Sunday, July 28, 2013

Kudzu Flower Jelly!

Kudzu is in bloom now in Middle Tennessee.  The scent of these flowers is amazing and makes picking them a wonderful experience!  Kudzu flowers smell like grapes and add a lovely flavor and color to this jelly! This recipe starts with a base of crab apples.  The great thing about crab apples (usually found free) or tart green apples (which you can purchase at the store) is the incredible amount of pectin found in them.  You can use these as a blank slate for any flavor you want to add.  It is a very versatile fruit.  If you go the route of the crab apple, you want to pick them before they are ripe and while they are still green (usually starting in mid-July).

Kudzu Flower Jelly


Plastic grocery bag of crab apples
Half grocery bag of Kudzu flowers (more for darker color)
2 T lemon juice


Clean the crab apples by removing the stem and the flower at the other end. If you let them sit on your counter for at least a day, the stems dry out and are easier to just pull off. If you get a stubborn one, when you cut the apple in half and it comes right out. You can also scrape the end flower bud off easily with your finger nail. (Just fyi, this can be done while hanging out with the kids watching television!)

Remove any blemishes on the apples and cut in half. As you cut in half, put the halves into a bowl of water to prevent turning brown.

Wash thoroughly the Kudzu blooms and remove the colored blooms from the stem. They come right off easily.

Drain your bowl of crab apples and put in a large pot. Add the blooms. Fill pot with water to just above the apples and blooms.

Bring to a boil and reduce temperature to simmer. Cook until apples a mushy (about 30 to 45 minutes). Using a potato masher or spoon, lightly mash the apples to help release the pectin.

Start your canner and water to boil. Mine takes about an hour to get to a boil so now is a good time to turn it on.

At this point, you can drain your mixture using a jelly bag over night, however, I am too impatient for that. Start with a spaghetti strainer and strain the large part parts out of your mixture. Add the leftover apple mush to your compost. Then move to a fine mesh strainer and strain juice twice. Finally, put coffee filters into your spaghetti strainer and then strain the juice. This takes about 10 minutes which is much easier than waiting overnight and works just as well.

Measure your juice. For every cup of juice, add a cup of sugar (or 3/4 cup if you prefer less sweet). Add two tablespoons of lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stir often.  Boil until the mixture reaches 210°F on a candy thermometer, or until a small amount placed on a plate that has chilled in the freezer turns to gel. It should wrinkle on the surface and leave a trail if you run your finger through it. This should take about 20 minutes.
Fill your jars with the hot liquid and boil in a water bath for 10 minutes.

With this recipe, I produced about seven half pints.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Found Autumn Olive!!


Autumn Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, is considered an invasive plant (from Asia) and subsequently banned in Tennessee.  Since I first learned of it, I have wanted it and looked everywhere for it.  I am sure it does not play nice with native species and perhaps crowds them out, but, the benefits to this plant are amazing.  It grows extremely well and the antioxidants (17 times higher in lycopene than tomatoes) are a cancer researcher's dream.  The berries also contain high levels of vitamins A, C and E, and flavonoids and essential fatty acids. The plants are drought tolerant and can fix nitrogen in the soil.  I have ordered seeds for this plant twice on Amazon, but I think they are sending me dead seeds because they never germinate. 

I had all but given up ever coming across the plant in the nature or of being able to grow it in a pot at home from seeds.  So it was to my astonishment that while picking wild blackberries today that I came across groves of these berries!  I took pictures and samples and came home to confirm my finding.  It was definitely Autumn Olive, and I can not wait to go back and pick them when they are fully ripe. 

Autumn Olive plants are rather easy to recognize.  The oval pointed leaves are green on the top and silver colored underneath.  The berries look like they have been speckled with tiny dots of silver.  They taste like sweet tarts.  They have one seed in the center.  I will share recipes as I am able to use the berries.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Spicy Wild Blackberry Chipotle Glaze!

This is sooooo good! I wanted something other than a jelly for the abundant wild blackberries that proliferate much like weeds in my area. While jelly is great, there is only so much that you can use or give away! This glaze is excellent on meat or as a dipping sauce. It is spicy, but that is how we like it!

Spicy Blackberry Chipotle Glaze
Based on the original recipe at Driscoll's Berries


2 t olive oil
2 c diced onion
6 cloves garlic
4 T chipotle chilies in adobe, chopped
3 quarts blackberries (12 cups)
1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
Juice from 1 lime
1 c sugar
2 t salt


Cook onion in oil for 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add chilies and cook for 1 minute more.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes.

Purée in food processor or blender. Strain in fine mesh to remove seeds. This will reduce mixture significantly but do not be concerned, the end product is worth it!

Return to heat and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Ladle into 6 half pints. Boil in water bath for 15 minutes.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Foraging Finds!

Not sure what I am going to do with these yet, but it is exciting to discover new plants!


Passionflower/Maypop is Tennessee's Official Wild Flower

Fruit of the Passionflower/Maypop
All found in Franklin, TN!

The Best and Easiest Strawberry Rhubarb Pie!

Often when you explore old abandoned homesteads you will find three plants: Strawberries, rhubarb and apple trees.  Homesteaders plant these because they only need planting once and then provide years of produce.  So while the people may disappear, the plants remain as a remnant of a past life.

This year, I planted, you guessed it, strawberries, rhubarb and another apple tree!  While the strawberries did very little, the rhubarb really took off!  While I wish I was a "green thumb," I am not.  However, rhubarb makes me look good, and I will plant it forever after now! 

Rhubarb in the center, one of the first plants to really take off!

My husband has fond memories of strawberry rhubarb pie growing up in Northern Michigan.  I made this recipe for him, and while we are not huge dessert people, this disappeared by the next day!  He could not stop eating it!  While it is great hot and fresh, he says it is even better the next day, and I would have to agree.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie


double pie crust (your favorite homemade or store bought)

3 cups diced strawberries
2 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
2 tsp. milk


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut up strawberries and rhubarb.

In a large mixing bowl, mix 1 1/3 cups sugar, flour, nutmeg and cinnamon.  Add fruit and toss to coat.

Grease pie plate and lay the bottom crust.  Spread fruit mixture on it. 

Dot fruit mixture with butter.  Lay top crust over mixture.  Using a fork, press edges of crust together.  Slice several vent holes in crust.  Brush with milk and sprinkle with remaining 2 tsp of sugar.

Bake for 50 minutes.  At the 25th minute, check crust.  If it has browned to desired level, cover with aluminum foil.

Best served hot with vanilla ice cream!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Milkweed, My New Favorite Vegetable!

Milkweed in bloom, unopened buds on top.
About a month ago I was exploring one of our local parks when I came across a beautiful and unusual plant.  I knew that it was either going to be something great or super poisonous because it was unlike any other plants around it.  It turned out to be something great!

While milkweed is no longer a commonly eaten plant, it was once frequently consumed by Native Americans and early colonists.  There are numerous toxic look-a-likes, namely dogbane and butterfly weed, so if you are interested in harvesting the plant, be sure and study the plant and its look-a-likes.  Just for information, dogbane's stalks are solid while milkweed's stalks are hollow, and milkweed has a white sap while butterfly weed's sap is clear.  In my opinion, it is difficult to miss common milkweed as it is so unique, especially when the flowers are in bloom. 

Milkweed buds, or the unopened flowers, are the part of choice on this plant.  The flowers are shaped like a pom-pom and are quite beautiful when they open.  Each bud in the pom-pom is slightly smaller than a pea.  It has been recommended online that you should boil milkweed in several changes of water to remove the bitterness.  I can only assume that those writers had never eaten milkweed, a conclusion shared by numerous milkweed eaters.  These are delicate and while I did boil mine for several minutes, to do it several times would result in mush.  I also did not detect any bitterness after the initial boil.  It tasted like a very mild asparagus, which I would be quite willing to eat over and over.  It is probably one of the easiest vegetables to cook.  My husband enjoyed it as well.  The kids, well, unless it is a green bean, will not even attempt it, no offense to milkweed.

Garlic Butter Sauteed Milkweed


2 cups of milkweed buds (about a lunch size paperbag of collected milkweed buds)
3 garlic cloves crushed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
salt to taste


Bring saucepan of water to boil.  Cut buds from milkweed pom-pom.  Leave the stems as they are soft and tasteless.

Drop buds in boiling water for two minutes.  Drain.

In frying pan, cook butter and crushed garlic for several minutes.  Add milkweed buds and fry for three to five minutes.  Add soy sauce and salt to taste. 

Serve alone or over rice.

Check out these other great milkweed recipes:

Milkweed Bud Capers
Milkweed Bud Cheddar Soup
Cream of Milkweed Flowerbud Soup

As with any wild plant, do your research and only try a little in the beginning to see if it is agreeable to you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Foraging Around Franklin, Tennessee!

Blackberries, Crab Apples & Milkweed Buds

It's blackberry season around here!  Today I found about a third of the blackberries on the shrub ready for picking (Winstead Park in Franklin, TN).  It's also a great time to start picking crab apples for making jelly (PGS in Franklin, TN).  They are not completely ripe yet which is what you want to get the most pectin.  I also found some milkweed buds (Winstead Park in Franklin, TN) which is great for soups and stir fry. 

Happy hunting!

Making Filé with Sassafras Leaves

Imagine the world as we know it has ended, or you are stranded in the woods.  You have shot a squirrel and picked some dandelion greens to make a soup.  It is going to be a rather thin and uninteresting soup to be sure.  However, if you know how to make Filé (fee-lay). you will be able to turn that thin soup into something thicker and far more interesting.  All you need to be able to do is recognize a Sassafras Tree.

Filé is a spice made and used primarily by the Cajuns of Southern Louisiana and invented by the Choctaw Indians. It's used as a thickener and flavoring in soups and stews. If you have had Gumbo, you have probably eaten it already. People often think that Filé is a combination of spices due to its interesting flavor.  Surprisingly, it has only one ingredient, dried Sassafras leaves.

The Sassafras tree is fairly easy to recognize.  The leaves on the tree comes in three different varieties.  These shapes include a simple oval, a three-lobed maple leaf shape, and a two-lobed mitten shape.  The Mulberry tree also has these three shapes, however, the Sassafras has smooth margins and no teeth and also has a spicy smell when crushed.  If you pull the leaf off and immediately smell where the leaf is severed, it should have a spicy almost citrous scent.  Sassafras is a medium-sized tree with irregularly furrowed, red-brown bark.

To make Filé, you can pluck branches off and hang to dry in a warm area like a garage or attic.  Your branches will be crispy dry in about a week.  You can also pluck individual leaves off and dehydrate them in a dehydrator or oven.  See how I dehydrate HERE.  Do not dehydrate your leaves in the sun as it will dull the color of the leaves.

Once dry, hand crush the leaves in a bowl.  It will suddenly seem like a much smaller amount at that point.  Fill your mortar 3/4 full and using a pestle, crush into a powder.  It takes about five minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove any large pieces and twigs.


Store in an air tight container away from sunlight.  To use, add several teaspoons to your soup after you have taken the soup away from the heat.  Do not add it while cooking.  Be frugal in your initial use as often people add too much in the beginning.  You can also use it as a condiment for individuals to add to their soup.

As a point of interest, sassafras root and bark are have been sources of the flavoring for root beer in the past. The roots also make a wonderful tea which I drank often as a child.  Native Americans used Sassafras as a blood purifier.  Some locals that I have known use the root in tea to help get over colds and fevers. Herbalists use Sassafras for arthritis, gout and rheumatism.

Parts of the sassafras plant contains safrole, which may be carcinogenic according to the FDA.  In the 1960's, researchers isolated this compound of Sassafras and fed it to rats in ridiculously high concentration (not found in nature) and they developed cancer (go figure, keep in mind that they had not even decided that cigarettes caused cancer at this point so my faith in this determination is fair at best).  You can also find safrole in more common herbs such as black pepper, basil and nutmeg.  However, just to be on the safe side, the leaves of Sassafras do not contain safrole so they are safe for making Filé!

For you locals, there is a Sassafras tree behind Home Depot on Royal Oaks in Franklin, TN.

Shared At:
Homestead Barn Hop
Natural Living Monday
Backyard Farming Connection
Eco-Kids Tuesday
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways
The HomeAcre Hop