Posts Tagged ‘mulberry leaves’

The Fall Summation IV: Perennials

I am beginning to plan for those future years  when digging in the garden is not such a pleasure. For that matter, there are already days when digging feels less like a hobby, pleasure, and form of worship and more like a chore, and so I am trying to have patches of perennials around that would carry me through a time when I did not feel able to dig.  I am also trying to create deep mulched beds that would make it possible to grow annuals with less work, but more about that in another post.

Some of the perennials that I have experimented with:

Stinging nettles are a real success. They have to be sited in a place where people and animals do not have to be exposed to them and get stung, but once established the only care they need is some water in my desert area, and cutting back in the winter so that the spring greens can be easily harvested. From now on, I will also cut back the withered stalks at the peak of late summer heat, so that when new shoots come up in the fall they can be gathered without much trouble.  They are delicious when cooked, and there is no more nutritious green, so I am even thinking of starting a second patch in another out-of-the-way corner of the yard. I have written about their kitchen uses in a number of past posts,  and I guess all I will say here about their flavor is that it is mild but somehow more intensely green than almost anything else that I’ve tasted.  They have to be handled cautiously and with gloves to avoid stings, but I have read with fascination that some people believe in putting the raw greens into smoothies, and apparently they are edible raw in that form. There are also contests in some places in Europe in which raw nettles are eaten in large quantities. Bizarre, but then, people are. Suit yourself.

Scorzonera  is a favorite of mine for its delicious stalks topped with tightly packed flower buds, and I have also learned to appreciate the leaves as a substantial but mild flavored addition to salads. It produces a small but useful second crop of leaves in late fall.   It tolerates drought  exceptionally well once established. I will be planting a lot more of this one. Be aware that I am talking about Scorzonera hispanica. There are other members of genus Scorzonera that have thready and insubstantial leaves. I don’t find the root to be worth the trouble of digging it up, and I leave it in the ground to make more leaves and stalks year after year with no labor on my part.

Salsify  produces long thin leaves which, in the spring, are tender and reasonably tasty.  The buds are probably the best part of the plant, although they are tiny and you would need a fair sized patch to have enough to be worth eating.  I have planted a new larger patch of it because I read somewhere that the long thin early spring leaves, when blanched for just a minute in boiling water, make a kind of “vegetable spaghetti“ that some people enjoy. I haven’t had a chance to try this yet but it would be a useful addition to my low-carb diet, which is “deficient “ in things to toss with butter and good Parmesan. Salsify  is often grown for the roots, but I find the root fairly bland and not that interesting. I would certainly eat it if I were hungry, though.

Asparagus  is one of my favorite vegetables, and this coming spring I will be planting more of the purple kind, which I find most delicious.  There is just nothing better. If only it were available in the garden for more of the year, I might not bother to grow anything else.

Turkish Rocket  makes delicious buds when harvested at exactly the right phase, with a bitter-nutty flavor very much like broccoli rabe. The season for it is short but pleasurable. I have never found any culinary use for the leaves or older buds.

Sorrel  makes one of my favorite simple sauces when chiffonaded and stewed briefly in butter with a little salt. Salmon was born to be grilled and eaten with sorrel butter. In addition to a healthy large clump of spring leaves, it makes another, even better clump in late fall. Very deserving of garden space. Above, you see the chiffonaded leaves used raw in salmon salad. It takes a surprising amount to make a good flavor impression, so think of sorrel as an ingredient, not a seasoning.

Hops  were planted all along my fences back when I used to brew beer. I don’t brew very  much anymore, but hops shoots are a lovely wild-bitter tasty treat that I look forward to every spring.  I am convinced that fancy preparation is a bad idea. Just rinse them, chop a bunch of them in 1 inch lengths, and fry quickly in olive oil with a generous pinch of salt. Nothing else. Be sure to let them form some browned crispy areas so they can taste their best.

Mulberry  can be kept tightly pruned or coppiced for an excellent harvest of small tender young leaves and shootsat the twig tips.  Don’t try the leathery older leaves, and stems should be tender enough to easily nip off with your thumbnail. It matters which mulberry you get, since some have perfectly good leaves and some are awful. I surreptitiously tasted at the organic nursery where I bought mine, to get leaves that had no unusual toughness or off flavors.  Mulberries have a good amount of resveratrol, but I have no idea about the resveratrol content of the leaves. I would guess, however, that it’s probably in there.  Once you have a mulberry tree you have it forever, and the only problem is keeping it pruned tightly enough that you can reach the leaf tips.  I recently learned from Samuel Thayer‘s newest book that the flowers can also be eaten in salads. I will be trying this next spring.  If you have a yard goat, goats adore mulberry branches above almost anything else, and will happily eat up your prunings. There are some wild food books  that claim that the leaves are hallucinogenic, and others that say the leaves are not hallucinogenic but the water in which they are cooked is. I call nonsense on all of this. Young tender mulberry leaves are one of my favorite greens, and I eat a lot of them, and drink the water that they were cooked in, and nothing remotely interesting has ever happened as a result.  Mulberry leaf tea is also widely used in Asian and given to children and old people, with absolutely no concerns.  I don’t know where this stuff comes from.  I am happy to say that Samuel Thayer, a profound expert on wild foods if ever there was one, talks about culinary  use of the leaves and does not mention this at all. A tightly pruned or coppiced mulberry can be kept in any front yard, since if you keep cutting it back it doesn’t bloom, and after the first few years  will provide a  surprising amount of greens.

Linden  is in all the permaculture books as a tree with edible leaves that can be used in salads or cooked. I have two small Linden trees, and I love the scent when they bloom, but to my taste the leaves are a little bit bland and I prefer good Mulberry leaves.  Still, they make a nice substantial addition to a salad with a good flavorful dressing, and are tenderest and best when gathered just as they emerge from their bracts.

To my immense pleasure, I find that I have more perennial veggies of interest than I thought I had, so I will put the rest in a second post.

 

 

A Quick Thai-ish Snack

After yesterday’s brief dissertation on nam prik pao,  it occurred to me that one thing I had not really demonstrated about this Thai seasoning paste is its ability to make something very good very fast.

Today I was not hungry for lunch but did want something healthy in a hurry to tide me over.  I decided on a quick very small bowl of greens. I used mulberry shoots, but any rather sturdy green would do. If you use something substantial like collards or kale, one collard leaf or two kale leaves  would work for a passing snack.  For smaller leaves, a generous handful is the right spirit.

All you need is your leaves, fish sauce, a little coconut oil or other cooking fat, and nam prik pao.  Wash and chop the leaves or, if they are large and substantial, chiffonade them.   Heat your smallest skillet, put in the coconut fat and heat it briefly, and put in a heaping teaspoon of nam prik pao.  Stir it around for about 30 seconds to distribute it through the fat, throw in your greens over medium heat, and stir around for a couple of minutes, drizzling with a little bit of fish sauce but not too much because the small quantity of greens can get too salty in a hurry.  When the greens are done to the degree of tenderness that you like, put them in a little bowl and eat them.  Simple as that. You will feel a pleasant glow of virtue because of the soluble fiber and antioxidants that you have taken in, and it will taste good  and take less than five minutes. The leaves are whatever struck your eye on the way from the garden to the kitchen and took approximately a minute to gather. No fuss no bother.  You can chop some herbs on top if you want to and that will be delicious, but it will still taste awfully good without them.

You could use the same principle to make a side dish for dinner, or for that matter a main dish, and a few different Southeast Asian vegetable dishes with a cushioning bowl of rice if you can eat it make a wonderful dinner full of interesting flavors.  If you are a low-carb person, you can use cauliflower rice instead of real rice, or have both available for the various kinds of eaters at your table.   But the recipe as written is for your own private pleasure.

Mulberry Heaven II: Mulberry Leaf Dolmas

As I mentioned in my last mulberry post, I’m fond of eating very young mulberry leaves in cooked greens mixtures, and recently I was inspired by a post on TC Permaculture to think about mulberry leaf dolmas. I had located a mulberry tree with big and fairly tasty leaves, perfect for dolmas:
image
I asked my friend to stick his hand in the picture so that you can see that these leaves are big, over 7 inches long in many cases.
Be aware that if you are going to cook with mulberry leaves, they have to be young and you have to taste them first. Some are quite tasty, some are okay, and some are awful. Chew up a little bit. It will taste raw and green, but if there are acrid awful flavors, don’t go further. Use grape leaves instead in that case.
I foraged a couple of dozen big mulberry leaves, rinsed and blanched them for a minute in boiling water, and set out to make a meat filling. Mine was very improvisational, so I’ll describe it casually. For more specific and concrete recipes, you can google “dolmas” and find hundreds. I wanted to use what was fresh and good in my garden.
I started with a pound of ground beef from our local grassfed beef people. Don’t use beef that’s very lean; it will be dry when cooked. I chopped up three large green onions, greens and whites chopped separately, and four cloves of garlic. I put the white onion parts and the garlic to sauté over medium-low heat in a glug of good olive oil. While they cooked, I chopped a handful of parsley, a large sprig of cutting celery, a few large sprigs of thyme, a large handful of cilantro with stems, and a sprig of sweet marjoram, and mixed them with the chopped onion greens. To the beef I added a heaping teaspoon of salt and a heaping teaspoon of Maras pepper flakes. The Maras pepper was courtesy of a friend who kindly muled it back from Turkey for me, but you can use any mild red pepper flakes, or leave them out. Work the sautéed mixture and the chopped herbs into the beef very well with your hands. Now work in a cup of toasted pine nuts, chopped toasted almonds, or chopped toasted walnuts. Let the mixture rest in the refrigerator an hour or two if possible, or up to overnight, to let the flavors develop.
Fill the dolmas; again, there are a thousand visual tutorials online if you are unfamiliar with the process. Fit them tightly into a pan lined with parchment paper. In the photo below you can see some made with grape leaves among the vibrant dark green mulberry dolmas.
image
Put about a quarter cup of water in the pan, and cover loosely with foil. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Boil down the pan juices in a little saucepan to make a sauce, if it tastes at all watery right out of the oven, which it probably won’t because of all the herbs. Serve them forth, with well-strained or full-fat Greek yogurt. I like to salt the yogurt to taste. Ornament the yogurt with a drift of pepper flakes or a scattering of paprika if you like. Scatter crumbled feta over the dolmas if that suits your taste.
image
I don’t add rice to the filling because I’m a ketogenic eater, but if you aren’t, feel free to add rice for a more traditional filling, or you could add bread crumbs for a less dense filling.  If you want to take the trouble, you can make an avgolemono sauce or a tomato sauce to go over the dolmas. But do keep the field-and-garden improvisational nature of the thing.

Mulberry Heaven

image
Near my home there is a mulberry tree that has delicious black fruit and low-hanging branches. When the fruit ripens, I throw my ketogenic diet temporarily out the window and go every evening to stand under it, gorging myself, while my dogs eat dropped fruit off the path. This is one of the greatest joys of the summer season. But it isn’t by any means the only use for mulberry trees.
On my own property I don’t have any mulberries big enough to fruit, but I do have two mulberries that I harvest greens from. The leaves of all mulberries are edible when young and tender, but flavor ranges from tasty to nasty. By hanging around a local organic nursery and surreptitiously tasting leaves, I got a couple that had fairly good-tasting leaves. At my last home I had a mulberry with delicious and large leaves, but alas, that tree is no longer mine, and I didn’t try rooting cuttings because I had no clue how hard it would be to replace. But the ones I now have are passable. The trees will rapidly grow tall if you let them, which I don’t. From the time they are 4 feet high I start managing them for leaf harvest by keeping them small. At first this is a matter of a little delicate trimming and weighting some branches so that they grow out nearly parallel to the ground. Later on in their lives, much harder cutting is needed, and by the time that they are 5-7 years old, they need coppicing (cutting off a few feet above the ground) to keep them in check. Coppicing keeps them from producing fruit, and incidentally they also don’t bloom and produce their incredibly allergenic pollen when managed this way. They do produce masses of young tender tips that can be pinched off at the point where they are nonwoody and break easily and cooked as a green, a good green that fills in gaps between cold-weather and hot-weather greens and contains resveratrol as a bonus.
image
At the point when my coppiced trees start producing more greens than I can use (which is a few years down the road,) I will start harvesting bigger branches for my goat, who thinks that mulberry branches are the food of queens. Mulberry leaves can also be dried to make tea, although I think the resulting tea is pretty insipid stuff and needs other herbs for interest. I would also use “extra” cuttings for mulch and spare biomass.
For more about mulberry trees, see the link below for a terrific and very comprehensive post about mulberries in permaculture. Don’t miss the wonderful pictures of stuffed mulberry leaves! The recipes are available too, and I plan to try this soon.
Temperate Zone Permaculture mulberry post
image
This image of stuffed mulberry leaves, poached from the Temperate Zone Permaculture post linked in above, looks especially interesting to me. Check out the recipes in that post.
image
The stigmata of the mulberry fancier. Consider yourself warned.

 

Semi-permaculture

imageimage

Every now and then I encounter some committed permaculturist who earnestly wishes to educate me about planning guilds (functional plant groups) in my garden. I just don’t think this way. It seems to me that, if you love to grow food, have a fairly high chaos tolerance, and live somwhere long enough, you will naturally and accidentally discover what thrives in groups in your area, as well as what you really like to eat. Take the large pot above, which has been next to my back patio for four years. It is a microcosm, or micro-cosmos, of my interests over the time since it was placed. In it you can spot the gorgeous leaf lettuce Merlot that I’m growing this year, chickweed that I planted three years ago and which is self-seeding nicely,  moringa that I started experimenting with last year (which, incidentally, wintered over in a pot that isn’t watered in the winter and survived a very cold winter,) Shirley poppies from four years ago when this pot was placed, and wild lettuce which seeds itself all over at my house and which I tolerate because I like it in cooked greens. My planned combinations haven’t come out nearly so well. Everything in this pot is edible; yes, even Shirley poppy leaves are fine in cooked greens. But it all happened through planting things, not weeding too assiduously, and seeing what happened. If you have a poor memory and are prone to planting things in spots where you already planted something else and then forgot about it, some further felicitous combinations will occur.

A linden planted for its edible leaves has a bird-sown wax current bush growing in its shade, bearing more heavily than its siblings in full sun. Bladder campion seeds itself into the shady north corner under the linden. Siberian elms, self-sown all over, can be coppiced for free goat feed. A bird-sown mulberry nearby can be coppiced for tender edible green shoots to use in cooked greens. Stinging nettles, struggling in the baking desert sun, root their way into the shade of the elm and mulberry coppices and begin to flourish. Stems of oyster mushrooms, dug into garden beds in the fall, produce a few nice oyster mushrooms in the shade of lettuce the following year. A single lambs-quarters is allowed to seed, and late-spring crops of mild and nutritious greens show up all around your intentional plantings for years.  A Russian olive that grows smack in the middle of a garden bed despite years of cutting it back and cursing it, can be pruned into a support for climbing snow peas. A really poor clump of garlic at the base of a tree, left by the last owner, turns out to be indestructible through baking summers and perfect for green garlic. Scorzonera and wolfberries make some good food out of baking unimproved spots where you can’t get anything else to grow. A local non-edible legume, the desert bird-of-paradise, springs up and offers light shade to the wolfberry, giving it a new lease on life and more tender leaves that you can toss into greens mixtures.  None of this is especially tidy, and the straight-row sort of gardener would never tolerate it. But for those of us who love a bit of natural mess and take our vegetables and our epiphanies where we can find them, it works.