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Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

Simnel Cake

 

Simnel Cake is an ancient British dessert going back to pre-Christian times. Today is it more associated with Easter itself, but any spring celebration would do well with this cake. Flavored with bits of fruit and currants, it features an inner layer of rolled almond paste, which not only adds tons of flavor, but also moistness.

To make it even more authentic, I used my Victorio grain mill to grind some home ground flour using hard red wheat berries. After having this cake with conventional flour and the home ground, home ground is the way to go. If you refer to my previous blog about my Victorio mill in May of 2016, you will see that the flavor and quality derived from home ground flour is unsurpassable.

The original recipe includes a buttercream frosting, I omitted that, as the cake speaks for itself, with perhaps a dusting of powdered sugar. If you wish to frost it, by all means, go for it if you have your favorite vanilla buttercream in mind. As usual, it is your choice. Once again, I have delved into my library of older cookbooks to come up with this one, full references are below.

Simnel Cake Recipe

Ingredients

2 sticks butter
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour (or peferably home ground)
2/3 cup currants
1/3 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
1/3 cup candied lemon peel, finely chopped
1 tbsp grated lemon rind
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
8 oz. almond paste*

Directions

1. Grease one 8” springform pan and line with parchment. If you don’t have an 8”, a 9” will also work, just shorten your baking time.

2. In a mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

3. In a small bowl, reserve ¼ cup of the flour. Add currants, candied fruit and lemon rind. Mix.

4. Add remaining flour and other dry ingredients to the batter. Fold fruit into batter.

5. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the pan.

6. Roll almond paste to fit into pan and place on top of batter in pan. Add remaining batter.

7. Bake in a preheated 300 degree F oven for 2 hours, (keep an eye on it, as it may not need the full 2 hours) or about 1 hour if you’re using a convection oven, until cake tester or toothpick comes clean. Cool 15 minutes, remove outer ring, and cool completely on wire rack. 

*To roll the almond paste, take one 8 oz. piece of almond paste and roll it out with a rolling pin on a board. It probably would not be necessary to flour it, but if it does stick, use powdered sugar instead of flour.

References: Cutler, Kathy. The Holiday Dessert Book. NY: Macmillan Publishing Co, 1986. If you can find a copy of this book, it has recipes for a myriad of holidays, about 25 in total, including less well-known ones worth taking a look at.

You can follow the further adventures of Sue or sign up for a class at her website: www.svanslooten.com or email: wwwsvanslooten@icloud.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Slow Food Journey with Epicurean San Diego

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As the slow food movement continues to grow, so does culinary travel. Culinary travel focuses on the food and drink as well as the chefs, bakers, fishermen and farmers, while ecotourism embraces the more of the ecological side of travel. The World Food Travel Association calls it “food trekking,” and it’s a growing part of the whole farm-to-table dining movement.

Epicurean San Diego Food, Farm and Libation Tours craft foodie experiences customized for travelers eager to get a taste of the local, sustainably-grown or raised, and best San Diego County has to offer. This past winter, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tag along with founder and chief culinary guide, Stephanie Parker, as she took us on a day-long feast of flavors paired perfectly with the cast of characters, like a sushi chef who’s also a surfer.  This photo essay offers a taste of what might be on your tour.

“People see an alternative side of San Diego on our tours that you wouldn’t just be able to Google,” shares Stephanie Parker, owner of Epicurean San Diego which she launched in 2015 with a mission of cooking up awareness of the area’s food artisans through creating the ultimate foodie experience.  “A lot of the places we bring folks to are not open to the public, so the only way they can see them is through us.”

Perfect Start with Coffee and Pastries

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You can’t get more authentic than a coffee and a croissant at Lofty Coffee Company in Encinitas, up the coast from San Diego.  With the coffees roasted on site and every baked item made from scratch in house, the bright, bustling Lofty Coffee coffee house and bakery was the perfect start to our Epicurean San Diego Tour.   From hand-crafting their own almond milk for their smooth and creamy Lattes to knowing where every coffee bean comes from, this place is steeped in authentic sustainability. 

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“The reason we partner with Lofty, as with all our tour partners, is that our ethos, model and mission all align,” explains Parker, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire San Diego County area. “We all have a vision for a more sustainable future, from the ingredients we use to our overall business model.” Parker also serves as the Ark of Taste Chair and Board Farm Liaison for Slow Food Urban San Diego.  

Urban Agriculture at Cyclops Farm

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Just up the coast, in Oceanside, is Cyclops Farm, meticulously laid out on just over two acres, surrounded by residential homes. The tidy urban farm, owned by Luke Girling, is an oasis of edible bounty amidst stereotypical suburbia. His overflowing energy enables him to run the operation without regular paid staff.  Cyclops Farm’s farmstand accounts for the majority of his sales, satisfying a hunger for fresh and seasonal ingredients by his neighbors.  The rest of his produce goes to restaurants.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get work done with so many people stopping by to chat,” laughs Girling. “But that’s what I signed up for, being where I am and having a farm stand out front.”

“If you really want to make a change, you need to go back to where you know people and have roots,” Girling adds.  Like Parker, Girling believes in creating connections and conversations around food.  He grew up in this beachside town and now operates his certified organic farm based in the heart of a residential neighborhood, serving as that needed portal to connect his community with a fresh, local food source.

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“It’s a Kiwano melon,” explains Girling as we walk the farm. He turns our tour into a tasting as he cuts up samples, careful not to get the prickly orange spines stuck in his bare hands. “They’re kind of a cross between a cucumber and banana, eh?”

We taste the seedy and sour fruit. Definitely different, memorable.  That sums up the underlying refrain throughout our day with Parker as we dig deep into local food stories and flavors.  Epicurean San Diego Tours offers several regular tours to the general public, such as the “North County” we took part in.  The tours typically last about five hours and involve three to five stops with lots of time for sampling and asking questions. 

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Urban farms are big in San Diego, in part as a result of the high cost of land and nearly idyllic, year-round and sunny Mediterranean growing climate. According to the County of San Diego’s 2014 Crop Report, San Diego County has 5,732 farms, more than any other county in the United States. 68% of San Diego County farms are 1-9 acres. Interestingly, nearly 19% of farms in San Diego County are operated by women, reflecting the national trend captured in Soil Sisters.

“We pick all the stops on our tour route so guests can see the connection in everything,” explains Parker.  “For example, Luke at Cyclops Farm and Chef Davin Waite at the Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub have an awesome partnership where Chef Davin will call Luke and say he wants everything that’s ugly, crazy, or that’s not going to sell elsewhere and he will take it and make something beautiful out of it.”

“The chefs know where my knives and clippers are,” explains Girling as he harvests fresh greens for Chef Davin.  “They just stop by, get what they need and pay me.”  A model for cooperatively changing our food system indeed.

Surfer Sushi Served at Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub

The lean, tanned and tattooed Chef Davin Waite looks like he belongs on a surfboard catching waves.  But Bill Murray isn’t the only celeb to go out of their way to pull up a chair at his unpretentious sushi restaurant with its refrigerated case jam-packed with some of the freshest, most-sustainably caught local fish you’ll ever get to try, prepared meticulously and artistically by Chef Davin.  Here in Oceanside, at the Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub, you’ll get a taste of sushi as if the chef himself was trolling the waves as he surfed.  Might as well, since he selects the fish from local fisherman, divers or from Catalina Offshore Products.

“I love a surprise bag,” exclaims Chef Davin. He gleefully peers into the bag of produce Farmer Luke just sent over from Cyclops Farm.  Chef Davin uses the nasturtium leaves in the bag for a salad base, keeping to his theme of no waste and using everything up, a philosophy he was raised under in England from his dad who grew up frugal and resourceful after World War II.

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 “The whole thing is more of an art project,” explains Chef Davin as he artistically hand-crafts each plate, embracing elements the average chef would throw away.  At Wrench & Rodent, beet stems transform into relish and tangerine peels get turned into a flavorful oil. Playing with food, he calls it. It appeared more like a masterpiece on our plate.

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“We focus on local fish from within 250 miles,” adds Chef Davin.  “There’s a tremendous new wave of second generation fish farmers that are really trying to do it right and sustainably who I want to support.”  His menu changes daily based on the fresh catch of the day, from a buttery and mild Japanese yellowtail to wahoo paired with a smoky apricot sauce. 

“It’s all about luring people in through their eyes, taste buds and stomachs,” adds Parker with a grin.   Count us in with this curriculum, as we sample more sushi.  As deep-rooted rural Midwesterners, we admit that prior to this outing our sushi encounters were limited and not that interesting or spectacularly tasty. Chef Davin converted us to evangelical sushi fans.

Drinking “Terroir” with Golden Coast Mead

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You’ll drink at the source when you visit the new tasting room at Golden Coast Mead, also in Oceanside.  Sampling takes place amidst the buzzing production activity of this hip urban meadery.  Mead may be all the rage, but its roots go back thousands of years, a tradition the folks at Golden Coast Mead want to build on and connect with while having fun.  “Gandalf Drank Mead.  So Can You” proclaims t-shirts for sale.

Most of their San Diego style meads are made with an ale yeast, leading to the more sour or tart flavors. They’re complex, balanced and unique.  The carbonation evens out any sharpness for a smooth and refreshing experience, or as the brewers themselves call it, “Sunshine in a Glass.”

Our first taste, their flagship Orange Blossom, proved the most pleasing to our personal palate, with its California-sourced citrus flavor and bouquet.  Next, we sampled zesty Cali Oak, blending essences of wildflower honey and oak, followed by Gruit, made with clover honey, heather, yarrow, mugwort and lemongrass.  We finished our flight with Spiced Clover, made with clover honey paired with nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla.

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Naturally, we were in a happy state after our tasting at Golden Coast Mead, with many of their meads 12-percent alcohol by volume.  Happy to leave the driving to Parker, who whisked us back to San Diego, expertly navigating rush hour traffic while sharing more food stories to be had on other tours.  Her company also hosts a variety of pop-up on-farm dinners throughout the year, providing ringside viewing and tasting as you dine amidst the growing fields from which the bounty on your plate came. 

“Even I learn something new on every tour.  Someone says something I didn’t know and I just think that’s awesome.” We couldn’t agree more as our end the day with full bellies, nourished hearts and minds, savoring the flavors of San Diego.-------

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Use Up Leftover Bread

A staggering amount of bread is wasted every year. I live in Austria, and Vienna, the largest city in the country, throws out as much bread as my city, Graz, consumes daily. Enough bread to feed a quarter of a million people is simply wasted. On the other side of the Atlantic, food waste costs America around $165 billion every year, while 25 percent of all the freshwater used in the country goes to produce food that no-one will ever eat.

In the UK, 40 percent of bread produced is thrown away. A fantastic start-up company called Toast is using some of the wasted bread to brew beer. If that’s not witchcraft, then I don’t know what is. Amazing as that may be, I fear it’s a little ambitious for most of us. In an ideal world, we would all have chickens or ducks, and supermarkets would sell or donate any waste bread to local pig farmers, but in many areas, the practice of using stale bread as animal feed is prohibited, and not everyone has space for poultry.

I think that bread is a great place to start looking at reducing our household food wastage. Unlike a piece of meat which has started to go a funny colour or smell a bit iffy, eating stale bread isn’t going to do you any harm. Some of the waste can be reduced by buying types of bread which last longer, the old-fashioned German black breads and sourdough loaves will still be good up to a week after baking, but they can be expensive and are not available everywhere. If you bake your own, adding fat to the dough in the form of butter, lard, cream or full-fat yoghurt may help extend the shelf-life of your bread.

Old-Fashioned Uses for Stale Bread

In the past, grain was a precious resource and no-one would want to waste bread, so some ingenious dishes were developed to use up old bread. Searching through old-fashioned cookbooks turns up a wealth of ideas to use up stale bread. Frying the bread in a little olive oil is a good way to make croutons, which can then be used to top salads and soups, but what about cooking the bread directly in the soup to make a thick and delicious stew-like broth?  

I must admit, I was a little skeptical about this, but then I tried ribbolita. The bread thickens the soup to make it filling enough to be a main course, and through long slow cooking it absorbs all the wonderful flavours. Other delicious bread soups include the traditional Cornish kiddly broth, which is made in a similar way, but with onions, bacon and milk for flavouring instead of the punchy Italian tomato flavours, and the Portuguese bread soup  açorda à alentejana, which is made with plenty of garlic and cilantro, and topped with poached eggs.

French onion soup is not a bread soup like the others, as a slice of toast is floated on the top of each bowl and topped with cheese before being grilled. This is one of my favourite soups, but the key ingredient is a hefty dose of patience. Stew a pound of sliced onions very slowly for up to an hour before adding a glass of red wine and boiling off the alcohol. Use enough strong beef stock to make the thickness that you like and season well with pepper. Although most recipes suggest a piece of baguette, I think it tastes particularly good when a strong dark bread is used as the topping.

Stale bread is an essential component of the Italian salad panzanella, which is a perfect midsummer salad starring ripe tomatoes, but bread drizzled with olive oil is a great addition to any salad, either toasted or left plain. An old French recipe from the fifties I once read suggested rubbing garlic over a piece of stale bread and putting it at the bottom of the salad bowl. The scent of the garlic in the salad is mild, and then any real garlic fiend in the family can eat the dressing-soaked bread afterwards.

Semmelknödel or serviettenknödel are Austrian bread dumplings and are brilliant served as a side to any kind of meat dish, especially pork with sauerkraut. You can find the recipe I wrote for them here. If you have leftover dumplings, they can be fried with scrambled eggs to make the traditional gasthaus dish, Knödel mit Ei.

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Leftover bread transforms wonderfully into sweet and cuddly nursery suppers.  French toast was the first thing I ever learned to cook, and would make it for my sister every time I babysat her. It is easy enough for a nine-year old to cook and soft enough for a baby to gum.  Whilst it is still very good made with plain white bread, and a simple egg and milk mix, try using fluffy sweet breads like croissant or brioche, and adding a little cream and cinnamon to the mix. Served with maple syrup or compote, and re-named pain perdu, it’s good enough to serve to anyone. Summer pudding is an easy no-cook dessert for the hottest months when there is a wealth of fruit ripening in the garden. A bowl is lined with slices of bread, crusts removed, and filled with a mixture of slightly stewed berries. After a night’s chilling in the fridge, the bread has absorbed all the wonderful juices and the ruby-red dessert is ready to turn out of the bowl onto a plate to serve.

When adding liquid to bread, it is important always to err on the side of caution. You can always add more if you need it, but you can’t retrieve a soggy collapsed mess. This was the problem I had when I first made the bread and butter pudding below. After I halved the amount of liquid, the finished result resembled a moist, delicious fruitcake, with a crispy toasted topping. Treacle tart is another old favourite. Here stale bread is pulsed in the mixer to make large breadcrumbs, then mixed with honey or syrup and lemon juice and one egg to make a rich, moist pie filling, deliciously crisp on top. If you have extra  breadcrumbs, bag them up and store them in the freezer, to use as a coating for fish or chicken.

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How to make Ribbolita

Ingredients

2 carrots
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 sticks celery
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes or according to taste
1 cup cooked white beans
2/3 handfuls of chopped kale or Savoy Cabbage
Good-quality stale bread

Ingredients

1. Fry onions, carrots, garlic and celery in olive oil until soft.

2. Add crushed fennel seeds and flaked chilli, along with cooked white beans and good-quality canned tomatoes.

3. Add the kale or savoy cabbage, using more than you think you will need as it reduces down a lot.

4. Cook until beginning to soften, bearing in mind that kale will take a lot longer than savoy cabbage, then add a few handfuls of stale bread, torn up into chunks.

5. Top up with enough water so that the soup is thick, but not dry.

6. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, for up to an hour, or until the bread appears to have dissolved into the soup, and the kale or cabbage is cooked.

7. Season generously with salt and pepper.

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Bread and Butter Pudding

Ingredients

(Note: exact quantities depend on how much leftover bread you have)
enough bread, brioche or croissant to fill your ovenproof dish
½ cup raisins
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup milk, or a mixture of milk and cream (approximately)

Directions

1. Mix the cinnamon and the sugar together.

2. Slice the bread quite thickly, and put one layer on the bottom of your dish.

3. Sprinkle a few raisins on top, and then about ½ Tbsp sugar. Continue to layer the bread, raisins and sugar, until you have used up all the bread, reserving about 1 tbsp of sugar.

4. Mix the eggs with the milk or milk and cream, and pour it over the bread. The level of liquid should come a little over half way up the level of the bread, so add a little more milk if you need to.

5. If you have time, allow the bread to absorb the milk for half an hour.

6. Top the pudding with the reserved sugar and bake in a medium oven for thirty minutes.

7. Serve warm as a pudding, or cold, sliced like a cake.

Note: You could also try using home-made applesauce or fruit preserves instead of raisins in between the bread slices.


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Dandelion Jelly

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Dandelions have sure gotten a bad rap lately, and many home owners are trying to combat them using pesticides that contaminate our soil and ground water. Nothing found in nature is by accident, and the dandelion is no different. Just think about it’s bright fluffy attractive flower. The dandelion is the very first food for the bees, and comes out before any other flower. Before the bees move on to the fruit blossoms, they strengthen their hives with the healing benefits of the dandelion.

Folks in the past understood the healing benefits of this wonderful “weed”. Dandelions come in spring, gather the heat of the sun, and cleanse the body from the toxins accumulated over winter. They have long been used by Native American, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and many European cultures to cure an array of conditions from upset stomachs to liver disease. The roots, leaves, and blossoms have all been eaten fresh, brewed into teas, and even made into a honey-like syrup. Europeans often add the fresh leaves to salads. They are delicious, and very high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and Calcium.

My children love to run around collecting those fluffy bright flowers, and I hated to see them wasted in a Dixi cup on the counter. I had heard of dandelion jelly, and thought we would try our hand at putting those 222 tiny petals on each of those wonderful spring flowers to work. It has proven to be a cost efficient substitute for raw bee honey. The flavor is a little florally with a semi sweet after taste. It does tend to crystallize, but melts nicely over hot toast or into tea.

Dandelion Jelly

Ingredients

3 cups of dandelion heads
3 cups of water
1 tbsp vanilla extract or 2 vanilla beans split
Lemon cut into 3-4 thick pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks.

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Directions

1. Bring to a rolling boil, and simmer 30 minutes.

2. Turn off, and allow to steep 6 hours, or overnight.

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3. Strain (using a cheesecloth set in a strainer, over a bowl) until no more liquid is dripping out. I also squeezed any extra out by hand.

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4. Return liquid only to the pan, add 4 cups of sugar, and simmer at a low rolling boil for 2-3 hours. Stir ever 20-30 minutes to prevent burning to the bottom.

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5. Sterilize jars, and rims, and pour hot jelly into hot jars. Secure lid, and you’re done.

6. Store in a cool dark place for up to a year.

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Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows plums, apples, pears, a variety of berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Eating Bark: How to Harvest and Prepare Edible Bark Without Harming the Tree

 

Eating bark probably sounds like something you would only want to do in a desperate survival situation. But surprisingly, bark can be both nutritious and tasty. It is also something that can be foraged at any time of year, even in regions with harsh winters.

Bark has a long history of being used as food. Adirondack, the name of a region of New York State, means “bark eater.” It was the name given by the Mohawks to the Algonquins who lived in that area. The Nez Perce also used bark, not only as survival food, but as a food of choice. And bark is a traditional food of many Scandinavian cultures.

What Is Edible Bark?

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of how to eat bark in ways that are A) sustainable (the harvest doesn’t kill the tree), and B) tasty (not just “edible” but “good”), let’s define “bark.”

With rare exceptions (I’ll get to one of these at the end of this post), edible bark is not the dry, scruffy stuff on the outside of the tree trunk or branch. Instead, foragers are after the inner bark, which is the layer just under the rough outer bark. This inner bark includes the phloem, cambium, and outer secondary xylem (sapwood)..

These tissues combine in a layer that is soft, lightly sweet, and more nutrient-dense and digestible than the outer bark or the heartwood. Why?

This is the layer that contains the transport tissues through which much of the water and minerals comes up from the roots, and where the sugars produced by photosynthesis travel down from the leaves to the rest of the plant. The cambium layer is a region of active growth that produces xylem and phloem, as well as cork. This combination of water, nutrients, and sugar transport plus a meristematic (active growth) region makes the inner bark layer moist and flavorful.

How NOT to Kill a Tree When You Harvest Its Bark

Once you understand that the inner bark is the transport zone for water, nutrients, and carbohydrates in a tree, it becomes obvious why “girdling” the tree can kill it. Girdling is cutting off a strip of bark around the entire circumference of the trunk.

Think about it: Let’s say you’ve removed a strip of bark all around the trunk of the tree. Some of the water coming up from the roots hits that cut and can’t make it up to the branches and leaves.The leaves are busy photosynthesizing, but the when the sugar they are creating tries to travel down to the roots, it hits your girdling slash in the bark and can’t go any further. The gap in the transport zone kills the tree. What we need to do as foragers, if we want to harvest inner bark without killing the tree, is ensure that there is plenty of intact cambium, phloem, and sapwood around the trunk to enable that transport up from the roots and down from the leaves.

Another issue to be aware of is the risk of disease and infestation. A big, gaping hole in the bark can be an invitation to fungal infections and bug problems. There are three solutions to both the girdling and the disease/infestation issues:

Windfall

The most surefire way not to hurt the tree is to keep an eye out for freshly fallen branches after a storm. Once separated from the tree, the inner bark dries out quickly and is no longer good to eat. But if you find some freshly fallen branches within 2 to 3 weeks after a storm, go for it.

Come in at an angle with a pocket knife and work down the branch in strips. You’ll be able to feel the harder wood layer below the inner bark. Strip off the layer just outside that. You’ll be getting the dry outer bark as well, but you can peel or rub that off later.

Prune a Branch

Another option is to prune a branch from the tree or shrub and then strip the inner bark from the branch. Correct pruning methods should be used to minimize disease potential, most importantly cutting just past the branch collar. The branch collar is the slightly wider area where the branch attaches to the tree. It contains special tissues that rapidly heal the cut, but they can’t do their job if you cut off the branch flush with the trunk.

The Narrow Vertical Cut

The last method is a narrow, vertical cut on the main trunk. There are numerous examples of indigenous peoples on more than one continent having used this method. And although many arborists would advise against it, in my experience there is a way to do this without causing any permanent damage to the tree.

Use a knife to score a vertical rectangle in the bark. The rectangle should be no wider than an inch. This is important, because the wider the wound, the longer it will take the tree to heal, so keep it small. Making the strip vertical rather than horizontal minimizes interruption of the tree’s food and water transport zones.

Keep scratching across the four sides of the rectangle in a tic-tac-toe-like pattern until you hit the harder wood beneath the bark. Slip the edge of your knife under between the soft inner bark layer and the wood, and pull the inner bark off in strips.

It is much easier to use this method on young trees with relatively thin outer bark. Not only is working with young trees easier on your foraging knife, but such trees recover more quickly, in my experience.

You should not, however use this method if you know you are in a region where Dutch elm disease, butternut canker, mountain pine beetle, or emerald ash borers, or other tree diseases or infestations are a problem (thanks to fellow forager Doug Mueller for the reminder about the ash borers). If you’re not sure if these problems apply to your area, contact your County Extension office and ask.

Trees with the Tastiest Edible Bark

Of the edible barks I’ve sampled so far, these are my favorites. Where I haven’t given a species name, it means that all the species within that genus have bark that is edible and safe to eat.

Birch (Betula species)

Linden (TIlia species)

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

Pine (Pinus species)

I have no doubt there are numerous other safe and tasty edible barks out there. Let me know if you have experience with any not on my short, personal “tastiest” list.

Note that not all woody plants have edible bark. Some may have other edible parts, but inedible bark. For example, some may have edible flowers (e.g. Wisteria), or edible flowers and fruit (e.g. elderberry, Sambucus), but all other parts of the plant are poisonous. Remember the first rule of foraging: if in doubt, leave it out.

Rule Breaker: Shagbark Hickory

It is almost always the inner bark of trees that is used for food, but an exception is shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). Its craggy outer bark, which peels off the tree easily, is popular among foragers as a syrup flavoring. Roasted and then simmered in sugar, maple, or other syrup it gives a wonderful nutty, caramel flavor…but that’s a future post.

Pine Bark “Bacon” Recipe

Use only thin strips of fresh, moist pine inner bark for this recipe.

Remove the outer bark and any green, resinous parts. Heat a lipid of your choice – oil, butter, or animal fat – in a skillet over medium high heat. Use just enough oil or fat to coat the pan.

Fry the pine bark strips on each side until they turn reddish brown, about 1 – 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with salt while still hot. You can play with the seasonings: I like a little ground chipotle for smoky flavor. Or cook them in a pan over a campfire and get a naturally smoky taste that way.

Hot from the pan, the texture will be slightly crunchy and slightly chewy, with a hint of sweetness…very much like bacon. Once cooled and stored for a few hours, you’ll have more crunch than chew, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Other Uses for Edible Bark

Birch bark makes a lovely infusion (black and yellow birches especially, because of their wintergreen flavor, but I’ve enjoyed other birch species as well). Ground into a flour, it can be used in baked goods such as the Birch Bark Shortbread recipe in my book The Forager’s Feast.

Other inner barks can also be ground into flour. Slippery elm bark has a mucilaginous texture when cooked in water. This means you can boil it up into a thick porridge that has a reputation for being good for recovering from extended illnesses. It has a lovely maple-like flavor. And it soothes sore throats, coughs, and tummy troubles.

Another inner bark with medicinal properties is willow. It contains salicin, which the body converts into salicylic acid, an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving precursor for aspirin.

There is one use for edible inner bark that I’ve seen mentioned on the internet, and that I advise you against: bark as pasta. The idea is that you take skinny strips of cambium and boil them and then add a sauce. I’ve tried this several times, and have yet to arrive at a texture I found palatable. If you manage to pull it off, let me know what the secret is.

Leda Meredith teaches foraging internationally and is the author of several books including The Forager’s Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles and Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can find more of her recipes and food adventures on her blog and videos, and in the new, updated edition of her memoir Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch.


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Make a Ras-el-Hanout Spice Blend for Moroccan Chicken Skillet, Chai Tea, and More

 

Having special spice mixtures ready at hand on the spice rack makes preparing exotic dishes quick and easy. Keep your blends in an airtight spice jar and make fresh every year. I couldn’t find ready-blended Ras-el-Hanout even in my upscale grocery, so I mixed up my own. I looked at blends by a few chefs, a few more online and created my own.

Ras-el-Hanout is a blend of common spices that gives extraordinary flavor excitement to something as simple as a one skillet chicken dinner. If your grocery (or a friend’s) has a bulk spice department, you’re in luck picking up small amounts of whatever spices you don’t have on hand. For larger amounts of spices, I like Atlantic Spice.

While you acquire the spices, you’ll probably want to make some fresh preserved lemons, which will often be paired with the Ras-el-Hanout. Go here for an easy method of preparing your own homemade. When you need the extra lemon juice for the preserved lemons, be sure to pull the peel off the lemons first and candy these for your stash of frozen Pantry Essentials. (Read how to do that here.) No work involved. I tuck the finished lemon peel into a freezer bag, add a little of the syrup left, and put it into the freezer for all sorts of future treats, such as lemon pound cake, Christmas Stollen, and panetonne.

I’ll start with a small quantity of spice — after you’ve made the chicken skillet, you’ll probably want to triple the amounts and mix up a bigger jar. There are a lot of ingredients, just assemble them along with your mortar and pestle or spice grinder so that blending takes just a few mouth-watering, aromatic minutes.

Ras-el-Hanout Spice Blend Recipe

Ingredients:

• 1 tsp whole cumin
• ½ tsp whole coriander
• 1 tsp whole black pepper corns
• 1 tsp whole white pepper corns
• ½ tsp whole allspice
• 1 tsp whole cloves
• ½ or a small bay leaf
• whole nutmeg
• optional: a few dried red or pink roses
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• 1 tsp ground turmeric
• ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
• ½ tsp ground cayenne
• 1 tsp paprika

Directions:

1. Grate enough of the whole nutmeg to make ½ tsp of fresh nutmeg.

2. Put the whole spices up to the cloves into your mortar or spice grinder. If you use a grinder, you can “flush” it with a teaspoon of sea salt, then go ahead and add this to your blend. Grind the spices, than add all the pre-ground spices and crumble in the bay leaf and rose petals. Those are pretty left in discreet pieces.

3. Funnel the blend into an airtight spice jar and keep in a dark place.

Moroccan-style Chicken Skillet Recipe

This is a very simplified version of a chicken tagine, prepared without a tagine and on the table in less than a half-hour. You’ll figure the proportions with your family in mind but use plenty of healthy vegetables.

Serve with saffron couscous

Ingredients:

• Boneless chicken pieces
• Ras-el-hanout spice blend
• Onion, color bell pepper, plenty of garlic and other veggies such as carrot and turnip or eggplant.  Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
• A little chicken stock
• Preserved lemon wedges
• Pitted green olives

Directions:

1. Start with boneless, skinless chicken pieces, sliced or pounded less than ½-inch thick. Pat the chicken dry, then very generously sprinkle with the ras-el-hanout. Don’t salt yet — the salt will begin to “cure” the chicken. Put the chicken into a plastic bag and marinate in the refrigerator all day or overnight.

2. Put a nice spill of olive oil in the skillet and, over moderate heat, sauté the chicken until it’s nicely browned.  While you sauté the chicken, cut up the veggies. Cut hard veggies smaller than the pepper; you want them softer.

3. Now season the chicken with the sea salt and pepper. It doesn’t need to be cooked through yet. Remove to a plate while you sauté all the vegetables, adding another sprinkle of spice plus sea salt to taste. When the veggies soften a bit, nestle the chicken pieces back into the skillet, pushing them to the bottom. Add just a little chicken stock, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender and thoroughly cooked.

4. Scrape the pulp from preserved lemon wedges, cut the rind into slivers and add to the skillet. Add the green olives. Cover the skillet and continue to simmer gently for another few minutes.

5. Prepare couscous according to the proportions on the box, stirring a pinch of saffron if you have it into the water before you add the couscous.

6. Serve the chicken and veggies over the couscous, arranging it so some lemon and olives are on top as garnish.

Spicy Chai Tea Recipe

On a cold day, nothing short of brandy is as warming as spicy Chai. On a steamy hot summer day, serve over ice.

Many years ago, I had never heard of Chai when I read a piece in a magazine. It sounded tempting, so I tried some. The original recipe I tried directed mixing all the spices, heating them in water and then adding milk and sugar directly to the mixture, bringing that back almost to a boil, then straining out the spices. That was the way I made it for awhile until I decided it was much too messy and too milky. Here’s the way I do it now.

Ingredients:

• ¼ tsp whole cloves
• ½ tsp whole coriander seeds
• ½ tsp preserved (candied) ginger
• ½ tsp whole black peppercorns
• ½ tsp whole fennel seeds
• 1 tsp whole green cardamom pods
• 1 tsp whole allspice
• about a tsp crushed nutmeg
• 1 whole star anise
• 2 inches cinnamon stick
• 1 heaping tbsp black tea leaf

For serving:    

• 3 cups cold water
• 4 tbsp best honey, to taste
• milk, to taste

Directions:

1. For efficiency, I mix several batches of spice and tea in individual small plastic bags so I can just grab one already blended when I want Chai.

2. Put the spices into the water and bring to a boil. Steep the tea and spices in a teapot, then strain into mugs, add honey to taste and milk if you like milk in your tea. If you have a big tea strainer or little muslin bags that works even better.

Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Herb Queen of the Spring: Stinging Nettle

Here in the Appalachian Mountains, spring creeps across the landscape. Despite a vicious cold spell that swept across our curvy hills, wild edibles are emerging in our valleys, meadows, and forests. One of the most nutritious and energy-rich of these wild edibles is a dark-green weed with a ferocious bite. Stinging nettle is her name, and though she bites with shockingly strong needles, her leaves are well worth harvesting, for they are extremely nutritious and fortifying for the body.

As the renowned herbalist Susun Weed writes in her herbal e-zine, “Nettle is amazingly rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially the critical trace minerals: anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron. A quart of nettle infusion contains more than 1000 milligrams of calcium, 15000 IU of vitamin A, 760 milligrams of vitamin K, 10% protein, and lavish amounts of most B vitamins.”

Nettles are also high in vitamin C and iron, making them an excellent supplement for pregnancy, bone and blood health. Here at Wild Abundance, a permaculture and primitive skills school just north of Asheville, North Carolina, we harvest nettle in these early months of spring, while the plant is still young, and relish the taste of this health-giving herb. Here in Appalachia, we also gather a native woodland nettle (Laportea Canadensis) as well as the common stinging nettle (Urticaceae), which grows across North America, Europe, through Asia and in northern regions of Africa.

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The nettles’ sting is thought to increase circulation and help relieve the pain of arthritis. When harvesting in the early spring months, when the plant is still young, Natalie Bogwalker, the founder of Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering, considers the sting to be beneficial, healing the pains in her hard-working hands. “I'm careful to only touch the nettle with the insides of my hands, as it doesn't seem to sting that part,” says Natalie. “My inner wrists and forearms seem to be pretty sensitive, but if I do get stung I think of it as good medicine for my over-used arms. Later in the season, [when the plant's sting is strongest] I tend to always where gloves, long pants, and closed shoes.” Gloves and proper attire are recommended for the novice nettle collector!

Below you’ll find two recipes for stinging nettle, plus Wild Abundance’s favorite preservation technique (courtesy of Natalie Bogwalker). Harvest while you can, and enjoy the many benefits of this nourishing wild food!

Fresh Nettle for the Adventurous Only

From Natalie Bogwalker: “I make salad from wood nettles simply by massaging the greens to disable the stinging hairs. I then chopped it very fine, and add nuts and dried fruit with a vinaigrette. One time, years ago, I did not massage the wood nettles quite enough to disable all of the tiny hypodermic needles. I served the salad to my boyfriend at the time, and he got stung in the mouth, and made a very big fuss. I haven't made this particular salad since then, but I do still suggest making it, especially if you are more adventurous than faint of heart when it comes to the sensitive inner tissues of your mouth.” Massage vigorously and well, add oil, apple cider vinegar, a splash of honey, fresh chopped garlic, salt and ground black pepper. Keep massaging!!

 A Recipe for Long Life and Abundant Health: Sautéed Nettles & Shiitakes

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil or butter
2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 fair-sized finely sliced onion
5 cups stinging or wood nettle leaves or tops, chopped
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
3 cloves chopped garlic

Directions

1. Heat oil over medium flame.

2. Add shiitakes, cook, uncovered, stirring until mushrooms release and then reabsorb moisture.

3. Add onions, cook for about 5 minutes until translucent.

4. Add nettles and tamari, cover, cook until tender, about 4 minutes.

5. Add garlic, stir uncovered over flame for about 2 minutes. Enjoy.

nettles (1) 

Preserve the Abundance: How to Dry Nettles

From Natalie Bogwalker: “I harvest the tops of plants about 1/3 down the plant. This encourages regrowth, and prolongs the flower-free period by harvesting the plants in this manner. Take note: herbalist and ethnobotanist Frank Cook would say that nettles could contribute to kidney stones if eaten when flowering.

“I like to hang long strings attached to hooks or nails in an indoor space where the humidity tends to be lower and more constant than our moist and lush Appalachian environment. I hook one leaf of each stalk over the string. You can really pack the nettles on the string, with stalks about ½ inch apart. I wait for the stalks to completely dry, unhook one end of the string, put it into a large paper bag, and slide all of the nettles into the paper bag.

“Once the nettles are in the paper bag I crush the leaves and green matter into this bag, and pull out the rather fibrous and inedible stalks. I then pour the resulting nettle flakes into clean glass gallon jars or food grade buckets. I keep them tightly sealed, and try to store them in a dark place. 

“As well as making a nutritive and iron-rich tea, these green flakes make an excellent addition to stews, get mixed right into egg mixtures for omelets, combine well with ground deer or beef and feta cheese (optional) for nettle burgers.” Enjoy!

Wild Abundance offers an array of homesteading and permaculture courses throughout the spring, summer and fall including, a Garden School, a Wild Edibles Foraging Adventure, a three-day festival on primitive skills called The Firefly Gathering, a Women's Basic Carpentry workshop, an Advanced Women's Carpentry workshop, a Tiny House & Natural Building Workshop, a Permaculture Design Course, the Cycles of Life: Humane Butchering & Slaughtering weekend workshop, Hide Tanning, and an Ancestral Foods Cooking Class and more!

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a student with Wild Abundance, a writer, gardener and beekeeper in Asheville, North Carolina. Check out her other articles written for Mother Earth News here.  


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.