We’re off to a fine start to spring – 12 recipes crossing 7 local ingredients; some foraged, some purchased and all planned (the lamb is complete). A co-worker and fellow preserver smiled at me as we crossed paths today and happily declared the “start of another jamming season.”
It’s a special time of year. Foraging (something I wish I had far more skill with and am determined to learn more about) will start us out of the gate before the greens of spring and then summer led way to an explosion of crayola colors that will only fade to the cautionary colors of the fall. If a year passed in the blink of an eye I’m sure that the Norther Hemisphere would look like a most amazing firework exploding before dissolving into the darkness of winter (though we preserve then as well).
I can’t emphasize the following enough:
- Learning the fundamentals of preserving amazing food takes no longer than a few hours. Use trusted sources – The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a website that, to me, sets the bar.
- If you doubt the above, rest assured that I had passively participated in family food traditions through most of my life (other than when I was a teenager when I participated under duress and protest). Preserving became a hobby in the last 5 years, an obsession in the last 3. Dana and I moved to our apartment 5 years ago – if you had told us that we’d have a shelf with 400+ jars (and more stored elsewhere for a total of around 700 at peak season), we’d have laughed. If you told me we’d redecorate to accommodate them, I would have laughed harder.
- Preserving cheats time. I can pair the heat of a dehydrated local pepper with the freshness of spring fiddleheads and cheat the seasons by mixing a fresh ingredient with a preserved one. Jars are time machines for the kitchen.
All of that said, there’s a bigger picture; at least for us. We’re preserving far more than food. Each jar is a memory; the day we made it or the person who grew it or traded a jar with us or of other jars we ate from the set.
I’m going to make a difficult comparison for many people to accept in the following two paragraphs.
I hunt sustainable food. It’s something I’ve struggled with for most of my life (an introduction to that is here and if you search for ‘Moose Hunt’ you’ll find a non-graphic account of our 9 days moose hunting this year). The first time I ate an animal which I saw culled changed my relationship with food forever. I used to throw out uneaten chicken with barely a thought. I’m not trying to convert you – just suggesting that the reality of what is on the plate becomes a different kind of ‘real’ – at least for me.
Preserving does the same. We haven’t mastered zero waste in our house yet but we’re very conscious when we forget a carrot in the crisper or when a bread fails. I haven’t mastered my occasional binge on fast food or on pop. But my relationship with what I eat has – and continues – to change rapidly.
Preserving to me, is about making a conscious choice, as to what I consume. A simple dinner of rice and peas is intimately connected to 14 other dinners this year – all with the same batch of preserved peas from a farm just north of Markham made on a Sunday night after a great drive in the country and a wonderful visit with my parents.
We hope you’ve enjoyed some of the articles in this series and are inspired to try something from them – or something different altogether. We’d love to hear from you and we really will get a swap event together later in the year – too many great tastes to simply hoard!
We would love to have any suggestions, requests, ideas or thoughts on what to feature in the summer article that we will be publishing in Edible Toronto. Like this series, we plan to stay a bit off the beaten path of expected techniques or ingredients or at least offer some twists to them…
In the mean time, we’d love if you pulled up a chair and stuck around. We’ll continue writing 7-days-a-week and share some of our spring successes and struggles as we go through them. This year I’m going to remember to eat as much as I put in cans (something I did poorly last year :)).
I am so terribly excited to experiment with Dandelions this year. I have not preserved them before (the beech tree noyau and this are our `new`goals this spring to try) and am excited to share what we`ve learned about them as we`ve been planning for about 8 months to really have some fun with them.
A bit of context first. Dana was reading about the Slow Food Movement and found an amazing story. Several Italian experts were sent to South America to teach people better farming techniques. The farmers had been struggling with their crops year-after-year. Their families were struggling to eat and further challenged by a weed that would seemingly grow overnight and appear just about anywhere. The Italians coulnd`t beleive what they were seeing – farmers starving and struggling to create a North American style farm while cutting and burning this weed on a daily basis. The `weed`was actually an edible crop that was the basis of their diet hundreds of years ago and had since been forgotten as edible. They were burning their best crop.
The mighty dandelion is much the same. The greens are becoming gourmet delicacies (in salads or briefly blanched) and the flowers and roots are magically delicious. Yet we see this master crop as a pain in the butt weed.
Let`s start bottom up:
- The roots can be dug, washed and dried in an oven. A small clump of dandelions can share a single root and use of a shovel and knife are generally required. This is a large part of why we consider Dandelion Root Coffee to be a very difficult preserve – finding a place you can dig in the city (ethically and legally) presents a problem – If we`re up north early enough in the spring we`ll be able to try this, otherwise, this may have to wait another year.The basics: dehydrate it (you can use a stove) until brittle, roast it dark and grind into grounds to make this coffee substitute. A 5-gallon bucket of roots should make 3-4 quarts of finished product. There`s full details on eHow to learn to make this if you want more detail.
- Dandelion wine. I am told that this is super simple to make and that it tastes great. It`s a curiosity as much as anything for me and amazing how many people I speak to who inform me that their grandparents made it at some point. This relies on the flowers – avoid the rest of the plant which can turn your elixir into something bitter. The petals are typically added to sugar, water and often a bit of citrus, boiled, strained and mixed with yeast to ferment before ageing 6 to 12 months. The easiest explanation I`ve found is here.
- Dandelion Jelly. Petals, sugar, water, pectin and a bit of citrus. You essentially prepare tea (using the yellow leaves only) by simmering the leaves to create dandelion water which becomes the basis of this jelly. You will have to add pectin in order for this to set as there is little-to-no pectin in a Dandelion (I am guessing none but do not know scientifically). This would be a great place to start if you`re a little tentative. Here’s some details.
I love the idea of working with a “weed” that others walk past and am very excited to work with Dandelions this year. Make sure you’re picking in a clean area that hasn’t been sprayed with a tonne of pesticide or other nasties!
Any favourite recipes or techniques out there for dandelions?
Well that`s all for today`s post in our Preserving Spring series. We are continuing to write one per day as a follow-up to the article in Edible Toronto. We`re continuing to do one-a-day until complete and you can see the entire series by clicking here.