I often go outside in the evening after I put my son to bed to just look around. I take notice of the little details, the colors and the small changes from day to day. I grow and forage for fruits and vegetables for flavor, above all else, but when you stop and actually look at these plants you realize how beautiful they are. The colors and shapes are amazing, it is no wonder artists draw and paint fruits and vegetables.
In the raised beds my eyes are drawn to the different types of lettuce both in shapes and colors. I now realize why I always grow way too much lettuce, it is because I am curious as to what the hundreds of varieties look like. I grow radishes because there is something so fun about picking them in order to see those bright, vivid vegetables below ground. Even with holes from slugs they look great, the colors look almost man-made. Cucumbers are another favorite of mine, the variations of green on the cucumbers make me want to look closer.
Wild fruit is also so attractive, I was able to catch a bee on a blooming salal today and by looking up close I realized how lovely the little light pink flowers are. Salmonberries are another amazing looking fruit. From the orange colored fruit to the reddish ‘hairs’, they really look a bit odd.
If you have the time, take a closer look!
What an amazing walk it was today. Everywhere I looked it was like a picture on a postcard. Those postcards of Tuscan landscapes are real. When you get up close you see that the various shades of browns, yellows and greens are from the different crops growing in the fields. Today I saw a dark, almost black, wheat growing in a field. The colors are really amazing and what I love is that they are really using almost every bit of land to grow something. Of course this area is famous for the Brunello wine which is 100% Sangiovese grapes but the olive oil and fruit is also amazing. I can say I have had so much amazing olive oil. The flavor is so rich and nutty and a flavor I have rarely tasted in the US. I read that a study done in 2010 said 69% of the imported olive oil in the US is rancid.
The fruit I am sure is amazing but based on the time of year I am here in Italy I have only been able to pick cherries from the trees and wow are they good. There are cherry trees everywhere, in manicured gardens but also in the hedgerows as well. This goes for other fruit trees like apples, pears, plums and figs. There are walnut everywhere as well. I just love seeing people growing so much and wonder why we don't see more people growing food in the US.
One things that I find quite interesting is that many of the fruit trees are much smaller than in the US. Possibly they are using different rootstock but apples, pears and plums for example are mature and standing about 10 foot high with the crown 6 foot in diameter with the trunk as the center point. These trees are covered in fruit. I am going to try and learn a little more while here.
The sun was shining this weekend in Seattle and I wanted to try out a new path called the Cross Kirkland Corridor. This is not the typical walk I do as I usually try to find a forest or mountain but I was lured by the fact that the Chainline brewery was literally right on the trail, this place has delicious beer!
The path is lovely and wide and at parts has a slow moving stream on either side of it. When walking along trying to stop my son from falling into the stream I noticed the stream was full of watercress. This watercress was in perfect condition and had not yet flowered. Once the watercress flowers the peppery taste turns bitter and is not terribly nice to eat.
I decided to gather up a bunch to take home and made some soup. Here is my recipe for watercress soup:
Lots of watercress (3 - 4 cups should be good!)
Salt and pepper
Clean the watercress and get rid of stems so you just have leaves, set this aside. Finely dice the onion and brown in the olive oil until translucent. Use a mandolin or slice the potato as finely as possible, add watercress and then add stock so it the watercress just sticks out above the stock a little. Cook for about 5 - 7 minutes until potatoes are soft and watercress has wilted. Use a hand immersion blender and blend. Finish with cream, salt and pepper….delicious :)
I have mentioned the wild fruit growing on my plot before. Today as I walked around the plot I really noticed how many wild/native plants which are growing here. I saw lots of Salal, Oregon Grape, Elderberry and Salmonberries. Parts of the plot are a sea of blue Forget-Me-Nots!
Today I was really taken with the beautiful flowers on the Evergreen Huckleberry. This time of year they are covered in delicate pink flowers which in July will be full of lovely tart berries. I really like mixing them with blueberries and serving with slightly sweetened cream.
The plants in the greenhouse are starting to take off with the warmer days. I have flowers on my tomatoes and they are already over 12 inches tall! I am feeling good about the 2017 tomato crop.
I always start calla lily and begonia tubers in the greenhouse and they will be ready to go out in a couple of weeks. I love growing them this way as I get to pick the specific type and color I want.
Here are some other lovely things growing in the greenhouse now!
One thing that I think is pretty cool about where I live is that I have native fruit bushes growing in the forested area of my plot of land. With all the cutting down of trees and the development of the massive ‘cookie cutter’ homes I feel like I am preserving a little bit of the natural landscape.
I have all sorts of fruit bushes growing such as Salmonberries, Salal, Oregon Grape but the one I have in the largest group are the red huckleberries. These are really attractive plants, they have lovely leaves and they can get quite large. They end up being covered in a delicate, slightly translucent, red berry which looks to me like a smaller red blueberry. The birds enjoy eating them as much as I do but there are more than enough to go around! Traditionally they used to be used as bait for fishing believe it or not!
This year I have big plans for this berry, they should be ripe and ready to eat in early July! I am going to try some jam but also some baked goods as well to try and see how the flavor changes based on the cooking method.
I would love to hear from you all if you have made things using red huckleberries...please share!
When I lived in England hedgerow foraging was serious stuff! Every year I got very excited at specific times of the year based on what I was able forage. In the UK there are public footpaths everywhere so people go back to the same spot year after year when they know something good grows there. I have found so many great things when I least expected it: wild asparagus, sorrel, wild garlic, sloes and elder! Here in the Pacific Northwest it took me a while to really get to grips with what I could forage but I was not disappointed! I will write separate blogs on the various wild foods when they are ready to harvest!
This takes me to today. I noticed when I was driving home from work Friday that the elder flowers are out! This made me remember the time I made elderflower Champagne in the UK. When it was time to bottle I did so but made the error of putting the bottles on their sides. One night while watching TV we heard a pop, then another pop, and then lots more and eventually realized that we had a mess to clean up! I will not make that mistake again!
Today on a hike I was lucky and found lots of elderflowers, so I decided it was time to make elderflower Champagne. Where I live the red elder is the one I see a lot and the difference from the UK elder is that the flowers are in more of a cone shape, that is where the differences end.
I used the River Cottage Handbook ‘Booze’ book for my recipe this time as it has worked before. They give the advice to use 8 full flower heads but if you are picking the red elder you need maybe 24 - 40 heads, depending on the size.
You need to dissolve 2 liters of water with 800 grams of sugar; you can then add an additional 3 liters of cold water, but make sure this is cool before you add the elderflowers, and the zest and juice of 4 lemons.
Leave this to ferment. I used a bucket fitted with an air lock (basically this is a brewing bucket which my husband makes to brew beer).
If fermentation has not started after 3 days then you should add a packet of Champagne yeast.
After 6 days of fermentation strain the liquid through a boiled cheese cloth. Cover the liquid for a few hours to let the dust settle and then siphon into bottles (any kind) and cap. I plan to use the bottles that have an attached stopper, they call them bale wire bottles
I will add pictures to this blog as I get through the process. I really wanted to publish this today so that those of you in the Pacific Northwest can get picking before the flowers fade!
UPDATE - Fermentation complete! Admittedly I went on a business trip for a few days and should have bottled before I went away. No problem though as I tasted it and WOW!
I used the flip cap bottles as they are easy to work with. When I opened the bucket the smell was amazing, elderflower and lemon were the strong scents that overwhelmed me!
I then used a siphon with sanitized muslin cupped around the end of the tube to capture all those dead black bugs :)
You can already see the bubbles! Once this was done I filled the bottles....1 more week before I can enjoy :)
FINAL UPDATE - The day has come and it is time to give this stuff a try. I am shocked and impressed at the same time, this stuff is amazing. It is SO full of bubbles so be careful. You MUST give this a try next year. I will never live a year without this stuff again!