Ramp Vinegar

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It’s ramp season! I almost don’t want to talk about ramps because of the frenzy they induce. There’s something about them–of course, it’s the taste of them–but the fact that they are elusive just makes them that much more desirable. Ah, the lure of forbidden (or just hard to find) food. I try to make due with other wild onion-y greens, but truthfully they don’t hold a candle. I’ve been hiking around in the woods up here for a long time and have never found them.

Until the other day. I was actually thinking about ramps as I was walking in the woods. For ten minutes I was thinking hard about ramps. I was thinking: I hate you ramps! I don’t even want you. And then poof! There they were. I must admit, it felt pretty special. I only took a small handful, and out of the handful I only picked two bulbs. The bulbs I planted in my yard. The leaves that I sliced off at the neck of the bulb were turned into ramp compound butter. I used my “special” butter, cultured and made with local cream. We had it on homemade sourdough bread. It was pretty amazing.

Then a few days later I got up the nerve to contact a neighbor of mine. For years I’ve noticed a lovely patch of green in their shady yard. I have always suspected they were ramps. I was right! And they were kind enough to dig up a clump for me to plant in my yard. It was a forty-year old patch planted by the family. I left a few jars of quince jam on their doorstep in return. All this time right under my nose! When I asked them how they enjoyed their ramps, they said chopped up on bread with a drizzle of olive oil. Very simple and probably very good.

By far, the best thing I did with my small bounty of ramp leaves was to put a single leaf in a small jar of vinegar. In my ramp research, I found that drying ramps dilutes their flavor, and that freezing isn’t a good preserving technique either (unless it’s in a compound butter). I know this is the second post in a row of me just putting something in vinegar, but the ramp vinegar proved to be stellar, and it’s results were immediate. I did one with white wine vinegar and one with apple cider vinegar. They are both delicious–garlicky and leeky– and should last the summer. You only need one leaf for eight ounces of vinegar, so whether you buy them or find them, it’s a good economical use for your precious allium!

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Spring Tonic Vinegar

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All the little green things are coming out now, and it’s so exciting to greet them all, even the weeds. Of course, weeds are nothing but plants that you don’t want, and a lot of them have worth even though they take over your strawberry patch. I missed my chance to eat all the bittercress when they were green and tender; they are already stalky and flowering, and I can’t keep up with pulling them out. Eating your invasive plants is a good way to take care of them! Do you have a lot of bittercress? You might want to check out this recipe for bittercress salad from The Three Foragers, based in Connecticut. But you can also google bittercress recipes and you’ll find quite a lot!

I love learning about new weeds that are edible. Just the other day I was clearing out the stone wall that runs along the edge of our driveway and pulled a weed that is so pretty and deep green it seemed a shame to waste it. Well, that intuition was correct, because later on that day I was on Instagram and saw that @raganella had posted a picture of that exact weed, and I found out its name was cleavers. Upon looking it up I learned it had tonifying properties and is used to cleanse the lymphatic system. Now I’m not pulling it anymore!

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Cleavers

These bitter and spicy spring greens have long been used by people to cleanse the digestive system after the winter. This morning I went out to pick garlic mustard (an invasive that’s best when young), dandelion greens, onion grass, and cleavers. I decided to to make a spring tonic vinegar. Lately I’ve been inspired by Pascal Bauder’s Facebook page, an endlessly enthusiastic forager who, among other things, makes some gorgeous vinegary elixirs. I just cleaned my greens and covered them in white vinegar and we’ll see what it tastes like in a few weeks.

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Spring tonic

Some older posts of mine from What Julia Ate on foraging:

Garlic Mustard Soup

Sheep Sorrel and Seedling Pesto

Update: as per @raganella, dry the cleavers for tea. Or as a cold infusion when fresh: “Just take a few sprigs and put in a mason jar with cold water. Let steep an hour or so.”

Jam Jar Dressing

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I love emptying jars in my fridge. I think any obsessive canner does! It means that there will soon be open real estate on the shelf. Of course, it will be taken up that quickly, but at least it makes me feel like I cleared something out. It feels like I’m accomplishing something, even though I’m really…not. You know that feeling? The other day was a high point in jar shuttling—two jars were nearly done at the same time, and they were companion items. (It’s the small things, right?) Apricot jam and Dijon mustard. I moved them front and center, planning to make a dressing out of them. Why do apricots and mustard go so well together? I don’t know, but they do.

What ratio do you use for a salad dressing? The standard one is three parts oil to one part vinegar or acid. I love Julia Child’s theory on dressings, her quote in Julia’s Kichen Wisdom is to use “proportions of a very dry martini, since you can always add more vinegar or lemon, but you can’t take it out.” I like a dressing that is mostly good olive oil with a tiny bit of acid and salt, just like Julia. Sometimes I just drizzle olive oil and add a squirt of lemon and a sprinkle of salt.

There was about a scant teaspoon of both the apricot jam and Dijon mustard left. I added one teaspoon of white wine vinegar to the jam and (after closing the jar) shook vigorously to get all the good bits off the sides of the jar. To the Dijon jar I added 1/3 of a cup of oil, and shook that until it was partially emulsified. Then I added the oil-mustard mixture to the apricot-vinegar mixture (only because I liked that jar better) and shook them all together. They came together quickly and made a thick, tangy dressing. Great on a salad, or for dipping, it was so thick!

I think a lot of us do this. Do you? Here’s some links to other folks doing the jam jar dressing:

Well Preserved

The Kitchn

Yes, even Rachel Ray

The Spring Fast

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Winter is finally giving way to spring over here, and the green is coming back ever so slowly. I see buds beginning to swell everywhere. There are daffodils and crocuses actually blooming! I saw a bee! And the hyacinths are beginning to drill through the dirt. Everyone around here keeps on saying: thank goodness! I’ve been getting out in the garden which feels amazing. Nothing like a dirt tonic to put your spirit back up where it belongs.

It’s an interesting time of year for someone who tries to eat according to the seasons, and it makes one wonder what people used to do so long ago. Chew on sticks? Just about. The latest post from A Raisin and a Porpoise touches on this time of fasting, but really, as she wryly points out, something very restrictive would cause us sun-deprived northerners emotional bankruptcy. The book on my nightstand right now is Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia by Patience Gray that a good friend sent me. It’s fascinating and dense, more feast than fast. It’s main theme revolves around the idea of the fast being necessary to the feast. The abundance would not be quite as sweet without the bitterness of these seasonal lulls. As much as we don’t like it, it’s just not natural to be full all the time. A simple enough concept that’s lost its luster in this world of plenty. Maybe instead of filling the void, we should try to be happy with the void. To contemplate the interstices.

I actually hate being hungry, to be honest, so even though I’m suggesting to enjoy the stretched out thin times it’s really just advice to myself. Ever since I can remember, hunger pangs used to bother me tremendously. I find it very hard to just sit still and feel them. Of course, the tag line of this blog is “staying hungry” so it’s not something I’ve just started thinking about. When you are full, you begin to get complacent, and while complacency has it’s benefits (who doesn’t want to be happy just where they are?) no one wants to be defined as smug.

Speaking of fasts, I did a gluten fast for two weeks, although we don’t generally think of it in that way. Usually we “go” gluten-free. It wasn’t terribly restrictive, I must admit. I did have soy sauce, for example, and didn’t feel pressed to run out and buy some wheat-free tamari. I also had an ice cream cone, and once I had the first bite of the crispy wafer I realized my error. Luckily I had a five-year old handy to dispatch the evidence after finishing the ice cream. On the last day of my fast, I happily made some whole wheat biscuits, thinking how glad I was to not have a sensitivity to gluten, and not an hour passed when I had the worst stomach pains that lasted an entire day. It was distressing to say the least, and I began to have panic attacks that wheat bread was lost to me for good. Ends up the wheat scones just might have been a bit too much of a shock for my system, so I’ve begun to slowly add wheat back in small amounts. In this time, I’ve become very attached to buckwheat muffins, in which I mix the flour in three parts: buckwheat, almond and wheat. It’s delicious. And did you know that buckwheat loves dark chocolate? Well, who doesn’t?

My original buckwheat muffin recipe riffed off of this one for Chocolate Buckwheat Banana Nut Muffins from the Bojon Gourmet, who I’ve been hearing about all over the place lately.  In looking back at the recipe, I realized just how much I riffed, and mine is completely different now so I’m writing it down here for posterity.

Not-Fasting Muffins, yields 12 muffins

1/2 cup almond flour

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup very ripe bananas, mashed

1 teaspoon of vanilla

2 tablespoons of cacao nibs

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have a muffin tin ready with liners or oiled well. Mix the flours, powders and salt. Make sure your coconut oil is liquid (but not warm) and mix it with the sugar well. Add the two eggs and beat until frothy. Add the mashed bananas and vanilla. Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ones, and then fold in the nuts, nibs and chips last, saving a bit for topping, if you like that sort of thing. Distribute into muffin tins and top with the extra goodies. Bake for about 16-18 minutes, or until golden around the edges and a trusty toothpick comes out clean. When completely cool, you may break your fast and enjoy.

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Preserving By The Pint: Review

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I’ve been following Marisa McClellan’s blog, Food In Jars, for many years now. Her blog was one of the few I found when I first started my first blog, What Julia Ate, and began canning in earnest. At that time, I didn’t even know food blogs existed! And lo, not only did they exist, but a handful of them even talked about canning, preserving, and following the seasons. I was home. Thankfully, I’ve stayed in the preserving game long enough that Running Press sent me a review copy of Marisa’s newest book: Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. I must say I was thrilled!

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I think what’s interesting about people who are deeply interested in preserving, is that they are first and foremost food people. Sometimes that gets lost when you are pegged as a canning expert. I think this book really shows Marisa’s true colors as some one who is thinking about the bigger pictures of food: the bond it creates with our family and friends, and the bond it creates within our community when we cook seasonally all year round. And the love of food in all its delicious glory! There are so many recipes in here–sweet, savory, fermented and canned, to name a few.

Preserving by the Pint is wonderful for a few reasons. One, is that it is all about small batch preserving, and each recipe is only for a couple of small jars at maximum. Which is great for an urban preserver, but also for a country gal like me who wants to try something out before I have twenty jars of something.  Two, because of the seasonal approach, you can start working your way through the book right now. Which I plan to do. And three, that this book is not just about canning! It’s about preserving. It’s about savoring the bounty of the seasons.

Seeing as how the rhubarb is only just now breaking through the dirt, I still have some time before I can explore a lot of these recipes. Luckily, the other day I found a small ziploc bag of my very own garden strawberries in the freezer. They were so tiny that I thought they were cranberries. But I opened the bag and even frozen they smelled intensely of a hot, late-spring day, reminding me of the abundance my small patch provides our family. I turned to a recipe in Marisa’s book for Quick Pickled Strawberries that had a little tarragon in it. They are lovely: the vinegar not too dominant, and the tarragon works well with the strawberries. I served these alongside some shredded duck confit and a kale salad for a few visiting friends. It was a resounding hit!

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There are so many recipes I can’t wait to try out! Grapefruits have been on sale, so I was thinking of making a grapefruit curd, and there is a recipe in the Winter section for just that. Orange tomato and smoked paprika jam? Yes, please! Spicy apple cider and mustard glaze? Lacto-fermented green tomato pickles? Yes, yes and yes. It will be a delicious year.

 Disclosure: Many thanks to Marisa and her publisher, Running Press,  for sending a copy of Preserving by the Pint for the purpose of this review. All opinions stated above are entirely my own.