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Pickled Spruce Tips

Young spruce tips with their papery husks still attached in places.

Forbes Wild Foods is a unique source for a wide variety of foraged Canadian edibles. Frankly, though, some of their prices are a little steep so I have to admit that instead of buying from them I’ve borrowed ideas from their website or market table that inspire my own foraging. Most recently, I gathered spruce tips and used them to make the pickled spruce tips recipe below.

Spruce trees grow upwards in the usual, obvious way but because they don’t drop and regenerate their needles every year the outward growth is a bit more complicated. Every spring the tip of almost every branch has a bud-like tip that sheds a papery brown husk and produces a new bunch of needles. (more…)

Pickle Problems

Earlier in the week, I had a post that was intended to be my simplified recipe for wild, lacto-fermented dill pickles. It went a little long and still I feel like there are questions to answer so this post is intended as a sort of troubleshooting guide for that recipe. Unless you’re familiar with the process, that I adapted from Sandor Katz’s recipe in Wild Fermentation it’s best to read the original post before this one.

That seems like a lot of cucumbers. Well, yes, half a bushel, or a couple ounces shy of twenty-four pounds is a lot of cucumbers. I’ll update this post later in the year if this turns out to be more than we can eat but this is really where the volume discounts kick in. Two years ago when I bought the cucumbers from the same market vendor by the basket I paid roughly $4/kg ($10 for 2,670 g) but the pre-ordered half bushel worked out to more like $2/kg ($20 for 10,858 g). A full bushel is an even better deal at $35.

I’ll leave the commentary on how this difference illustrates a big hole in the economic model of farmers’ markets for another post.

Cukes like hot weather but also benefit flavour-wise from cooler nights so if you have the choice, like we do in Toronto, between warmer sources (Niagara) or cooler ones (north of the city) go with the latter. I’ve had very good luck with Willowtree Farms from Port Perry, ON and all the prices here are from them. (more…)

Wild Dill Pickles Recipe

Pickles at the one-week mark

Other than bacon, dill pickles may be my most frequent topic for posts. I’ve veered from strictly mainstream with posts about deep-frying pickles and making Jello shooters from the brine (seriously) but in 2009 I also did a background post on my second batch of homemade pickles and then a comparison between mine and similar store-bought pickles. With my fifth batch (in four years) of lacto-fermented, kosher dill pickles fermenting in the crock I think I’ve gained enough experience to offer some guidance to others.

I’m going to do a couple posts this week on these pickles. Today’s will be a straight-up recipe and the second will be a more in-depth troubleshooting post.

What distinguishes this recipe from other dill pickle recipes is that no vinegar is added to the brine. Cucumbers and flavourful ingredients are left in a salty brine for a few weeks at room temperature. “Wild” lactobacilli that are either already present in the container, on one of the ingredients, or land in the brine digest the sugars in the cucumbers and produce lactic acid which flavours the brine and keeps other micro-organisms from taking over.

This recipe is adapted from Sandor Katz’s Sour Pickles in his excellent book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Lve-Culture Foods. Especially since the recipes trick comes from him credit is definitely due in this case. Wild Fermentation is a very useful book that is full of rare gems.

Update: After three weeks in the crock we have pickle success. For the fermenting period (July 30 to August 20) we had daytime temperatures that were roughly average (high 20′s in Celsius) for this time of year in southern Ontario. By the last of the three weeks it had started to get cooler at night (down to about 15C) on a more reliable basis.

By the time I was ready to transfer the pickles to jars the scum on the top of the brine was a slightly darker off-white shade. The pickles were sour, not too salty, had lots of garlic punch, and had a good, if not perfect, crunch.

In jars they’ll last in the refrigerator for about two to three months–some sources even say as long as six.

(more…)

How do you like them apples?

The last two weeks of August and the first two of September are, in my opinion, the most interesting time to be at the cottage in Ontario.  The lake is at its warmest, the mosquitoes have gone, the nights are cool enough to actually sleep and hot days are now a welcome surprise.  Best of all, my favourite wild produce is finally ripe enough to eat.

Apples picked from a neighbours tree

Apples picked from a neighbour's tree

Picking apples in an orchard sounds like fun–I’ve never done it–but not really that much different than visiting a farmers’ market.  The fruit is fresher and you’re outside but where is the challenge?  The varieties are known and more often than not the apples are sprayed with something and grow on dwarf trees that are pruned to make the apples as accessible as possible.  Consider this Sunday afternoon in contrast: I was out walking on an ATV trail that cuts through the middle of a pasture that hasn’t seen a cow in fifty years.  No buildings, power lines, or roads in sight I was surrounded by nothing but grass, wildflowers, and the occasional clump of trees.  Walking on this track–to my chagrin google maps has somehow managed to detect it and marked it as a road–one gets to a point where the view is dominated by a haphazard-looking oak tree surrounded by a clump of smaller trees and assorted bushes.  Every time I walk this track my attention is always diverted by the oak tree’s peculiar shape–it has probably lost a major branch or two on the track-side –for long enough that its neighbours remain unnoticed until I’m almost right on top of them.  At this time of year one of these trees has vibrant spots of red interspersed amongst its coat of green leaves.  An apple tree, of course. (more…)