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April 26, 2011

The wonders of Wild Ramps / Leeks

Filed under: Food,Wild Edibles — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

During one of my long runs for my marathon training a couple weeks ago, I was running through a woods trail and I ran past what seemed to be a field of greens that popped up almost overnight, I had been through about 3 days earlier and there wasn’t anything green, and all of a sudden, 4 inch tall plants.  I stopped for just a moment to investigate and I quickly realized that these are the wild ramps that I keep hearing about (I broke off a leaf, and it smelled very much of onions).

I had never heard of ramps until this last year, which seemed odd to me because its the kind of thing I normally seem to know about.  However it turns out I have just always known them as Leeks.  As far as I can tell, ramps and leeks are the same thing, it seems like if you find them up north they are called leeks and further south they are called ramps.  I found a couple references that mentioned they may be different plants, but they are so closely related it would take an expert to tell them apart.

Ramps are an easy wild edible for you to safely identify, wild onions do not have any real poisonous look alikes, as long as you can break a leaf and it smells like an onion, and the same with the root, it will be from the onion family and is edible, if you pick something that the leaves or root does not smell like an onion, you have found something else that I wouldn’t suggest eating!

So for the past two weeks, Meagan and I have been having ramps in everything.  I picked a bag full a couple days after I initially found them, and then I have since been back and picked another good sized bag of them.  These are a great edible, because of how easy they are to prepare, and the fact you use the entire plant, not just the bulb or root of the plant.  For the most part, we have been just chopping the whole plant up to use in stuff, we haven’t been treating the leaves and the bulbs different.  The only place we used one or the other was in some BLT sandwiches we had tonight, we just cut the leaves off to put in with the lettuce in the BLT.

We have probably done a dozen meals so far with the ramps, but to just highlight a couple of them:

The above picture is of some perogies we made, they are just frozen perogies we prepared, we then stir fried some portabello mushrooms in butter and at the end we added some fresh chopped parsley (from the aquaponics) and we tossed in the ramps.  You don’t want to cook the ramps, you just want to wilt them.  Put the perogies together with the mushroom and ramps, then add some fresh chopped tomatoes and a bit of sour cream and you have an easy awesome meal!

This picture is just a simple baked potato with shredded extra sharp cheddar, sour cream, and some diced ramps.  Also we found that using Hawaiian pink sea salt really brings out the flavor.  Also on the plate is the prepared ramps, just dice up a couple of those per potato and you are good to go.

We are already dreading the end of the ramp season, we still have a few weeks left, but we are getting quite spoiled by having a nice bag full of them any time we feel like getting them out.  You could substitute green onions for them most places, but they are way more expensive (especially since the ramps are free if you can find them!), and the ramps do have a unique flavor all their own.

March 17, 2011

Made a snow popsicle

Filed under: Food,Misc — Tags: , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

As I was bringing in another snowdrift down to the basement for my Aquaponics (Winter water collection system/), I had this idea, more of piece of inspired genius really.  The snow looked so good, so white, and so refreshing, as I was munching on a bit of it, I though, man this would be good with some maple syrup on it!

I was right, it was good.  We used to go to a festival every year out by Warren, PA and they had the best shaved ice I have ever had anywhere, I am not a fan of snow cones for the most part, but those were always so good.  This snow Popsicle was ever bit as good, and I would dare say it was a bit better just because it didn’t have fake flavors in it, the ingredient list consisted of #1 Snow, #2 Real Maple Syrup, #3 A spoon to attach it to.  Once I made the snowball around the spoon, I just drizzled some syrup around it, and it got sucked right into the snowball.  When I ate it, it had maple syrup taste throughout the entire ball.

I know this isn’t a totally original idea, probably been done for millenniums, I just hadn’t really thought about it until today, and its unfortunate too, because I am betting this was our last real snowfall of the year.  However, you can bet one of the first things I do next year when the snow starts falling will be to make another snow Popsicle.

Oh, and by the way, if you couldn’t tell, the dogs really REALLY thought my snow Popsicle looked delicious, if you look close at Ella (The pup on my shoulder), you will see her tongue is already out and in licking position!

March 7, 2011

Picture of the week (Aquaponic Harvest)

Filed under: Aquaponics,Food,Picture of the week — Tags: , , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

So a couple pictures today.  The lettuce in the Aquaponics has been coming along nicely, we have been getting to have a nice salad every couple weeks out of it.  The parsley has exploded, we can’t eat it, our friends can’t eat it, and I can barely pawn it off :-).  The parsley in the second picture was a batch that I gave to our friend Rebecca when she was over this weekend.  The bread was a new recipe that I tried, and it turned out quite nicely, it was a quick bread that didn’t require any type of kneading.

December 9, 2010

Making hard cider

Filed under: Food — Tags: — Marcus @ 2:00 am

I love making hard cider, ever since I was a kid whenever we would make fresh cider, I always like to leave mine out on the counter for about a week or so to let it get fizzy (Meagan calls it fuzzy!).  In the last three years I have gotten a fair bit more serious about my hard cider.

A bit of history about hard cider.  Hard cider has been around for quite a few centuries, if you had been around in the 1600’s – 1700’s in early America you certainly would have been drinking hard cider, in fact John Adams, the second president of the US was known for having a mug of hard cider for breakfast to soothe his stomach.  Also the legendary Johnny Appleseed and the trees he planted were used in hard cider production.  In the early years of the US, almost every plantation would have their own orchard that was dedicated to growing apples to be used for making hard cider.

If you are interested in more of the history of hard cider in the US, check out http://www.essortment.com/all/hardapplecider_rxvs.htm

Hard cider is a very simple drink to make, basically get some fresh cider from the kid selling along the road in the fall, put it in a container with an airlock and let it sit for a month, and enjoy!  That is how I started, but I quickly learned that it didn’t taste all that good.  I started looking up how other people make it and found there is a pretty wide range of hard cider drinks that can be made, the recipes and methods can be as simple as the one I just shared, up to complex ones that will yield drinks that are as potent as whiskey!

For my purposes I didn’t have any interest in the alcohol content and since I am into the whole wild edibles and wilderness survival thing, I really wanted to replicate a cider that would have been made in early America (and most likely the same that was made a millennium ago).  I have come to find out that making cider using the older methods is more of an art than a science.  Any commercial hard cider you will find will start out by pasteurizing their cider and using very specific strains of yeast to yield the exact taste they are looking for.  With my process, I rely on the natural yeast that is present in the skins of the apple and because of this, every batch of hard cider turns out differently (or even goes bad if the bacteria balance is incorrect).

I am coming to learn the importance of the temperature the cider is at while it is brewing, how transferring the cider from bottle to bottle during the process (to get rid of the dead yeast that sinks to the bottom) is of utmost importance, and I am now experimenting with infusing the cider with other things such as vanilla beans or Cinnamon sticks.  While my first attempts at making cider were not something that you would want to try, my more recent attempts have been quite tasty.

I don’t think I will ever have a final “This is how you do it” guide to making hard cider, as I think I will continually improve on my process, but please check out a new page I have on the main site here where I have much more details on my actual process of making hard cider.


November 1, 2010

Picture of the week (Capri Salad)

Filed under: Food,Picture of the week — Tags: , , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

One of our favorite side dishes that Meagan and I like to make is Capri Salad, in the summer when we have access to decent tomatoes we tend to have this at least 1-2 times a week.  This is such a simple dish to make and it is hard to get tired of, and I am constantly trying to find ways to use up the basil off my basil tree in my Aquaponic system.

To make enough for two you will need the following:

2 Tomatoes
1 Mozzarella ball
1/2 Cup of Basil
Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Sauce

Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella ball about 1/4″ thick, dice the basil into small strips.  Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella however you like on a place, sprinkle the basil on top then drizzle a bit of the Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Sauce around the place.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

See wasn’t that easy?  Takes about 10 minutes start to finish and it tastes just as good as any salad you will get at a restaurant.  Also don’t skimp on the tomatoes, they are what makes this dish.  Also if you don’t have Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Sauce, you can just use regular Balsamic Vinegar.

October 14, 2010

Made acorn flour for the first time

Filed under: Food — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

Ever since I found out acorns are actually edible and not poisonous like I had heard in the past I have wanted to try my hand at it. Over the past week I have gotten that chance. If you have ever cracked open an acorn and tasted it, you would immediately spit it back out because it is extremely bitter, I am sure this bitterness is why most people think that acorns are at worst poisonous and at best inedible.

The bitterness in acorns comes from Tannins that are in the acorns, tannin is a water soluble chemical that is used to tan leather (the process of tanning leather got its name from the Tannins used). Since tannin is water soluble, by simply boiling the water you can leech out the bitterness turning the acorn into a usable form.

For the most part, the methods I used to make my flour were very similar to how it would have been done in the past all the way back to the Indians and before. It will also give you a whole new appreciation to being about to just stop by the nearest supermarket and pickup a bag of flour. It was really hard work making this from scratch.

In going through this process I don’t see how it was a worthwhile process from a survival standpoint, I can’t imagine that you could get more energy out of the foods made with acorn flour than the energy put into making it. However as I have told a couple of people, if you think of it more as something to do to pass the time rather than a project that needs finished then it makes more sense.

Two of the hardest processes that are part of making acorn flour are cracking the acorns and then grinding them with a mortar and pestle. Both of those took quite awhile and a fair amount of energy, but are things that could have been done while chatting around a campfire in ancient times, or if you are doing it at home, you could easily do it while watching TV or something similar.

However, even with all the hours it took to produce a small amount of actual acorn flour, I expect you will find me anxiously awaiting the acorns to fall next year so I can try my hand at it again. I guess you can’t really expect all your wild edibles to be as easy as eating Lambs Quarters right from your backyard.

If you are interested in more of the process of turning the acorns into flour (along with many more pictures) please check out the page I made on making acorn flour. I also added a recipe in the food section of the site for the acorn bread I made.

October 8, 2010

Wild edibles talk

Filed under: Food,Outdoors — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

Hopefully late is better than never for this post…

A couple months ago I was asked to give a presentation to the local kayak club on the Survivalism stuff that I do.  After some thought I decided to do it and picked wild edibles as the subject of the presentation.

I was not sure how well it would go since I have never done a presentation like that before and I knew that any time I took doing the presentation was time taken out of everyone’s time on the water paddling.  With that in mind, I tried to keep my presentation short and engaging, I brought plenty of examples and samples to try.

I couldn’t be happier with how the presentation went, everyone seemed very interested and asked plenty of questions, many people tried some of the edible greens I passed around (Lambs quarters) and everyone tried some of the Sumac tea I made.  Afterwords quite a few people told me how much they enjoyed the presentation and I also heard from the club president that she had gotten many positive comments.

I made up a single page handout that had 4 different wild edibles many people can find in their yard or around their house, if you would like to see a copy of the handout I made you can click the image below to download it (You need Adobe Reader to view it).

Based off from how that went, I would be open to do some more presentations like that, and I let them know I would be more than happy to present again if they wanted me to.

August 9, 2010

Picture of the week (Black Locust Flowers)

Today I bring you a picture I took this spring while I was out walking Madison at the Chagrin River Park. There were black locust trees everywhere and each one seemed to look more gorgeous than the last. I took quite a few pictures with my iPhone, but I liked this one the best.

Just recently I found out that these flowers are edible and actually very good, I am sad I didn’t get to try them when I saw them this year, but you can bet I will be on the lookout next year for them! I found a great description on the edibility of these flowers if you are interested: http://www.wildfoods.info/wildfoods/blacklocust.html

July 19, 2010

Homeade Sumac Tea

Filed under: Food,Outdoors — Tags: , , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

A quick disclaimer, any time you are harvesting wild edibles, please make sure to positively identify the plant, there are many very poisonous plants growing naturally, and it is up to you to make sure you are certain of what you are picking.   Please check out http://www.poison-sumac.org/ for more information on identifying staghorn sumac VS poison sumac.

I love finding wild edibles, from eating dandelion flowers, to finding a nice patch of black rasberries.  I also actively learn how to identify wild edibles in my area, while I would still consider myself a beginner at identifying plants I try to add more to my knowledge as often as I can.

I have been reading about how to make a drink from the berries on a sumac tree and that sounded like a really fun idea, I tried making pine needle tea last year and that turned out good, why not sumac?  However, I keep putting it off because I was afraid of getting my hands on poison sumac and being in a world of hurt.  Each time I mention making sumac tea to other people I get the same response, “Isn’t that poisonous?”.

In short no its not poisonous.  After doing some research I found that around our area (Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York) there are two main types of sumac, poison sumac and staghorn sumac.  If you ask someone to point out sumac, they will always point out staghorn sumac, that is the one most people recognize as being sumac.  Actually after doing some research into it I found out that poison sumac looks nothing like staghorn sumac.

Staghorn Sumac Berries (Not Poisonous)

Poison Sumac Berries (Poisonous)

Now armed with the knowledge of how to tell staghorn from poison sumac I was ready to try it.  You have to wait until the berries are red to harvest them, and you should also make sure it hasn’t rained in a few days (more on that in a bit).  I found some sumac out at one of the parks that I walk Madison at and I stopped before work and grabbed five of the heads off the sumac tree.  After I got home, dropped the berry heads into a mixing bowl full of cold water and I squeezed the heads a bit to try and get the water through them (they have a velvet over them, they seem almost waterproof).  I then just let the bowl with the berry heads sit out for about 5 hours.  After it had finished sitting, I squeezed the berry heads one more time and then tossed them.  Next I strained the water through several layers of cheescloth into a pitcher and put it in the fridge.  That is really all there is to making sumac tea.

After the tea was cold again I very hesitantly took a sip, half expecting it to kill me (I have spent years viewing that tree as being poisonous!) and low and behold, it was pretty good.  Another name for this is Indian Lemonade, and I think that is much more fitting than calling it tea.  It is pretty tart, the batch I made tastes a bit like watered down lemonade (the made from scratch stuff, not powdered).  I think there are a couple things I can do to make it stronger next time:

  1. I have read a couple places about sitting your bowl of water out in the sun while it is steeping, I think that would help.  However a quick note, never boil it, boiling the berry heads will release tannins into the water (which will make the drink very bitter).
  2. Next time I will be adding more berry heads to the water, it seems the more the merrier on this one.  Also another quick note, when you are steeping the sumac, use a wide shallow bowl instead of a pitcher, the berry heads float very well and I don’t think they would work well stacked on top of each other.
  3. Next time I am going to wait for a dry spell of at least a week before picking the berry heads, it had just rained the day before I picked these.  Much of the tart taste comes from a coating on the outside of the berries, so if its rained recently then the tartness will have been washed off.  Also along the same lines, you don’t rinse off the berry heads before you put it in the water to steep.

So to sum it up, I am very happy with my sumac tea.  I will be making it as often as I can as it was so much fun, it was really an easy process as well.  The staghorn sumac has really gotten a bad rap because another plant with the same name happens to be poisonous, however spending just a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the differences and you can enjoy a truly unique beverage!

May 12, 2010

Hardtack: not just for wars and camping anymore

Filed under: Food,Outdoors — Tags: , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

Today I bring you pictures and a recipe for Hardtack,  I have been working on making food that I can carry in my backpack I keep in my car and also use as a staple food while I am out camping.  I know that many people keep MRE’s (Meals ready to eat) in their packs, but I didn’t really want to spend the money on them, and I admit, I have a fascination with re-creating ancient food and drinks.  Hardtack is about as old of a recipe as you are likely to find, a quick look at Wikipedia traces it back to at least the time of the Crusades (1189 was mentioned).  It has been used for hundreds of years by sailors and also was one of the staple foods during the American Civil War.  Stored properly Hardtack can last for years.

I have made several batches of Hardtack so far, and though many people don’t seem to like it because of its toughness and plain taste, I quite enjoy it.  I have been using it as a snack while I am driving into work (After my morning workouts I tend to be pretty hungry), also I eat it for lunch when I go out hiking at work, this gives me an extra 15 minutes to hike since I can eat while on the move.

Below is the recipe I am using, it is a combination of two recipe’s I found on the internet and then I added the Cinnamon myself.

3 Cups wheat flower
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup water

1) Prehead oven to 450 degrees
2) mix and knead the dough (was really hard to knead and roll out because it was very stiff).
3) Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick, cut into 1″x2″ blocks, then go over the blocks with a fork.
4) Lay out blocks on a cookie sheet, do not use any grease, spray, etc. These dry out enough they don’t stick at all.
5) bake in oven for 7 minutes under 450, then turn oven down to 350 and bake for another 10 minutes (I think it may need to be a couple minutes more).

Also, we have also been making dog treats using almost the same recipe, use the same instructions, just don’t put the salt or cinnamon in it, the dogs love it!

You see, hartack can even be made to be goumet with the correct place setting.

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