...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...
2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.
Saturday was a great day for a ramp foraging foray. This is the first year I've preserved these wild leeks in some way. Usually I gather a huge bag and by the time I use them in cooking they've started getting slimy in the back of the fridge. Vera and I set out early that morning--or at least early by most standards on a Saturday--and went off-roading with with the buggy in the nearby woods. It was a dew-capped morning so everything was a beautiful, glowing shade of green. We saw tons of jack-in-the-pulpit, wild geraniums, Virginia waterleaf, mayapples, and finally the prized ramps, which are part of the lily family like other alliums. Their leaf most closely resembles that of a lily of the valley. Armed with my weed digger and a couple plastic bags, I went to town digging them up whenever I saw a large patch. This was the latest in the season I've ever gathered ramps so I found them to be good size. While I was in the woods I decided to casually look for morels. I'd never gone "mushroom huntin'," as they call it in my small hometown in east central Illinois. When we moved there in the late 80s the first thing my dad did was buy cowboy boots, then a friend took him hunting for fungi. So until the last several years I'd always thought of it as an activity these rural folk partook in when they weren't fishin' or frog-giggin'. I was reminded of this recently when my husband handed me a Newsweek article about the sport. "Hillybilly Haute Cuisine" was the title and the writer reminisced about fryin' 'em up in Crisco. (Gasp!) I saw plenty of other mushrooms in the woods on Saturday, but not the elusive morel. I'd heard that a moist day after a good rain was prime time for hunting. I thought my thrift store eyes, which can quickly scan for the littlest details, would serve me well, but the little goodies were better at hiding than I was at searching. So I went home empty-handed as far as morels go, but walked about with two bursting bread bags of ramps. Vera slept through it all, as usual.
I found some tried and true preserved ramp recipes online at the blog Well Preserved that use both the greens and the bulb. I tweaked the pesto recipe a bit to use sorrel, which is growing like a weed in our yard and probably going to seed very soon. I think it's safe to say I'm on a pesto kick, what with the radish leaf pesto I made the other day. It isn't even basil season yet and I've got more than 35 portions in my freezer. I'm mentally tasting all the ways I can make bruschetta for winter appetizers, not to mention pasta, pizza, and soups with a pesto accent.
Ramp and Sorrel Pesto
Makes 3-4 oz. portions
1/2 c. ramp greens, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. sorrel, coarsely chopped
1 T. olive oil
1 t. lemon zest or 1/2 t. dehydrated lemon peel (check the spice aisle)
1/4 c. pine nuts or almonds (toasted)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. Parmesan or part-skim mozzarella cheese
Combine all ingredients in the food processor and process until smooth. For freezing, portion into a dedicated ice cube tray or a mini muffin pan. Once they are frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer-quality bag, label, date and freeze.
Makes 8-1/2 pint jars
8 c. ramp bulbs, loosely packed
5 1/2 c. white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 c. water
2 t. canning and pickling salt
2 c. granulated sugar
4 t. mustard seed
4 t. coriander seed
4 t. celery seed
Sterilize canning jars, rings, and dome lids according to instructions. Add a 1/2 t. of each spice to the eight half-pint jars. Simmer the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar for 3 min. Add the ramps and bring back to a gentle simmer for 5 min. Lift out the ramps with a slotted spoon and place them into the canning jars. Add the brine, remove air bubbles and place in a hot water bath under a full boil for 10 min. Let cool completely, label, date, and store.
Despite the success of our spring garden, which is now almost done, I've had one big disappointment. Our asparagus never came back. This would have been year three, which meant we could finally harvest. I had dreams of posting all kinds of recipes using my homegrown stalks. I've asked farmers I know, consulted books and websites and I can't find any information about why this perennial wouldn't have returned. My only thought is that as they were installing the new fence, there was so much soil compaction that the asparagus just couldn't push through. Ben and I shook on it last night that if it doesn't come back next year, we'll put a hot tub in place of the patch (Yeah right! My growing space is too precious for that!) I'm sure I'll still enjoy some local asparagus this season, even if I didn't grow it myself. I'll be sure to share any interesting recipes.