yolk of a hard-boiled egg over the top. The egg yolk smoothes the bitterness beautifully. This method works well with bitter greens as well.
Incidentally, the only thing I dislike about hops shoots is that there aren’t all that many of them. I have five large hops hills and only get enough shoots for my husband and I to share them a couple of times. I’m thinking of planting more hills just for the shoots. The vines are fairly handsome and almost indestructible, and will cover an ugly fence ( summer only) within a couple of seasons.

Winter pleasures: pomegranates


Pomegranates are a common landscape plant in our area, although our recent cold winters have culled them pretty heavily. A little further south, they can be found naturalized by roadsides. They are ripe in early winter, and there are lots of ways to use them in cooking, but I also like them as juice. The juice is tannic, and in my view needs softening, so I drink it in orange juice, using one medium-sized pomegranate for every two or three oranges. I cut the pomegranates in half and juice them in the orange squeezer, but if you don’t have one, you can hold each cut half over a bowl and squeeze the inside with a large rounded spoon to extract the lovely crimson juice. Salute the season, and enjoy. After starting a winter morning with this lovely toast, you can complete the evening with a pomegranate margarita if you feel so inclined.

Before and after: the first six months


Too often, when I look at my garden I concentrate on what needs to be done or what didn’t turn out as hoped. The recent intense heat spells have been hard on garden and gardener alike, and it’s easy to fall into frustrated negativity. So today, as I look out my front door at the view above, I want to remember what it looked like when we took possession of the property six months ago:

Okay, not everything prospered, but we eat a lot of vegetables from our own yard every night, birds and butterflies and skinks abound, and every now and then I see a neighbor or two hanging over the fence admiring the view. Amazing what compost and stubbornness can do.
Please, please, use the DH oil spill as an opportunity to think about some ways to reduce your own footprint. “Yard farming” is the most healthful and pleasurable way I know to do that. If you grow any food in Albuquerque, please consider registering with the “2012 gardens by 2012” project. Go to www.albuquerquebackyardfarms.com and click the “2012 Gardens” tab. Sustainablity and greater self-sufficiency are great causes.

The Jewels of Summer: Cherries

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The single best reason that I know of to grow a pie cherry tree is to stand and gawk at it in full fruit on a sunny day. Even my dwarf North Star cherry, which is only two years old and no taller than I am, looks so stunning in the summer sun, with cherries glowing like Russian enamels, that I spend some time just standing there taking it in. But once you’re ready to stop looking and start eating, there are the cherries. Sour or pie cherries are of course perfect for pies, and they also make excellent jams, cobblers, etc. If you want a lot of good well-tested recipes, get yourself a copy of the British classic Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book.  But I decided to make cherry liqueur this year, and so far the results are very promising. Remember, besides being economical and ecological and virtuous, this urban homesteading stuff is an awful lot of fun.

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Click here for the recipe! Continue reading