where the wild things are. salted and pickled cherry blossoms

The bright weather this past week, though a bit cold, has really making me think spring! Pretty soon the West Village will be flush with blossoming Magnolias and Quince and Cheery blossoms. It is one of my favorite times of the year in New York and always reminds me of home. 

For me the seasons have always been marked by the comings and goings of botanicals. It is a little harder to notice these changes in New York unless you have a back yard or a country escape. To get your fix, you can visit the Green Market or make time to visit the Botanical Garden, which is just spectacular in the early spring and summer. You can also set out to explore one of New York's beautiful tree lines streets like many in the West Village or Brooklyn.

Recently, I needed salted cherry blossoms for a shoot and when the Internet came up empty (you can order them fro Japan but it would have taken too long) I have to admit I had never heard of them! I turned to Heidi Johansen from Bellocq Tea Atelier. I knew that if any one had a stash of salted blossoms it would be her!! Heidi is kind of magical and she produced these mysterious salty pink flowers of nowhere!

Now that the season is upon us, I have decided to create my own stash.

Sakura tea, or salted cherry blossom tea is often served at weddings or other auspicious events in Japan. It has a delicate salty and sweet flavor. It is fragrant and woody. The saltiness obviously comes from the salt but the sweetness is imparted through the flowers natural flavor and additional soaking in Plum vinegar.

Salted Cherry Blossoms 

2 cups of fresh cherry blossoms.

IF you have a  cherry tree in your yard you can pick from there or you may be able to pick up some branches from your local farmers market but be sure to ask if they are natural and pesticide free. You will want to pick them before they are full bloom when they are buds to a little more than half bloom. 

6 tablespoons of Japanese pickling salt

6 tablespoons of Plum vinegar

Wash the blossoms and set on a paper towel or kitchen cloth to dry. Gently pat until all the water is removed from the blossoms.

Place in a pickling croc or a shallow terra cotta croc.

Place a plate or a lid on top of the flowers. You will want this lid to fit nicely in your vessel. (I used a plate)   Then weigh it down with a weight of some sort. I used a river stone. You can buy a fermentation croc or you can use a vessel that you already have and weigh it down with a homemade weight.

Leave it in the fridge for two days. The salt and the pressure of the weight will force any liquid from the blossoms. 

After two days remove them from the fridge and drain off any excess liquid. My blossoms did not express much liquid.

 After draining any excess liquid. Place the blossoms in a glass bowl and add the Plum vinegar.

 Cover  and Refrigerate for another three days.

After three days strain the flowers through a sieve to remove any vinegar. Spread them out on a baking sheet covered in parchment.

Sprinkle thoroughly with pickling salt and set on your counter in the sun to dry or outside in a protected spot.

Allow drying for two or three days.

When the flowers are completely dry they are done. they will discolor a bit.

Store in a glass jar and cover tightly. They are preserved will last indefinitely.

Finally you can enjoy a cup of Sakura tea!

Boil some water and drop three or four petals in your teapot.

Don't be shocked! It is salty! It is an acquired taste!

Sakura Rice.

Rinse a handful of blossoms to remove excess salt.

Add to your rice in a rice cooker or on the stove. The blossoms will impart a lovely pink color to your rice.

 Here are some more ideas on what to do with salted cherry blossoms.

Below is a recipe from T Magazine

Salted Cherry Blossoms Adapted From Uni Sashimi Bar

2 cups rice vinegar¼ cup sugar½ teaspoon kosher salt1-inch piece fresh ginger, smashed1 umeboshi plum (available at Japanese markets or health-food stores)½ teaspoon grenadine syrup8 ounces cherry blossoms, or other edible blossoms.

1. Combine all ingredients except the cherry blossoms in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

2. Put the cherry blossoms in a heat-resistant container and pour the just-boiled liquid over them; stir gently to submerge the flowers completely in the liquid. Cool, cover tightly and keep in the refrigerator for at least three days before serving. The pickled blossoms will keep several weeks in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup.

Some other ideas..

Chop afew of the blossoms up extra finely and use as a special salt.

I am also thinking Salted Cherry Blossom shortbread?

Need to experiment with this one. 

This beautiful tea pot and cups from Jessica Niello at The Perish Trust

where the wild things are. the blue pearl.

One afternoon, a couple years ago, around a tiny fire outside their farmhouse in Southern Vermont, Les Hook and Nova Kim cooked up some wild mushrooms we had gathered that morning nearby. In a  large cast iron pan, they seasoned them with nothing more than a little butter or olive oil and some salt and pepper. It had just begun to snow steadily when we set out to gather. Large fat flakes  floated around us amd landed on our eyelashes.Les pulled over in his red Subaru, flashers glowing in the wild flurry of white. He deftly put up a twenty-foot ladder against a slippery maple tree and quickly climbed up. He pulled of the biggest Blue Pearl Oyster Mushrooms I have ever seen off that tree. We drove back to their place and lit the fire. It was then that Nova told us about her non-turkey, perfect for vegetarians on turkey day or for any feast any time of the year for that matter. You must start with a large fan of a mushroom, as you can see from the photo it kind of sweetly resembles a turkey's tail! Though I have roasted many a mushroom from them, it took me two years to get to this post. I asked Nova to save me a large Blue Pearl that I would pick up from the New Amsterdam Market. Luckily my snail mail reached her in time and I was able to get a beauty from them the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I kept in a paper bag on my fire escape until cooking day. Now I know I have sung their praises before but people, if you have not been to the market on a day when they are there then you are SERIOUSLY missing out. If you are interested in finding out when The Vermont Wild Food Gatherer's Guild will be in town go to The New Amsterdam Market website and check the vendor and calendar listings! They always have something special and if you have never been to the market then what are you waiting for? It is every Sunday from 11-4pm.

Back to the mushrooms...

The mushroom I got from Les and Nova was held together by a stretch of bark. I left the piece of bark on the mushroom while I roasted it.

I brushed the mushroom with a generous amount of olive oil and sprinkled it with French sea salt cracked black pepper and thyme.

I put in my largest Cast iron pan...this was a BIG mushroom 14 inches across at least. I threw it in the oven at 350 degrees for a slow roast and when it started to brown at the edges I put about a 1/4 cup of water in the pan and covered it with tin foil to add a little more moisture. Mushrooms are essentially like sponges so they soak up all that moisture. I may not have needed to do this if I had roasted it right away but since I had waited a few days I thought it might help to add the additional moisture.. I took the tin foil off for the last five minutes or so of cooking. I can't give you a specific cooking time because it depends on how big or small the mushrooms are that you are roasting. So use your intuition. You want it to be moist and almost meaty when you slice it.

We loved this so much that we could almost forego the turkey next year and just eat this!

It was really good with gravy... 

Thank you Nova for this brilliant idea!

Roasted Wild Blue Pearl Mushroom Tail

Set your oven to 350 degrees 

1 large Blue Pearl Mushroom fan approx 12-14 inches in length

1/4- 1/2 cup olive oil brushed and drizzled on the mushroom

Seas salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

Sprigs of Fresh Thyme

Gently brush any dirt or debris off the mushroom with a small mushroom brush or a small pastry brush

Place the mushroom upright in a large roasting pan or cast iron skillet

Brush and drizzle with olive oil. Mushrooms really soak it up so be generous with your application.

Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper

Add some fresh thyme leaves and a sprig or two for looks

Place in the preheated oven and roast for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of our mushroom.

Put about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water in the pan and cover with tin foil

When the water is all evaporated the mushroom will be done. 

Uncover for the last five minutes or so.

The mushroom should be moist and easy to slice along the grain.

Cooking time really depends on the mushroom size so keep and eye on it!@ You don’t want it to be too tough!!!

As always, a word of caution where wild mushrooms are concerned. Leave the gathering to an expert!!

where the wild things things are no. 12. dandelion.

There is nothing quite like the first signs of spring. It is still relatively cold up here in the Catskills but the first signs of spring are all around. The woods are colored with vibrant green patches of ramp and the edges of nearby streams are dotted with clusters of wild watercress. In my own yard and bleak garden beds are a few renegade early dandelions. The name dandelion comes from the French word Dent de Lion, meaning lion's tooth. It is named so for it's jagged sharp tooth like points on its leaves. I decided to cook the dandelions I needed to pull from the garden beds and to roast the roots for a coffee substitute. The best time for dandelion greens, which are rich in vitamin A and C and Calcium, is when they are quite small early in the season before they produce flower buds. Later in the season they become too bitter. The early settlers used dandelion as a spring tonic to get a boost of the vitamins they lacked over the long cold winters.

My grandmother used to talk about eating wild greens both dandelion and chicory which grew wild in the hills of Puglia. I am not sure she really got her fill living in Long Island City. When she moved to Vermont in the mid 60's she was able to get clean pesticide free wild greens from the local farmers.

The whole plant is edible from the leaves to the flower to the roots. I sautéed the greens and made some dandelion toasts as well as a dandelion frittata. I then roasted the roots on a baking sheet until they were brittle and made quite a delicious coffee like substitute. In fact, I could grow to like the roasted dandelion roots very much.

You don't need a yard to get your dandelion on; they are available in the spring at most farmers markets. I saw they were starting to turn up the past few weeks at the Union Square Greenmarket. Prepare them anyway you would sautéed greens or make a pesto or a soup. The possibilities are endless. How will you get your spring tonic on?

I will post recipies in the next few days..but really this is meant to inspire whatever dandelion recipe you can conjure up!

where the wild things are no. 10. juniper pickled onions.

Strangely, I have been craving juniper this past year. It started late last Summer, upstate, with a series of wild cocktails and juniper stuffed trout. I have since experimented with a number of recipes and drinks, to which my friends can attest, as I have plied them with many a juniper tipped cocktail.  I had never really incorporated juniper into my cooking in the past but now, I don't think I could live without it!  It should really have come as no surprise to me that I would like it this much. I do, after all, love gin, that brilliant aromatic spirit, spiced with juniper and other aromatic herbs and spices. I discovered gin in my early twenties.(Right now my two favorites are Hendricks and Breuckelen  Gin.) Juniper smells both medicinal and like the darkest forest floor. It is very complex. I have many Juniper recipes to share but for now I will post my current obsession; juniper pickled onions! Once you try them, there is no turning back.

 

Juniper Pickled Onions 

 

 (I added a few shallots to this recipe)

3 cups Japanese Apple Cider vinegar

(you can use Bragg's Raw Cider Vinegar if you want, I used what I had on hand)

1 tablespoon dried Juniper berries

1/2 tablespoon crushed Juniper berries (crush with mortar and pestle)

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon black pepper corns

3 tablespoons sugar

 

 To make the brine:

Add the spices and sugar to the 3 cups of vinegar

Heat to a boil in a non-reactive pot

Turn off and allow to steep for 20 minutes for the spices to infuse

In the mean time, thinly slice 2 medium  red onions

 

After 20 minutes, heat the brine to a slow simmer.

Divide the onions into thirds and drop into the brine for 20 seconds.

Remove after 20 seconds with a slotted spoon and set aside.

The onions will turn a brilliant pink.

When all the onions have been run through the brine, turn it off an allow it to cool.

When cool put the onions in a Weck or Ball jar or some other airtight storage container and pour the remaining brine over the onions.

The pickled onions will last for a couple of weeks in your refrigerator.

winter sherbet and sorbetti.

I have become obsessed with making winter sorbets. It started with the pile of beautiful tropical fruits from Maggie at Flying Fox. We ate as much as we could and then the frugal New Englander in me took over and I set to work on a buttermilk, citrus and passion fruit sherbet. It was such a hit that I had to pry it out of Lula's hands just so I could photograph it! There was no singular flavor that took over, instead, hits of passion fruit and mixed citrus mingled with the sourness of the buttermilk perfectly. I think the addition of buttermilk is here to stay and perhaps sherbet will even make a comeback in our house! The next morning I made a wild ginger and lemon sorbet. I happened to have wild ginger but you can use regular ginger just as easily. It was both tart and a little spicy, like my favorite wintery drink, the ginger steamer. Today, with two pink grapefruits in hand and a desire for some brighter color, I set to work on a grapefruit-beet sorbet. I know this may sound a little strange but I added a beet for color and bit of flavor to the grapefruit juice and sugar mixture while heating. The beet added just the right amount of pink as well as a little earthiness.  

Pink Grapefruit Beet Sorbet

2 large juicy pink grapefruits

1 beet

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup of water

Juice the two grapefruits this should give you about two cups of grapefruit juice. (if you find you need more juice, then squeeze a couple more until you get two cups)

Peel the beet and cut in half and quarter.

In a large saucepan combine the grapefruit juice, the beet one 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar.

Heat on medium and bring to a boil for two minutes.

Remove from the heat and strain the juice into a separate bowl removing any pulp or seeds and beet parts.

Set the juice aside to cool.

When cool add to your ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.

 

Mixed Citrus and Buttermilk Sherbet

2 cups of mixed citrus juice

2 passion fruits

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sugar

 

Juice the citrus until you get two liquid cups. Don't worry about seeds and pulp you will strain later.

(I used pink and white grapefruit, tangerines, honey oranges and lemons. You can use whatever citrus strikes you.)

Cut the passion fruits in halves and scrape the seeds into the juice mixture.

In a large saucepan combine the citrus and passion fruit mixture with 1/2 cup of buttermilk and 1/2 cup of sugar.

Heat on medium and bring to a boil for two minutes.

Remove from the heat and strain the juice into a separate bowl removing any pulp or seeds.

 

Set the juice aside to cool.

When cool add to your ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.

 

Wild Ginger and Lemon Sorbet

2 Cups lemon juice

1 inch piece if wild ginger or a 1 inch piece of ginger

1/2  cup water

1/2 cup of sugar

Juice the lemons until you get about two cups of juice. 

Coarsely chop the ginger or the wild ginger and add to the lemon juice.

In a large saucepan combine the lemon juice, the ginger, 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar.

Heat on medium and bring to a boil for two minutes.

Remove from the heat and strain the juice into a separate bowl removing any pulp or seeds or ginger.

Set the juice aside to cool.

When cool add to your ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.

 

When serving grate a little ginger on top.

I find that making sorbets is a little tricky. They never freeze solidly nor are they meant to. Experiment with the amount of sugar you use depending on whether or not you like sweetness or tart but do remember that sugar lowers the freezing temperature of water so the more you use the less solid it will become.

I use a standard Cuisinart ice cream maker, nothing fancy. The only drag is that the bowl must live in the freezer and you can only make one batch at a time in between refreezing the ice cream maker bowl. I do know there are more expensive versions that do not live in the freezer. For now, I am content with the one I have but perhaps soon I will step it up to a more pro version.

Have fun and be inspired!

I am thinking pomegranite next...

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Mixed Citrus and Buttermilk Sherbet                        

Wild Ginger and Lemon Sorbet

Pink Grapefruit Beet Sorbet

  Wild Ginger and Lemon Sorbet

  

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Where the wild things are. no.2. elderflower vodka.

My sweet friend India made this elderflower vodka at the height of summer when the elderberry bushes were laden with blossoms. I imagine her, one baby in the sling and the other, Odette, trailing happily after her, sun hat tied tight, on some wild adventure to pick the elderflowers on Bramley Mountain Road. A recipe, from another friend at Eating From The Ground Up, inspired this vodka.  Elderflowers are the palest of cream or the color of summer butter. Their saucer-sized blooms are east to spot. They smell both sweet and a bit spicy. They are best picked before the scorching noonday sun causes their delicate aroma to fade. You will need to make the cordial immediately after picking the flowers. Take note of where you find your blooms so you can return in September to pick the deep purple black elderberries which are high in vitamin c and other antioxidants. This past weekend I made a delicious elderberry sorbet, but they are most commonly used for jelly.

 

Elderflower vodka adapted from Eating From The Ground Up.

 

Vodka

Elderflowers

Sugar

 

Place about 20-25 elderflower heads in a mason jar (don’t pick them all if you want elderberries later in the summer!)

Cover the flowers with vodka and seal the jar tightly

Place in a cool dark place for 4-6 weeks to age. (The vodka in this photograph was left longer, about 8 weeks)

The liquid will turn anywhere from a buttery yellow color to a deeper amber, depending on how long you leave it to age.

After the appropriate time, strain the flowers off with cheesecloth and pour the liquid back into clean Mason jar

Add 1/2 cup of sugar and shake to dissolve. When the sugar is dissolved the cordial is ready to drink.

elderflower vodka aged 8 weeks