Friday, September 30, 2011

Wild Grape Juice

On Monday I took all the grapes I had picked the day before and washed them in this big tub.
I skimmed off the leaves and dead, dried up grapes that floated to the surface of the water.

In another container, a 5 gallon food grade plastic pail, I put in about a dozen clusters of grapes at a time. I crushed the grapes with my grandmother's sauerkraut stomper, covered with a plastic bag so it wouldn't get too stained.

When enough juice was released from the grapes I strained them through a colander into the biggest pot I have. I highly recommend doing this part outside and wearing clothes that you don't mind getting stained, because this is messy work. I also wore rubber gloves whenever I had to handle the crushed grapes so that I wouldn't absorb any of the tartrate crystals through my skin, which can be very painful. The seeds, stems, skins and pulp leftover, went directly into the compost.
When the pot was full, I brought it in and strained the juice through my reusable coffee filter and a jelly bag. I repeated this process until the pot was empty.

The containers of juice sat in the fridge for a couple of days to allow the tartrates to settle out to the bottom. You can see the 2 or 3 inches of tartrate sludge in the jar on the left, and about an inch in the one on the right.

At this stage I carefully poured off the tartrate free juice into smaller bottles.

I ended up with about a gallon of drinkable juice and four cups of tartrate sludge that got composted. The juice is drinkable at this point, but it is very strong and quite tart. Diluting it with water or other fruit juices, however, makes for a very refreshing beverage. If you have a sweet tooth you definitely want to add a sweetener. You can also take the juice and make grape jelly or wild grape wine.

I have way more juice then I will go through in the next little while so I put most of this into the freezer to enjoy at a later date. I think some of the apple cider I pressed a few weeks ago with a hit of wild grape juice, sometime in the middle of January, will be a welcome treat!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Viva Vitis!

I was out harvesting harvesting wild grapes and black walnuts with friends on Sunday.
The grapes are prolific this year. The area we were in was full of them.

The clusters were nice and juicy! And tart!

I'm using the grapes I picked for wild grape juice. I'll post about that process later this week, but you can read about how Sam Thayer does it here.

When harvesting wild grapes, be sure you don't confuse them with Virginia Creeper (the small berries with the red stems in the back of this pic) or Canada Moonseed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kawartha Ecolgoical Growers

A few weeks ago, the ADG and I travelled to the beautiful Kawartha Lakes area to visit a friend. My friend lives on a farm with two of her friends. Together, the three friends make up one part of a CSA collective called the Kawartha Ecological Growers (KEG). The KEG is unique in that over 20 small, family farms from around the Kawartha Lakes have come together to offer delicious produce, meat and preserves to CSA members in Toronto, all year round. From their site: "Working together allows us to reduce our emissions through shared transportation, build community amongst small scale sustainable growers, and provide a large variety of local, sustainable food to local chefs, eaters and non-profit organizations within 100 miles of the source."
We timed our visit on the weekend of their harvest party for members, friends and fellow farmers. Corn and sausage cooked over a grill. Long tables were filled up with potluck meals. Tents were pitched in the fields. Coolers were filled with ice to chill beverages. Children ran around, giddy on fresh air and open spaces. There was a tomato tasting with about a billion different varieties of tomatoes I had never heard of. The yard was dotted with groups of people chatting and laughing.

The amazing ChocoSol crew were there with their bicycle powered mill, grinding up fresh corn for tortillas and beans. Their specialty chocolate drink was there too. (If you've been to the Hillside music festival in the last few years, you probably have tasted this out of this world, frothy chocolate deliciousness in a cup!)

The party was in part a fundraiser to eventually get this bus running on veggie oil with solar power refrigeration.

Over in another field, an entertainment section was set up, so when everyone had their fill of yummy food and the sun went down....

...we lit the bonfire and the samba band started to play. Everyone shook what their momma gave them rather vigorously. After the samba band, King Roller hit the stage. Their set had to be cut short though, due to a lightening storm. What followed was the craziest, most beautiful light show I have ever seen. The lightening seemed to go on for hours. The ADG and I found a quiet spot in the tomato patch to watch in wonder and awe at what nature can do. The end of the night found people crammed into a tiny shed, dancing until the wee hours to Bollywood tunes. I missed most of that since I was already snuggled nice and cozy in my little tent, listening to the sound of the rain that finally came.

The next day, people slowly crawled out of their tents one by one. Someone put coffee on, more tortillas got made with scrambled eggs and hot peppers. One of the fires was stoked and what corn was left got cooked over the hot coals. More sausage came out. Fresh apples and carrots too. Children ran around and played, small groups of people chatted and laughed. Revelers packed up and trickled out, back to their homes, and the ADG and I rolled on down the country road.

What I really loved about this visit, aside from catching up with a dear friend I rarely have the chance to see, was the sense of joy, celebration and community from a group of people getting together to share food and have a good time. There was a feeling of letting loose after a long season of hard work and a kicking up of the heels for a job well done. It was a twinning of food and festivity the way it should be. There were no big-box, plastic platters of dried out veggies and dip. This was no pop and chip party. All the food came from a place that had meaning for most of the people there. It was food that told a story of farmer, soil, rain, eater and the relationship between them all. It was a kind of experience I never get from the grocery store, and I was so very glad to have been a part of it.

If you live in the GTA check out the KEG's CSA.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This Cider House Totally Rules!

For the second year in a row, I've had the great good fortune of being invited to a friend's cottage to pick apples and press some cider!
There are quite a few apple trees growing near the cottage, so the group went out on Saturday afternoon to gather apples.

The best way to get the apples down, was to climb up the tree and give it a good shake.

A hook over a sturdy branch and apple pickers work well too.

Once our baskets were full we brought them back for cleaning, sorting and pressing, most of which happened on Sunday.
After the apples have been cleaned, sorted and the really rotten and wormy bits cut out, they go into the hopper for grinding. This sweet set-up has a DIY electric grinder, set over a hand turned grinder for maximum crushing action.

The crushed apples go through the grinders into a big, plastic garbage pail set underneath.

Once the pail is full enough, the crushed apples go into the press.

The wooden blocks are assembled....

...and the pressing begins!

Mmm....delicious cider! We all got to take some home and we filled a giant carboy that our gracious host plans to turn into hard cider.

Some of the cider crew.

In between pressings there was time to take in the beautiful view.

What a fabulous weekend with a truly wonderful group of folks!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Get Cultured

I'm leading a fermentation workshop tomorrow night with the Resilient Kitchen. I will demonstrate how to make kimchi and sauerkraut and you'll be able to sample some finished ferments too.

All the details here!

And if you're on Facebook, you might want to check out the wonderful Wild Fermentation group. There's a lot of excellent information and first hand experience from a great community of fermenters.

I've also been enjoying the Sophisticated Peasant.

And check out these two videos from Cultured Organic.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Matheson House

On our visit to Perth last weekend, the ADG and I stopped in at the historic Matheson House. Built in 1840, four rooms have been restored to reflect life during the Georgian and Victorian eras. I loved having this glimpse into the pre-industrial past.

Our museum guide led us into the family room, decorated in typical Victorian style. Many of the items in the house are original and belonged to the Matheson family.

I thought the built in cupboard was super cool. The china was quite beautiful and lovely to look at, but I probably would use this as my apothecary and fill it with herbs and tinctures!

I fell in love with this lamp.

This is the upstairs drawing room. More formal and uncluttered, in the style of the Georgian period, it would have been used to entertain guests.

Maximum lounge-ability!

All that high-caste fancy stuff is nice and all, but my favourite place in the house was the realm of the servants: the kitchen.
Just look at all the wonderful kitchen implements.

The top floor of the house contained display cabinets filled with local history and lore, including the pistols used at the last fatal duel in 1833.
There was also a stunning dollhouse replica of the Matheson house.

The outside grounds contain a Scottish garden, kitchen herb garden and an outdoor bake oven. Being so late in the season there wasn't much to see out there and I suspect the gardens aren't as well maintained as the interior of the house, especially during the off season.

All in all, the ADG and I enjoyed our visit very much.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Juglans nigra

I love fall foraging far too much to mourn the passing of summer. This is the season of hips and haws, nuts and roots and knowing that first kiss of frost will sweeten so many fruits and mellow the bitter bite of dandelion greens. I am especially excited for black walnut season this year, as many of the trees I've been keeping an eye on, look to drop a pretty decent crop.

The ADG and I spent a night in nearby Perth on the long weekend, and while walking through beautiful Stewart Park and around town, we realised that this picturesque place is full of gorgeous black walnut trees!

It's a touch early in the season yet, and most of the nuts are still attached to their branches, but a recent storm had let loose enough that, as we walked, we gathered what we found on the ground.
I love the clean, citrus-y smell of black walnut hulls, that comes from the chemical juglone. It's very antiseptic and in herbal medicine the hulls are used to treat a variety of conditions including parasites and skin conditions like ringworm and fungal infections. The round shape make the nuts fun to play with and roll around in your hand like Chinese medicine balls. Nature's hand sanitizer! They're great to give to kids to play with, to help keep those little hands germ free.

That same chemical juglone is allelopathic to most other plants. That means walnuts excrete the chemical to ward off competition from anything else that might want to grow too close to it. Here is a perfect example of the chemical warfare going on. I have no idea what tree the grapevine in this pic has completely taken over, but I can see the walnut right next to it no problem. The grapevine will get no foothold there.

Interestingly, the chemical is also toxic to black walnut babies. The parent tree doesn't even want its own children to get too close. Which is why the nut has such a smooth, round husk. When it falls from the branch it has a much better chance of bouncing and rolling far enough away and out of reach of the chemical influence of the parent. So in this case, the "apple" does fall far from the tree (or at least tries to).
Not all of them fall on the ground though. The ADG spotted this nut from the bridge and went down to retrieve it. Can you see it?

Good eye. Thanks ADG, you're awesome!

We hit the jackpot behind a municipal building and filled our sack to the top, while still leaving plenty behind for the squirrels.

Harvesting is the easy part. Processing black walnuts is a bit labour intensive and finicky work. First, the hulls need to be removed. Removing them without gloves will stain your hands dark brown for weeks and weeks and weeks. I learned this, literally first hand, a couple of years ago. Oh and the hulls sometimes have maggots in them, which is gross, but harmless to the quality of the nut.

Next, the shells need to dry and cure for about 6 weeks. Finally, you can crack them open to enjoy the absolutely delicious nut inside. However, the shells are damn hard to crack and the nuts are comparatively small. Many a home inventor has tried to come up with a decent way to crack the shell and remove the nut easily. Why would someone go through all that effort you might ask? Did I mention how absofrigginlutely delicious the nut is? It really is an amazing tasting nut. Seriously.

Thankfully, Perth isn't the only burg 'round these parts where black walnuts grow. The tree is native to Eastern North America and there are many black walnuts growing in and around the Ottawa area. I've mapped out over a dozen in my wider neighbourhood alone. This time of year I often find evidence of black walnuts when squirrels leave behind the chewed off husks on the sidewalk and paths. Then I know to look up and around for a tree nearby. Last year I found a black walnut tree after spying a squirrel running away with a big green nut in its mouth!

If you find a black walnut, only harvest what has fallen on the ground as those are the ones that will be ripe. If you find a tree growing on private property, it might be worth chatting with the owner. Many people find the nuts a real nuisance. They get caught in the lawn mower and can stain light coloured objects. They will probably be happy to have you take them away.

Here is some helpful information on processing black walnuts, and some more info on the medicinal uses.