Fennel Cookies stuffed with Figs.

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Figs trees are part of the landscape here. They aren’t native but have become so ubiquitous that I barely notice them on the edges of the forest. They crop up in the horse corral, wild and windblown, without water or care. Figs sprout in the garden, like vigorous weeds, peaking out through the lemongrass and the mint beds. I suppose there is something metaphorical about a fig in the garden, but I leave those thoughts to the more serious folk. Figs crowd the riverbank and their thick, scratchy leaves provide shade for the backs of fisherman’s necks while their fruit provides an occasional snack. It’s no wonder that figs are a symbol of fertility. Give them a long, hot summer and they give birth to thousands.

And the grandmother of them all lives in my backyard. I have to assume that she was planted here when the house was built, somewhere around 1906. Her trunk is thick and her gnarled branches resemble my fingers. She is my daughter’s favorite tree. She is filled with birds year round who take shelter in her arms from the storms. I know that if I want to hear the mockingbird sing, all I need do is sit under her branches for a few moments.

She started to come down four years ago, bowing to gravity, with the heaviest crop I have ever seen her bear, and a slow lean to the south. I know fruit trees don’t live forever, but I’d suffered through the loss of my father’s heritage peach trees, who had grown old and those hearts had rotted out missing his loving care. I wasn’t willing to say good by to this particular fig tree yet. Neither was my daughter who said ‘You must save it. No other fig tree gives fruit this moist and wonderful.’ And so we jacked the tree up, poured cement around her feet and placed her branches in notched braces. It was rather indecent for the old girl, much like my own Doctors visits these days. But she rallied and thrived under the care and love we gave her and rewarded us with 2 more crops last year, a small one in June and a second larger one in August.

And now, with another crop burgeoning in her branches, I searched for ways to use the fruit that I had dried last year. I needed to use them before starting to dry another season’s worth.

My father-in-law used to talk about a cookie that his mother made in Sicily, with an anise crust and a fig filling. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is abundant here and I thought it would make a nice substitute for the anise. And I ended up with a very adult sort of Fig Newton, flavored with local spices. This is a recipe where you’re going to get your hands dirty because figs are sticky.

You’ll need to infuse the sugar with fennel several days prior to making the cookie. Simply lay two cups of snipped up fennel fronds on a baking sheet, cover with sugar and let the fronds dry. You can remove the fronds if you like, but I just whirl everything in the blender and add the leaves to the recipe as it is. Also, I added a splash of fennel liquor that my friend Darrell made for me. I didn’t include it in the recipe ingredient list, feel free to make your own, or even add a shot of Ouzo to the dough when you add the eggs, if you have some hanging around.

Fennel Cookies Stuffed with Fig

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F

Dough:
2 cups shortening (I like room temperature butter)
3 cups white sugar, infused with fennel
6 eggs
8 cups all purpose flour
7 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs. fennel seed

Cream the sugar and shortening. Add eggs, fennel seed and salt. Blend in flour and baking powder. Add the flour, a cup at a time. At some point, you’ll have to ditch the spatula (or spoon) and start working the dough with your hands because it’s very thick. Knead until the dough has the consistency of a sugar cookie dough and place in the refrigerator overnight or while you make the filling.

Filling
2.5 pounds of dried figs
1 pound seeded dates (or raisins)
2 tsp ground spice bush berries (if you don’t have spicebush you can substitute cinnamon or ginger)
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole orange or lemon1 apple, cored but not peeled
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used toasted black walnuts, but pecans or walnuts would be good too)

Either grind the fruit using a an old fashioned meat grinder, or use a food processor. Either way, once the fruit is ground up, you’re going to have to get your hands in the filling to really get the spices mixed in well. You want it to hold it’s shape when you press it in your fist.

Asssembly

Pinch off 2 lumps of dough about the size of a baseball and roll each into a rectangle (or oval if you’re as inept as I am at rolling).

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Place a roll of the filling the length of one of the ovals of dough and cover it with the second oval. Press the edges together, trim and cut into rectangles like this:
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Place on un-greased cookie sheet. Repeat, and when the sheet is full (these cookies don’t rise much, so you can place them fairly close together), bake for 11-14 minutes. Cool on a rack.

If you have leftover dough, these make great ‘thumb print cookies’, just fill the centers with a candied loquat, or your favorite jam.

The Newest Issue of ‘Wildness; The Art and Craft of Foraging’

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Yes, it’s time for the summer issue of the magazine ‘Wildness; The Art and Craft of Foraging’.  Here comes that ‘F’ word again:  It’s totally, 100% free. 

This issue is filled with contributors like Green Deane (The most watched forager in the world), Merriwether Lewis, (check him out on Facebook) and JJ Murphy, the consummate wild writer, and many others.

Did I mention that it’s free?

You can check it out online at:

http://issuu.com/wildnessmagazine/docs/wildnessjulaug_14_1_

Or to grab a PDF version, shoot an email to:

wildnessmagazine@gmail.com

 

Feel free to share it with a friend.  We like wild food converters!

 

.

 

 

 

Mugwort Beer

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Water quality seems to have always been an issue on this planet. Early in the history of Europeans, no one really gave much thought to clean water. People bathed in streams, threw dead bodies into rivers and used water as a carry-away for latrine effluent.

So people didn’t drink much water. Instead, they drank a variety of herbal beers and wines to quench their thirst. The beers were not pale ales by any means. They were dark, bitter brews, and not something that you sat and drank a 6-pack of while watching the big game.

I first learned to make Mugwort beer from Pascal Baudar of Urban Outdoor Skills in Los Angeles. He and his girlfriend Mia, are doing some amazing wild food work and I recommend you look up their Facebook pages. If you’re ever in LA, attend one of their events, it’ll be inspiring.

Here is Pascal’s original recipe, although I think he has probably changed it by now. Foragers seem to always strive to ‘better’ their work:

Pascals’ Mugwort Beer

1 gallon water (NOT tap water which contains chlorine and other chemicals such as fluoride, etc…)
3/4 pound brown sugar
6 ounces Molasses
1/2 ounce dried mugwort herb
yeast (He used a pale ale yeast)

NOTE: Make sure you keep EVERYTHING clean at all times, clean all materials with bleach beforehand (rinse at least 3 times after using bleach). Whenever you need to use something for making your beer (such as spoon, funnel, etc…) ALWAYS clean it first.

Boil the mugwort, molasses and sugar in a large pot for 20 minutes.
Place the pot in cold water to cool it down (you may need to change the water a few times) or better, pour some ice in the water to cool it down faster. Keep the lid on when cooling the pot to avoid contamination.

When the liquid is around 70 degrees, add the yeast. One bag of yeast is usually enough for 5 gallons so adjust accordingly.

Strain into ferment bottle with airlock OR place into a large bucket and cover with a clean cloth.

Let ferment 10 days.

Siphon into beer bottles and prime the bottles with 1/2 teaspoon brown or white sugar for carbonation.

Close bottles and store somewhere not too hot.

Ready to drink in two weeks. Pascal usually waits 3-4 weeks for better carbonation.

Now, because I am a ‘fiddler’ and also because I’m lazy, I’ve changed what I do a bit.

Heather’s Mugwort Beer
I use natural wild yeasts, which means I don’t have to drive to town to do get it. I generally always have the starter that I make with an apple (see my post on making lazy woman’s hard apple cider). I use it for everything such as elderflower champagne, nettle beer, etc. All it takes is one apple and some juice and I have enough yeasty starter to carbonate an ocean of beers and fizzy drinks.

So at the point where Pascals recipe calls for adding yeast, I pour in a cup of the starter.

Then let it sit in the carboy. When the yeast from the starter has eaten up most of the sugar (I taste it everyday and it’s not sweet anymore) I bottle it. Leave it out on the counter for a day, then stick it in the fridge for 3-4 weeks.

I use Mugwort beer to marinade wild meats, as an ingredient in beer bread and to flavor a lot of other things. It’s just nice to have on hand.

Fir or Spruce Tip Italian Soda

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If you come to my classes, you’ve learned that I have a penchant for bubbly, fermented things. It’s an added bonus to me if there is alcohol in the final siphon, but I’ll leave that for another blog.

I love to make ‘wild’ sodas. I usually open ‘Camp’ during the last week of school for all the nieces and nephews to enjoy. The kayaks and canoes come out, the saddles get oiled, the archery range goes up and there’s a little rifle range for the kids to plink. And because I know that all that activity in this heat requires lots and lots of fluids, it’s bubbly week here at ‘Wildness’ with nettle and mugwort beer, regular and hard apple and manzanita ciders, elderflower champagne and lots of flavors of lacto-fermented sodas, all cluttering up my cellar shelves. I usually try to use wild yeasts as starters or even whey instead of the commercial stuff, because, well, it’s just fun.

Making your own starter for lacto fermented soda is easy. Most people use a ‘ginger bug’, but you can make one easily without ginger. Out here in the sticks, I don’t always have ginger in the fridge and it doesn’t grow well here, so I often use dandelion root and occasionally mallow, to make a starter. If you missed that blog post, you can check out the blog entry just under this one. You’ll need to start the starter several days prior to making the soda.

Fir and spruce tip sodas are light refreshing drinks, sort of a cross between lemon-lime and cream soda.

Tips of both species have been available for the past several months, especially at the higher elevations in the Sierras. You’ll need the soft, bright green tips from this years growth, not the hard ends of the branches that are left from last year. Don’t take more than a third of the tips from any tree and never take the terminal tip off of a small tree. You’ll ruin the shape and the tree will be forced to adjust a new leader.

Make a strong decoction by adding 4 cups of roughly chopped fir tips to 6 cups of pure non-chlorinated water. Bring the water to just a simmer and add 1.5 cups white sugar. (This seems like a lot of sugar, but it will be eaten during the fermentation.) Make sure that the sugar is dissolved, put a lid on the pot and let it steep over night.

The next day, strain off the liquid and pour it into either a carboy with an airlock, or just a very large jar. Add 1 cup of the ginger bug (or root bug) to the strong tea and put the airlock on or cover the jar with muslin. I place my jug in a room that isn’t very bright and I give it a swish every day to keep things mixed up. Now, just wait.

While the yeasts are eating the sugar, the byproduct that’s given off is alcohol. All lacto-fermented sodas have an alcoholic content, but it’s easy to keep it very low (around 1 or 2 percent) simply by tasting the brew and stopping fermentation while it’s still sweet. I usually only leave my sodas to ferment for about 4 days because I know that some kids will be drinking them. But if you like a very dry soda and you don’t mind a tiny bit more alcohol, let it sit longer. Just use your tastebuds and take a small sample every day, when it pleases you, it’s done.

Then bottle and refrigerate.

If you want to make an Italian soda, pour the soda over ice and add a good chug of cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

A ‘ginger bug’ without ginger…?

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We drink a lot of homemade soda around here. It’s not as sweet as the stuff you buy from the grocery store and I make a lot of flavors…triple berry, manzanita blossom, fir tip, lemon-lime. The flavor list is endless. And the stuff is so darn good for you.

But the drawback for me is that I don’t always have ginger on hand. It doesn’t grow well enough here to keep it in the garden and I can’t always drop everything to run to the store (which is in another town).

But you can make a ‘ginger bug’ out of any wild, edible root. Here, I’ve used dandelion and Malva neglecta (mallow) and the end result is the same sweet, fizzy goodness. It’s the first step in making a fridge full of healthy, delicious soda.

You make it just as you would a ‘ginger bug’ But what to call it since there isn’t any ginger in it?

I’ve found that this is a fairly fragile culture. It won’t keep for long periods of time so you don’t need to worry about feeding it.

Wild Root Bug

Dig the roots up from the plant you choose that is edible. Don’t use poisonous plants or the roots from things such as elderberry which are toxic. Cut off the leaves and tops. All you need is the root. Wash well in clean cool water.
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Chopping roots, especially older, fibrous roots can be tough, so just use a vegetable peeler. Scrape off the outside, then chop the strips up finely. Discard the tough core.
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Place 2 tablespoons of chopped root in a mason jar mason jar and add 2 tablespoons of white sugar.
Add 2 cups of filtered water (no chlorine!) to the jar and mix vigorously.
Lightly cover with cheesecloth and a rubber band. Place out of strong, direct light.
Every day add another 2 teaspoons of chopped root and 2 teaspoons of sugar and mix vigorously.
The temperature here is in the ’70’s and I started seeing activity in 3 days. By 4 days, the culture was ready to start using to make soda.
The culture is growing if you put your ear close to the rim of the jar and you hear a gentle fizzing. You’ll also see bubbles forming at the top. It will become somewhat cloudy (just as if you were using ginger).
If mold develops, throw it out. Don’t morn the loss, you were only out a few teaspoons of sugar. Just wash everything well and start over. (I’ve only had to restart a culture once and I think it was because day time temps were about 108 degrees.)
To avoid cross contamination, keep your culture away from other fermented foods like sauerkraut.

‘Wild’ Macarons

Pineapple weed and wild rose macarons

Pineapple weed and wild rose macarons

I don’t make macarons often. They aren’t a complicated cookie, but they are fussy about humidity and oven temperature. This week is cookie week here at ‘Wildness’ for a practical reason. Very soon my kitchen will be too hot to bake in. Today is the warmest day of the year so far, and I’ve already started having trouble with the buttercream. But nothing says spring like a row of rainbow cookies. Step into just about any bakery this time of year and you’ll see that they’re a ‘thing’.

The sky is the limit when coloring and flavoring macarons. Here, I’ve used sugar that’s been infused with pineapple weed (the green ones) and a rose hydrosol (in place of vanilla) for the pink ones.

To infuse sugar, simply take a 1/2 a cup of fresh pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) and whirl it in the blender with a cup of sugar until everything becomes a lovely shade of green. Spread the resulting paste on a foil covered cookie sheet and place in the oven on it’s lowest setting, until it’s dry. Rewhirl in the blender to remove any lumps, and you have a wonderful flavored sugar to add to baked goods and teas.
Pineapple weed

For the rose hydrosol, make your own from wild roses or use an easy button and purchase some rose water at the store.

Pineapple Weed Macaron Recipe

2/3 cup fine ground almond meal
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 large room temperature egg whites
5 tablespoons pineapple weed infused granulated sugar
(a few drops of get coloring is optional)

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Wash a quarter (yes, a 25 cent piece) well. Alternately, you can use whatever you have for a template that’s about an inch in diameter. (You don’t have to do this step, but your meringue cookie shapes will be much more uniform and pretty. Trace with a pencil around the quarter onto the parchment paper HARD. You’ll turn the paper over (you don’t want to get lead on your cookies) so you want to see it through the fairly transparent paper.

Sift the almond meal and the confectioners sugar together and set aside. Beat egg whites with a mixer until foamy, then add the granulated sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Continue to beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Add the gel coloring if you’re using it.

Gently fold 1/2 of the almond-powdered sugar mixture into the egg whites. When fully incorporated, add the other half and continue folding until mixed. There is a lot of chatter in cookbooks about getting the texture of the batter right and many methods such as beating the batter with the back of the spatula, and you can fuss with that if you like, but I never do.

Spoon the batter into a frosting bag (or a zip lock and snip a teeny bit of corner off) and pipe onto your templates on the parchment.

Now, just let the meringue rounds sit for 15 minutes to form a nice, shiny surface. You can turn the oven on to 280 degrees Fahrenheit while you wait.

After 15 minutes and when your oven reaches temperature, place the cookie sheets on the two lowest shelves of the oven. You’ll be baking a total time of 16-18 minutes and you’ll need to turn the sheets and trade positions at least once to get everything even. You don’t want the meringues brown, but you do want them dry on the inside.

Remove the meringues from the oven and place on a wire rack. When completely cool, pipe one side with the filling of your choice (ganache, buttercream, Nutella, whatever) and sandwich with another meringue.

Buttercream Filling
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup pineapple weed infused sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons milk

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl, add the sugar and continue to whisk until the mixture is light colored and the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk and whisk until mixed.
Put mixture in a saucepan and heat gently while whisking, until the mixture becomes thick and resembles vanilla pudding.
Remove from heat and pour back into bowl and whisk constantly until it returns to room temperature. Whisk in the softened butter, and continue to whisk until everything is combined. Place in a frosting bag (or another ziplock bag) and pipe onto meringues.

To make the delicate rose flavor meringues, use regular granulated sugar instead of flavored and fold in a teaspoon of rose hydrosol (rose water) to the glossy egg whites. For the filling, add 1 teaspoon of the rose water after the mixture has been removed from the stove.

The Newest Issue of ‘Wildness’!

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If you haven’t subscribed, you should.  It’s completely free and you get to read articles by foragers from all over the United States. This month Meriwether Lewis talks about foraging with children, Mike Krebill gives us a review on Leda Merideth’s new book, ‘Northeast Foraging’ and J.J. Murphy discusses safety.

 

To read the magazine, go here:

http://issuu.com/wildnessmagazine/docs/wildnessmayjun_14

 

If you want a pdf file (for downloading) shoot me an email at:

wildnessmagazine@gmail.com

 

In the meantime, stay tuned.  It’s cookie week here at ‘Wildness’

 

 

 

Wild Spring Rolls with Citrus-Nettle Seed Dipping Sauce

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After a long, dry winter, I’m hungry for fresh greens and I tuck them into just about everything.  I’ve filled these spring rolls with wild mint, chickweed, miner’s lettuce, carrots and shrimp.  It’s one of the easiest meals ever and oh, so healthy.

 

To get the recipe, make sure that you’ve subscribed to our free foraging magazine by sending an email to wildnessmagazine@gmail.com

The ‘F’ Word.

 

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We’re a big fan of many ‘f-words’.  Words such as Foraged.  Food.  Free.  (We especially like ‘free’.)  Here at ‘Wildness’ we’re offering you a free subscription to a magazine, ‘Wildness’, devoted to the art and craft of foraging.

The magazine will be sent bi-monthly.  There will foragers from all over the U.S. writing about plant identification, sharing recipes, talking about herbs and whatever else we can pack into it.

 

To subscribe, just send an email to:

wildnessmagazine@gmail.com

 

 

Because ‘free’ is a very good price.

 

 

Those Store Bought Peppermints that Come in a Tin…

Homemade Peppermint

Ok, today I’m not writing so much about a foraged food, but more about an ‘herby’ one.

I’m kind of addicted to those hard little extreme peppermints next to the checkout counter.  I keep a tin in my glove compartment, one in my purse, another in my pack.

They give my mouth something to do.  And whenever I pop one in my mouth I’m taken back to Scout in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.  Scout meets her new teacher who ‘looks and smells just like a peppermint drop’.

They’re not hard to make and they certainly aren’t expensive, but they do take a little practice.  Working with the powdered sugar can be messy.

Peppermints

1 pound confectioners sugar

1/4 cup water

1 Tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1 Tablespoon clear corn syrup

Peppermint oil to taste  ( I like a really intense flavor so I used a full teaspoon.  Teally, a full teaspoon makes your eyes water, so you may want to tone it down a bit.)

Gel food coloring (optional)

Put the water in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it.  Wait 5 minutes or so, until the gelatin looks foamy.  Add the corn syrup.  Stir slowly over medium heat until the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture is clear.  Pour into a bowl holding the confectioners sugar.  Mix until you can’t mix it with a spoon any more.  There still will be a lot of dry sugar.  Dump it out onto a work counter, dusting with some of the sugar in the bowl.  continue to knead by hand.  It will be very loose and fall apart at first.  Add more water, a few drops at a time, until the mixture is a consistency that will hold together like child’s clay and no longer sticks to your hands.

Work in the peppermint oil, using your hands.  Work in the coloring (if desired) with your hands.  It’s perfectly fine to not use coloring.

Working quickly (the dough dries quickly) roll into ropes and cut into small pieces with scissors.  Dust with sugar and lay on a plate to dry.

The longer you leave these to dry, the harder they become.  I try to leave them out for two weeks (the operative word being ‘try’ because I’ve the patience of a 5-year old).  If you just dry them a few days, they will be about the texture of a ‘butter mint’.  But if you leave them 10 days or longer, they become as hard as one of the mints in the famous little tins.

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