To My Mom!

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! Thanks for always being there, taking care of me, and supporting me in everything I do. You are the biggest inspiration in the world to me and I am so thankful that I'm your daughter! I love you!


Look Ma, I lived!

So my roommate and I have been trying to eat locally as much as possible lately, and I've always had an interest in wild edibles so we decided to try using wild food more in our home. About the same time I got my new bread book, I also purchased a great book called Edible and Useful Plants of California. It's from the late 1970's but is endlessly helpful in identifying the plants in our very own neighborhood that are good for salads, teas, jellies, etc. Our first big experiment was the pyrecantha jelly, which turned out phenomenally well. So I was walking around our immense back yard, book in hand, figuring out what was what. I noticed we had a huge patch of miner's lettuce so I picked some to make a salad. 

It's a strange looking plant, kind of Lilly-pad shaped with a little tuft of flowers in the middle. In the book it said they had a nice succulent quality but were bland-tasting on their own. I picked some, washed them, tried a bite, and was pleasantly surprised that it had a delightful taste! The texture is kind of like spinach, but it tastes nice and nutty like arugula, almost identical if you ask me! Then I went out into the front yard and picked a little hand full of wood sorrel, or shamrocks, as they are more commonly known. I knew for years that you could munch on the sourgrass - the stalks of the yellow flowers that bloom from the sorrel in the springtime - and they have a wonderful tart flavor, like a really sour grape. But I didn't know the leaves were edible too and have a lighter version of the same tart lemony flavor. They were the perfect accompaniment to the nutty miner's lettuce. I added a tiny bit of tomato, carrot, and celery to it as well and dressed it with some yummy garlic-rosemary dressing I got from Whole Foods, and it was such a tasty salad! I'm hooked on the stuff and I know where there is another big patch on my way home from work, so I might have to stop and pick more. I left the baby ones in the back yard so hopefully they'll be ready in a few weeks, especially after all this rain.

Oh, and that same night I made pink elephant sugar cookies for the meetup group. I was having such a fun day, eating free wild food and dancing around the house while making sugar cookies. I need more days like that!

*Please note: never, ever, ever, under any circumstances eat any wild foods that you cannot identify and be 110% sure that they are perfectly safe to eat. And mom, I do follow that rule, I swear! <3


The Sandwich Saga Part 3

In preparation for the (hopeful) abundance of our recently planted garden (pictures as soon as it stops raining I promise), I have been learning how to make jams, jellies, preserves, and pickles. I have wanted to do this since I was a little girl, and now that I have the time and resources at my disposal, I figured it was time. My first attempt at making jam turned out pretty good, but it was definitely a learning experience. 
Angela, Dennis, and I went around the corner and picked loquats off of a tree growing out of the sidewalk. We brought them home, washed them, and I made jam from them. There are a few things I should have done differently:

1. Chopped them finer - I had no idea how resilient their skins were and assumed they would cook down softly, but they remained whole, which makes for a very chunky jam.
2. Used less sugar - Since I didn't have a recipe for loquat jam I used one for plum jam. I also didn't have as much fruit as the recipe called for, but I halved the recipe to compensate. But the amount of sugar seemed to me to be too much, but I used it anyhow and I think the jelly is a bit too sweet.
3. Not stirred during the final boil - It doesn't say anywhere in any of my books whether or not you are supposed to stir the fruit as you hard-boil it to 220 degrees, so I stirred it now and again. The place where I stirred it the most caramelized much faster, giving a deeper flavor, but also making the color a little muddier. I now know that you're supposed to just let the jelly boil away and not touch it...

Which brings me to my next canning project: pyrecantha-rose jelly. Pyrecantha berry bushes are common as ornamental plants due to their lovely foliage and bright red berries. What many people don't know is that they are also edible, though I wouldn't recommend snacking on them right off the bush as they are horribly bitter and have the texture of a mealy old apple. But I read that they make a marvelous jelly, so I thought I would give it a try. So the gang and I again went hunting for free fruit, and found it right in our own yard. We also thought it would be fun to gather wild climbing tea rose hips and petals to put in the jelly too, so we got those from around the corner. And I added an apple for extra flavor and pectin.
So we went home and I was left to sort and clean the berries, which took for-frickin'-ever, but was made easier by that wonderful fruit and veggie wash from TJ's. It was late by the time I finished, but I wanted jelly asap, so I started boiling the fruits together so I could hang them to drain in a jellybag overnight. I put them on the stove and went in my room, and when it was time to turn them off I came out and the house smelled... Funky. Like really old roses and apples. And when I opened the pot all the fruit had turned muddy brown and looked very unappealing. But I wasn't going to stop now so I drained it and went to bed. In the morning I got up and saw that the juice had a pleasant pinkish color to it and smelled better now that it was cooled. So I strained it a few times to make it clearer, and set to boiling it. All the recipes I found online called for almost twice as much sugar as juice and a whole package of pectin. Having learned from the first jam, I reduced the sugar and pectin amounts. I hate jelly that is so solid you can bounce a quarter off of it.

So there it was, starting to become jelly, and I was so worried that it would taste bad, or look gross, or smell funny, or not set properly. But then, like magic, after adding the sugar and some lemon juice, it started to change into the most lovely jelly ever. The aroma was spicy, floral, and sweet, and the color brightened and deepened to a rosy-orange hue, like the berries but softer. And after hot-water canning the jars and trying some, it set perfectly and has the most subtle, delightful flavor.

The taste of the jelly can be likened to a combination of many fruits. It has a lovely floral note because I added wild tea rose hips to the berries (which are also full of Vitamin C), and added a layer of rose petals on top. The Pyrecantha berries add a beautiful subtle flavor, a combination of grape fruit, pear, apple, and rose, with a spicy note reminiscent of allspice. Needless to say I'm hooked, and as soon as we have more berries to pick I can guarantee that I will be making more.

Oh, and in case you want to try some, I have the extra 5 jars for sale in my etsy store, here. ^_~