Friday, May 31, 2013

Totally Awesome Mulberry Cobbler!

Two weeks ago I was out at my favorite foraging haunt when I discovered these beauties!  They were not quite ripe yet then but yesterday about a third were perfect.  I had never picked mulberries before.  I started by plucking the berries off of the limbs.  The wind was blowing strongly, and I thought that the "just shake the branch" technique which I had read about would not work.  It was slow going, and I was ready to try something else.  I grabbed a branch and gently shook.  It rained mulberries!  I got out my old sheet and spread it out.  Just so you know, mulberries will stain anything they land on.  After about 15 minutes of shaking and moving around the tree, I had about two pounds of perfect fresh mulberries.

Raining Mulberries
Contrary to the children's song, Mulberries are trees and not bushes. The berries are actually not berries but clusters of fruit like grapes that are fused together.  There are no hard seeds in them like other similar looking berries.  Apparently to those who enjoy the fruit, every Mulberry tree is slightly different.  I visited another tree in Nashville several days ago and the berries were hard, sharp and white, not at all like these but still in the same family.  Some people dislike mulberries because of the sweet, low acidic and occasionally bland taste.  However, different trees have different flavors.  When you find one you like, you win the jackpot!  The tree I found has excellent flavor, sweet with a hint of tartness making it what I consider a fantastic find!
Mulberries will turn your fingers purple!

Herbalist claim that mulberries are cognitive enhancers that improve memory and vision. Mulberries have significantly high amounts of phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals called anthocyanins. These berries have shown to have potential health effects against cancer, aging and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections. Mulberries also contain resveratrol, another polyphenol flavonoid antioxidant, also found in grapes and supports heart health. They are also excellent sources of vitamin C and iron, among other vitamins.

Mulberries are often used for jams, jellies, wine, syrup, sauces and in a variety of desserts.  You can freeze, can or dry them.  I made cobbler with my mulberries and froze the rest while I wait for the wild crab apples to finish growing so I can make jelly.

It is optional whether you want to remove the small stem.  I eat them with the stem. It is soft and tasteless, at least right after you pick them!  If they will affect the presentation of the desert, recruit some kids to help as it is time consuming.  Cut stems off as close to the berry as possible.

Mulberry Cobbler Recipe


1/3 cup butter
1 ½ cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup milk
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups of mulberries (removing stem optional)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Add the butter to baking pan and place in the preheated oven until butter is melted. In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients. Mix in milk until smooth. Pour mixture in to baking pan containing the butter and drizzle berries on top. Sprinkle with two tablespoons sugar. Bake 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. 

This is great served with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pineapple Weed Cheesecake!

This plant is awesome!  Several weeks ago I was forcing taking my kids on a nature walk, when toward the end of our walk I spied this unusual plant growing in a gravely area.  I reached down and plucked it to take home and check out because I kind of remembered seeing it in one of my books.  I got a "Thank goodness she's not telling us about that one!" from the kid chorus.  Not yet, anyway...

By the time I got it to the car I had remembered that it could be pineapple weed and that if you crush the flowers it will smell like pineapple.  Sure enough, when I did it gave off a delectable aroma!  I got excited (I am such a nerd).

As it turns out, this is pineapple weed, Matricaria discoidea, a close cousin of chamomile with many of the same reported properties.  It is an annual plant native to North America and Northeast Asia.  It blooms from March until September.  It loves to grow in disturbed areas, especially those with poor, compacted soil.  Some avid gardeners report that it dies when transplanted to richer environments.  It resembles chamomile with the exception that the flowers have no petals, just the center head. It has small, pointed fern-like leaves.

It has traditionally been used medicinally as relief for gastrointestinal upset, fevers, infected sores, and postpartum anemia.  It's been reported to have a sedative, calming effect.  In folk medicine, it is sometimes utilized as a home remedy in the treatment of intestinal worms.  Also, the plant, when crushed and rubbed on skin, provides an effective, yet temporary and pleasant smelling insect repellent.

You can eat the plant raw or cooked.  It is frequently used as a tea, some even stating that it is better than its cousin the commonly used chamomile.  A word of caution, some people are allergic to this plant, so try carefully.  There are few plants that can be confused with this plant and none that smell like pineapple.

I returned to my new favorite pineapple weed picking spot and gathered a bouquet on which to experiment.  My car smelled incredible on the way home.  Some say this plant smells like pineapple (I agree), others say it has a more green apple smell.  Either way, it is truly amazing.  Just one plant is pleasant but a whole bunch is fantastic.

I made Pineapple Weed Cheesecake which even pleased my kids.  Here is the recipe if you would like to try!
Pineapple Weed Flower Heads Decapitated

Pineapple Weed Cheesecake


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup pineapple weed flower heads
2 cups boiling water
2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin (Knox)
4 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/2 cup black walnut pieces, ground fine (or pecans)

1 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pineapple weed flower heads for garnish


Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and add the pineapple weed. Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whip the cream cheese until smooth.

Strain pineapple weed mixture through muslin, coffee filter or a fine sieve. Return strained mixture to the saucepan over low heat.  Add the gelatin and mix until dissolved, about 5 minutes.

I strained twice, once through a sieve and then through a coffee filter and sieve.
Using mixer, slowly add the gelatin mixture to the cream cheese until completely blended.

Then in a separate small bowl, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla just until it is stiff enough that pulling the beater out leaves a hole that does not fill in. 

Place 2 tablespoons of ground nuts in the bottom of your individual serving dishes (preferably clear), and tamp it down with your fingertips.

Carefully spoon or poor in the cream cheese mixture, then drop two dollops of the whipped cream on the top. Garnish with one or two pineapple weed flower head.

Refrigerate until firm, about four hours.

This makes six half glasses or more if you use smaller dishes.

Other recipes that are great to try:

Pineapple Weed Tea


2 teaspoons of flower heads, or one whole small plant
1 cup hot water


Steep flower heads in hot water for 10 minutes. Strain. Add honey to taste.

Also check out Pineapple Weed Sugar by Wildness.  This looks amazing.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Great Reason to Forage - It Improves Your Brain!

Check out this study by researchers in Germany that shows exploring your environment improves your brain power!  As far as I am concerned exploring is one of the best parts of foraging, and the free, non-GMO food of course!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Foraging Gold - Watercress!

If you have researched much on foraging, you will frequently come across writers waxing poetically about the benefits and their love of the mild peppery taste of watercress.  It has been on my top five plants to find for forever.  I would always glance at any body of water looking for the telltale signs of green growth but never finding it...until now!  Recently I visited a local park that has an old farmhouse on the property which is being renovated.  Behind this totally cool house are various out buildings including an old log house which is falling in and a spring house in fairly good shape.  I suspect that the location of the house and log cabin was directly related to the spring available.  The area is partially fenced in so wild animals or stray cows would find it very difficult to access.
Log Cabin in Decline
Interior of Log Cabin - I put my phone through the wall and snapped a photo!

View of Spring House from Log Cabin.  Large farmhouse is to the left beyond trees.

The spring flows out of the spring house and down a canal built up on either side by stones.  This leads to the pond not far away where there are fish and you can often find people fishing.  The water from the spring is crystal clear.  Honestly, I had never seen watercress up close.  I've probably eaten it at restaurants but did not know what it was.  I've looked through upscale groceries for the rare offering but to no avail.  It does not last long after cutting so it is not mass produced.  There are also many versions of cress so it was necessary to research and find the one at which I was looking.

As it turns out, what I found was Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum (Nasturtium officinale) from the Brassicaceae (mustard and cabbage) family. This family also includes broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, bok choy and turnips. Watercress is a fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plant originally from Europe and Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables eaten by humans. It is a creeping, floating, hollow stemmed plant with leaf branches that contain three to five oval shaped small leaves.  In the spring it has small clusters of white four-petaled flowers.


I picked a few specimens to take home with me and put in a glass of water.  Within a day it had rooted, however, it prefers flowing water and will eventually wilt and die in a cup.  One method to keeping it fresh longer than a few days is to put it in water when you get it home.  I picked more and put in a bag into the refrigerator for a few days.   When I took it out it was still fairly firm but starting to lose its perk.  I plucked the leaves from the plants that I wanted to use and just as an experiment, I put the stems in water.  Within a couple of days, these too had rooted.  It is truly an amazing, resilient plant.  It particularly likes springs and will survive all winter long in them.  A spring is usually cooler in the summer and warmer than the environment in the winter.

What's so great about watercress?  It is a super food! It is packed with vitamins and minerals and actually tastes good. It has more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than oranges, and more iron than spinach. It was once known as scurvy grass as it prevented scurvy in sailors.  It has detoxifying qualities, lowers cholesterol and has been attributed in recent research to help prevent and fight cancer particularly of the throat, lungs (Hecht SS, Chung FL, Richie JP, et al., 1995) and breast (University of Southampton, 2010). Eating it daily can reduce the DNA damage to white blood cells which is a trigger in the creation of cancer (University of Ulster, 2007).

When there is good, there is bad... You have to be careful where you get it.  Being that it grows in water, it can take on the pollution in the water. Also, there is a chance that if watercress is downstream from a farm with animals, particularly sheep and cattle, it may contain the immature parasite larvae of Fasciola Hepatica, or the "common liver fluke."  It is a parasite that can cause liver damage to its hosts of which humans can number. You can also acquire this from raw or undercooked freshwater fish. According to the CDC, Fasciola infection is both treatable and preventable. This is why it is important to choose a stream without pollution and not near cattle or sheep.  Liver fluke infections in humans are uncommon in the United States, but they do occur, particularly among people who have traveled to parts of the world where these parasites are frequently found.

If your fears outweigh the potential benefits of watercress, fear not, there are ways to secure your plants.  You can wash your watercress with water and a 6% vinegar or potassium permanganate for 5-10 minutes which kills the potential problem.  Also, watercress, unlike common grass, is dicotyledon meaning that it grows from the tips and not the base.  Thus, if you pick your watercress above the waterline, you should be safe as the larvae can not climb.  Finally, cooking will kill it.  In fact, according to the University of Florida, the larvae on vegetation are quickly killed by summer's heat.  Use your found watercress in cooked dishes if you are unsure.

Here are some recipes to try:
Watercress after Cleaning
Watercress, Sage & Wild Garlic Grass Fococcia



1 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sage and Wild Garlic
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon rapid-rise active dry yeast
1 tablespoon watercress, chopped fine

For the topping:

3 tablespoons olive oil
5 fresh sage leaves, diced
2 tablespoons watercress, chopped fine
1 tablespoon wild garlic, chopped (about three stalks)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt


Add the bread ingredients into your bread machine in the recommended order by the manufacturer.  Set to the dough cycle.   You can also mix and knead the ingredients manually if you prefer.

Once the cycle has ended, lightly grease a large cake pan or a pizza pan.  Remove the dough from the bread machine and roll out to fit your pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes.

Dough Before Baking
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  When the dough has finished rising, using your fingertips, poke the dough to make deep indentions on the surface.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with sage, watercress, wild garlic and sea salt. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Serve hot.  Here is a photo of the final result:

Fococcia, Yumm!

Shepherd's Pie with Watercress


2 bunches watercress, chopped and divided
2 tablespoon butter, divided
1 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheese, divided
1 pound lean ground beef
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cubed potatoes and boil for about 15 minutes until tender but still firm. Drain and mash. Mix in 1 tablespoon butter, half of the chopped watercress, and half of the shredded cheese.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, add one tablespoon of butter, chopped onion, chopped carrots and chopped celery.  Fry mixture for 10 minutes until tender, remove from pan and set aside.

In same pan, add the ground beef and cook until browned.  Drain.  Stir in flour and cook for an additional minute.  Add vegetable mixture, the Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, ketchup and thyme. Stir and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until reduced then stir in the other half of the chopped watercress.

In a large casserole dish, layer the ground beef mixture.  Add the layer of mashed potatoes.  Top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Loaded Potatoes with Cream Cheese, Watercress and Bacon


4 large baking potatoes
8-10 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
2 tablespoons sour cream
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup watercress, chopped
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Scrub the potatoes, and prick several time with the tines of a fork. Place on a plate.

Microwave potatoes for 10 minutes, turning midway through cooking.

Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out flesh leaving some to preserve the potato shape.

Mash the scooped potatoes and mix with the remaining ingredients.

Fill back into skins and bake 20 minutes.

Watercress and Cauliflower Soup


3 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
1 small head cauliflower, cut into 1-in. florets
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 bunch watercress, stems removed
Salt and pepper to taste


In large saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and fry until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes with occasional stirring.  Add cauliflower, chicken stock, and milk. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer until cauliflower is very tender when pierced (about 15 minutes). Add watercress and cook for one minute more. Remove from heat.

Working in batches, add soup to food processor and purée.  Return soup to saucepan to keep warm and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Notes: While the content of this blog has been tried/tested and the research diligently presented, I am not responsible for your use of it. Always try a little of the food first to test for allergies. Please do your own research. Discuss with your doctor before you use any herbal medications.  

Shared With:  CreativeHomeAcre, FromTheFarm, TGIF, ThriftyThingsFriday, FarmFunFriday, LHITS, FidlinFridays, WeekendWhatever, CleverChicks, NaturalLivingMondaysMakeItYourself, HomesteadBarnHop.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Black Locust Blossom Fritters! Yummmmm!

Black Locust Blossoms

It never fails.  Whenever I go out looking for one thing I stumble across something even better!  This past week I visited Harlinsdale Farm, a park in Williamson County, TN.  I went to check on the progress of the Curly Dock which is all over the fields and starting to produce seeds.  I waded through the waist high grasses and walked toward the river's edge.  I discovered that there was a mowed walking path along the river which I followed.  It lead up hill to a woodland hiking path bordered by what used to be farm fields.  Along the entrance to the hiking path were some beautiful white blooms hanging from three trees. I picked a few just because the scent was incredible.  An hour later I was flipping through my Peterson's Guide looking for another plant that I had come across, and there was the exact picture of the blooms that I had picked (this never happens).  I nibbled on one bloom to see if it tasted like what was described and it was!  They were so good that on my way to Target I kept reaching over to pluck a few more to eat.  Of course I stopped myself since I was not 100% sure of what I found.  I then went home and researched the plant and today I went back to study the tree and the leaves to confirm that what I had found was Black Locust Blossoms.  I must say, these are my favorite find so far!

The scent of these flowers are similar, in my opinion, to lilacs with a bit more of a vanilla side.  If you cross their path, it will stop you in your tracks to locate the origin of this most incredible smell.  The taste is similar to their smell.  It is slightly sweet with a fresh crisp texture.  I never thought I would enjoy eating flowers so much!  The blossoms are the only edible part of the tree.  My guide said that they made great fritters so I plucked a bag full and took them home!  Apparently they only bloom for about two weeks and then they are gone.  Today I could see about a quarter were already drooping with age, a quarter had yet to bloom and the rest were in perfect blossoms.  So now is the best time to get these!  Even my kids thought these were awesome, both raw and cooked.

The tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) has the rare quality of being a fast growing hard wood. It likes poor soil and disturbed areas. It is exceedingly drought tolerant. The wood is resistant to rot and extremely durable. It is actually one of the hardest and heaviest woods found in North America. It is estimated that the wood can last up to 500 years when exposed to wet conditions and 1,500 years in dry environments. It burns very hot and slowly with little smoke. The autumn color of the tree is a soft yellow.

If you are fortunate enough to locate this tree and blossoms, give this recipe a try!

Black Locust Blossom Fritters


1 loose (not packed) gallon baggie of Black Locust Flower blooms with stem
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
4 level teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
2 cups milk
juice of 1/2 lime
powdered sugar
oil for frying


Place blooms in colander and gently rinse to remove any stray insects and dust. Shake and allow to drain for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add oil to pan and heat to medium high.

In a mixing bowl, add dry ingredients and mix. Add milk, eggs and lime juice. Mix until well moistened. If the batter is thick, add a bit more milk.

Take the blossoms by the picked end stem and dredge through the batter mixture on both sides. Drop or place into the heated oil. Fry until both sides are a light brown. Lower temperature if they are browning too fast. Remove and put on plate with paper towel to drain.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve hot.

More than feeds a hungry family of six!