Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dock Clam Chowder!

Curly Dock, Rumex crispus in the Buckwheat family, is one of the earliest spring wild edibles and also one of the latest fall edibles.  I found it thriving in December in a local field.  It is high in Vitamin C, protein, calcium, potassium, iron and beta carotene.  In the fall it produces long stalks of red/brown seeds which can be easily gathered and ground for use in baked goods.  The leaves have a lemony flavor which makes it very suitable for this recipe.  Smaller, younger leaves are preferable as the older leaves become bitter.

Just as a consideration, this plant does contain a high amount of oxalic acid which may be stressful on the kidneys when eaten in large quantities.  Oxalic acid is often found in green leafy vegetables (such as chives, parsley, amaranth, and purslane).  When you eat oxalic acid, it combines with magnesium and calcium salts and produces oxalates which are removed from the body in urine.  If you have normal levels of magnesium and calcium in your body, there is no health concern for oxalic acid.  In other words, it is super good for you but to stay on the safe side, do not eat every night!  Also, boiling removes much of the oxalic acid so for many recipes it is not even a concern. 

Dock Clam Chowder


6 slices of bacon, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups finely shredded young Dock
2 7 oz cans minced clams, not drained
3 cups cubed frozen hashbrowns (or dice your own fresh)
1 quart half and half
salt and pepper to taste


Fry bacon and when half done add onions to cook until transparent.  Add dock and fry until wilted. Meanwhile, place frozen cubed hashbrowns in microwave safe bowl and microwave until heated through and fork tender.

In large pot, add bacon/onion/dock mixture, clams, potatoes and half and half.  Simmer on low for 5-10 minutes.  Do not overcook as it will make your clams chewy.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pine Needle Tea

It is the dead of winter here in Middle Tennessee, and there is not a lot of plants to forage at this time of year.  The landscape is frozen and brown.  January is my least favorite month of the year.  It is the only time when your breath gets taken away from you when confronted with the cold temperatures outside, and it has the least amount of daylight.  Oh well, it is a great time to cuddle up with the kids, have a cup of tea and watch television.

One foraging item you can find easily right now is Pine needles.  Just the smell alone can perk me up.  If you examine a Pine tree closely, you will see that the needles actually grow in bundles which helps to determine what type of Pine that you have.  The most common types of Pine that you will find growing in this area is Loblolly Pine (three needles, 6-9" long), Shortleaf Pine (two or three needles, 3-5" long), Virginia Pine (two twisted needles, 1 1/2 -3" long), and Eastern White Pine (5 needles, 3-5" long).  The Eastern White Pine is the tree I most often come across.  Here's a little shortcut in identification.  White has five letters in the word and an Eastern White Pine has five needles in a bundle.  If you find a Pine tree with five needles in its bundle in North America, you can be very confident that it is an Eastern White Pine.  Any of the above Pine trees can be used to make Tea.  You want to avoid choosing Yews (short stubby needles often with red berries), Norfolk Island Pine (frilly, flat, pretty needles often sold as indoor Christmas Trees) and Ponderosa Pine (smells like turpentine and is found growing in the North Western part of the U.S.).

My children and I were watching a series called Alaska, the Final Frontier on Netflix last night.  It is about a family that has been homesteading on 600 acres of Alaska wilderness for three generations.  It is fascinating.  They have no running water, frequently hunt, raise farm animals and grow their own food.  Tired of the lifestyle, one of the twenty-something sons had left in his teens to make his way in the civilized world.  He returned disenchanted and with a new found appreciation of the wild Alaska frontier.  Unfortunately, he and his wife spend a lot of time playing catch up on survival skills.  In one scene he is talking about one of the first years back when he spent a winter (nine months) eating mostly red meat and cheese.  He had not spent any time focusing on growing a garden.  He ended up with Scurvy, an ancient disease caused by a lack of vitamin C.  There had not been a case of this disease in the area since the 1800's.  In the background of the scene, I could see mountains filled with Pine trees.  If he had just plucked some Pine needles and had Pine Needle Tea on a regular basis, he would not have had Scurvy.

Not only is Pine Needle Tea tasty, but it has 4-5 times the vitamin C of fresh squeezed orange juice and is high in vitamin A.  When the first European colonist arrived in the new world, many were suffering from Scurvy, often with teeth falling out due to the disease.  The Indians introduced them to the use of Pine needles as a remedy and saved many lives.  There are also historic references to sailors adding Pine needles to their beer on long journeys to prevent Scurvy.  It has been a popular herbal remedy for preventing and relieving the symptoms of colds and flues.  The inner bark of the tree can also be used as a food source if times are truly tough.

Trees can have slightly different flavors so I would suggest trying a few until you find one that is most appealing to you!

Pine Needle Tea


1 cup Pine needles
3 cups water
Honey or any sweetener (optional)


Rinse and chop your Pine needles.

Bring the water to boil in a saucepan. Add the Pine needles, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Turn heat off and let sit for five minutes. 

Strain liquid into cups and add sweetener.

Alternate Directions:

Add Pine needles to bottom of cup. Pour in boiling water. Steep for twenty minutes. Strain, reheat and add sweetener.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Elderberry Jelly, Chutney & Syrup

Elderberry Blossoms, look for these in June!
The Elderberry plant is amazing.  Not only does it make excellent jelly but it has been used as medicine to fight colds, flues and even cancer.  The first time I picked Elderberries I was hesitant to use them.  When they are raw, they do not smell pleasant.  I could not understand why people loved them.  Plus, it was difficult to pull the tiny berries from their stems.  I originally tried the fork method to comb them off but it took forever.  Fortunately, I discovered that the flavor is much better when cooked and there is an art form to de-stemming these berries.  Also, once you have discovered a large patch of them, you can use the blooms in recipes in June without feeling guilty that you lost out on the berries in August!

Elderberries, look for these the second week in August through the first week in September.

Would you like to know the secret to removing the berries from the stems?  It requires a large bucket and about 30 seconds of your time!  You cut the branch of berries from the tree and while holding the base of the branch, you beat it back and forth on the sides of the bucket.  Any berries that are not ripe should still remain on the branch while the ripe ones fall off into the bucket.  You may still have to pluck a few unripe ones out of the bucket along with some twigs, but it is so much easier!  Do not use the green berries, they are not good for you (poisonous). Here is a short video on how to do it:

To make Elderberry Jelly you can use either liquid pectin or if you have a Crab Apple tree available, you can make Elderberry Crab Apple Jelly which does not need pectin added.

Elderberry Crab Apple Jelly

Elderberry Crab Apple Jelly on Kudzu Bread


Plastic bag of Crab Apples
Plastic bag of Elderberries on the stem
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 and lemon to prevent turning brown.

Wash thoroughly the elderberries while still on the stem.  De-stem following the instructions above.

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

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 and berries to help release the pectin and juice.

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 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 or you can use a clean pillow case which also works well (designate a cooking one as it will stain). 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.

Elderberry Jelly


3 c Elderberry juice
1/2 c lemon juice
7 c sugar
2 pouches liquid pectin


Combine juices and sugar.  Bring to a rolling boil.  Stir in pectin.  Boil for 1 minute more.  Remove from heat, skim and fill jars with hot liquid.

Water bath for 10 minutes.

Elderberry Chutney


1 lb Elderberries washed and stems removed
1 lb apples, peeled and chopped
4 oz dried fruit (such as raisins, pineapple, or cranberries)
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1 t salt
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
pinch pepper
2 cups vinegar, divided
1 1/2 cups brown suga


Add Elderberries, apples, dried fruit, and onions to a stock pot.  Stir in spices and 1 cup vinegar.  Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.

Add sugar and remaining vinegar and bring to a boil.  Boil until thick (30-40 minutes).

Water bath for 15 minutes.

Elderberry Cold and Cough Syrup


1 cup Elderberries
3 1/2  cups water
2 T grated fresh ginger root
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1 1/2 cups honey


Bring the Elderberries, water and spices to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and strain out solids.  Allow to cool and mix in honey.  Place in airtight container or jar and refrigerate.  For the flu/cold, take 1 t every three hours for anyone over one.  To prevent cold/flu and improve your immune system, take 1 t daily.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Kudzu Bread!

Kudzu Bread

Often I lament that many of the frequently talked about wild edibles do not grow in Middle Tennessee or grow in puny amounts.  One example is when foragers wax on poetically about cattails and their many uses. We have a few in our area but even if I just harvest a couple it would deplete the sporadic population too much.  Imagine my surprise when we traveled to Michigan last summer and we passed fields of cattails.  I finally understood the fascination with this particular wild edible!  One of the wild edibles I am happy to enjoy here in the South that is not common in the North is the Kudzu plant.  As any southerner knows it is a wildly prolific plant.  It has become one of my favorites.

When it was blooming last summer I used the flower (that smells like grape cool-aid) to make Kudzu Jelly.  It won an award at our county fair.  At that time I also picked many of the leaves and dehydrated them for future use. The leaves are particularly good for dehydrating. They crumble well and stay a bright green.  Because Kudzu is in the legume family the flavor reminds you of green beans.  It is actually very mild, even more so than spinach.  I often add a handful of dried Kudzu to spaghetti sauce, soup or beans.  It is a great way to give a little color and nutrients to your dishes with out changing the flavor.  You can even add it to your bread!  Here is one of my favorite recipes.  It tastes like an artisan whole wheat bread.  Contrary to what you might imagine, it does not turn out green.  This recipe also uses dried ground Curly Dock seeds. It is a common plant in this area and at the end of summer you can easily forage pounds of it!

Kudzu Bread


3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 c sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 c white flour
1/4 c dehydrated and finely crushed Kudzu
1/4 c ground dried Curly Dock seeds
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

1 additional egg white for coating dough


In a medium bowl, mix the Kudzu, Dock seeds and flour.  Premixing these ingredients before adding to the bread machine insures an even distribution.

Ground Dock Seed and Kudzu
In your bread maker, add all ingredients (except final egg white for coating) starting with the wet and finishing with the dry.  Set to dough cycle.

When the cycle is complete, briefly turn your oven on just to warm and then turn off. Remove dough from machine and divide into three sections.  Roll out each section into a long strand.  Braid the three strands tucking the ends under. Put plastic wrap loosely over loaf and place in slightly warmed oven.  Allow to rise for 25-30 minutes.

Kudzu loaf before final rising

Remove from warmed oven.  Preheat oven to 340 degrees.  Paint loaf with egg white.  Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes.  If the top gets to desired color before the 30 minutes is finished, place aluminum foil lightly over loaf and continue to bake.

Finished Kudzu Bread with Elderberry Jelly
Note: If you are in need of a grinder for grinding small amounts, this is the grinder I use.  It is cheap and grinds to a fine state. I purchased mine at Tuesday Morning for $15.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Henbit, It's What's for Breakfast!

It's January in Tennessee and I wanted to see what was growing in my backyard.  This is a common weed found practically everywhere.  It's called Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule, and is in the mint family though it does not have a mint flavor.  It has square stems and heart shaped scalloped leaves that grow along the stem. It is often confused with Purple Dead Nettle (also edible). However, Purple Dead Nettle has triangle shaped leaves that grow in clumps on the stem rather than spread out like Henbit.  It does not have any poisonous look a likes and you can eat stems, leaves and flowers.  It has a very mild flavor.

Henbit, named such because of chickens' attraction to it, is high in iron, fiber and antioxidants.  You can eat Henbit raw or cooked.  Here are some great recipes!

Henbit Flapjacks 


2 cups flour
4 T sugar
1 1/2 t salt
1 T baking powder
2 cups milk
3 T oil
2 eggs
1 cup diced Henbit (leaves, flowers and stems if not too woody)
Butter for frying


Mix dry ingredients together.  Add liquid ingredients and mix.  Fold in Henbit.   Fry in butter.  Serve with your choice of topping such as honey, syrup or preserves.

Cannelloni Bean and Henbit Soup


2 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 can (15.5 oz) Cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup small pasta
1 1/2 cups chopped Henbit
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional)


Heat olive oil in stock pot. Add garlic and onion and fry until translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add broth and bring to a boil.  Add beans and pasta.  Boil until pasta is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add Henbit and cook several minutes until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top with Parmesan cheese when serving. Makes about six servings.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

How to Cube a Pumpkin for Canning or Freezing

One of the challenges to using pumpkin or hard squashes for me has been the difficult feat of removing the outer skin.  The common approach has been to bake it in the skin and peel or scrape it out.  This is not great for canning or freezing for stews because it makes the results far too mushy.  Here is a way that allows for beautifully firm pumpkin:

1. Cut your pumpkin in half and scrape out the stingy guts and seeds. It does not have to be perfectly cleaned out.

2. Cut the two pieces in half twice more resulting in manageable pieces.

Jarrahdale Pumpkin, one of my favorites.  It has an amazing flavor and lasts forever.
3. Slice into inch thick slices. Cut slices into inch size cubes.

4. Slice the gut side off and then slice the skin side off. If the cube is still too large for your purposes (like if you are freezing it for stews and want a bite size), then slice it in half again.

5. Drop it into water with lemon added until you are ready to freeze or can.  If your pumpkin is older and the flesh has lost some firmness, putting it in water will rehydrate it, often making it firmer. You can either freeze or can at this point. To freeze, drain and put in freezer bags and freeze.  I add it to stews I make in the crockpot.  To can, drain and fill a quart jar with pumpkin. Some people precook their pumpkin by boiling for two minutes at this point but I do not.  I have done it both ways and it makes very little difference.  Not boiling makes the pumpkin tend to float a little more but that does not bother me and it is not worth the hassle to prevent.  Add clean boiling water to jars.  Pressure can quarts for 90 minutes at 11 lbs and pints for 55 minutes at 11 lbs.  I use the canned pumpkin for pumpkin bread or pumpkin brownies which my kids love.

To make pumpkin brownies, use one box brownie mix and one quart of pumpkin.  Drain pumpkin and mash with a fork, drain again any extra liquid that mashing releases. Mix with brownie mix and bake according to box directions.  It makes fudge type brownies that are far healthier. My kids beg for me to make these.

I use all types of pumpkin to can and freeze, even the carving pumpkins from Halloween. They all work and are tasty in recipes.