Come spring and summer, our neighborhood is a showplace, with myriad multi-colored blossoms decorating front yards and back. Aside from the crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths, our yards bloom with magnolia, azalea, rhododendron. And dogwood.
And of all the flowering trees, it turns out that the dogwood produces edible berries, a fact I only learned about ten years ago. As an avid wild food forager, I feel stymied every year that I can’t get enough berries to do anything constructive with that knowledge. Now I can’t tell if, up ’til now, birds have been eating the berries or if the trees just don’t feel like delivering every year. But for the first time ever, this year the dogwoods on my little street have produced a bumper crop of these bright red spiky orbs that resemble — sorry, folks — big coronaviruses.
So, this past bright and sunny Sunday morning, neighbor Dale (a really good sport) and I brought out our buckets and loaded up a couple of gallons from the tree in her front yard.
We did all this with the intention of making jam. I had found a recipe online and was thrilled to know I had all the ingredients on hand, including pectin. But the recipe called for seven — SEVEN — cups of sugar. I cut it down to four.
The jam turned out tasty, but way too sweet. And it was not jam. It was syrup.
So, back to the internet I went. Apparently, pectin needs lots of sugar. But SEVEN cups?? Not gonna happen.
Then I had a hunch.
I just happened to have some clear, unflavored gelatin in the house. So, as an experiment, I poured the runny stuff from one jar into a pot and added some gelatin powder, heated, and stirred until the gelatin dissolved. I then poured it into a clean jar and said a little prayer.
The next morning, it was actually jam.
It’s still far too sweet, but if we ever do get dogwood berries again, I’ll be all set — as will the jam.
Photo by Dale Valena
If the sky is clear we’ll have some luck.
July’s full moon is called the Buck
Because new antlers on male deer
Means they are growing. Cause for cheer!
The next full moon, known as the Buck Moon or Thunder Moon, will rise in the night sky this Friday night, reaching its peak at 10:37 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. And, due to the fierce wildfires across the western United States, it may appear red in color.
If the sky isn’t clear, no worries. NASA tells us that the moon will appear full for about three days from Thursday to Sunday.
We just returned from a long weekend in Vermont, visiting our daughter and her family. Along the sides of the road we passed dozens and dozens of fields — hundreds, if not thousands of acres of fields covered in a blanket of yellow. I’ve never, ever seen so many dandelions in my life.
And it was so convenient of them to appear just this spring. After all, I’d been waiting for dandelion season in order to make a recipe from one of the cookbooks I’d reviewed over the winter. Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Lore and Recipes features a recipe for dandelion syrup that the author, Darra Goldstein, says can be poured over blini, pancakes, or even yogurt. And since I love to forage for wild foods, I couldn’t wait to take up the challenge.
But Goldstein writes that that the Russian woman who gave her the recipe was very clear that one needs precisely 350 blossoms in order to make the recipe correctly.
With hubby, my daughter, her husband, and two little ones closer to the ground than I, we made fairly quick work of harvesting pesticide-free flowers. But I wasn’t counting, and the bag seemed light, so I figured we couldn’t possibly have picked close to 350 dandelions. We continued picking.
When I’d finally decided that we might have enough, daughter E took the bag-o-blossoms to the porch and counted out precisely 350 sunny blooms. There were probably another 300 left in the bag — and still another 25,000 in their yard.
It took over two hours to prepare the recipe, following the instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, while cooling on the counter, the syrup hardened into a rock. I tried immersing the Mason jar in a pot of boiling water. Still hard. And just our luck, the 19th century farmhouse the kids live in has no microwave oven, so I schlepped the jar home and nuked it. Success! For about 20 minutes we had syrup, which then hardened.
We zapped yet again and had just enough time to dip some challah into the syrup. Not bad, but certainly not worth over two hours of labor, propane, and lots of sugar for something that E says tastes like Ricola cough drops. (Nephew Jeff innocently asked what would happen once it hit our intestines. I don’t want to know.)
I did have one thought after seeing the golden fields. While dandelion greens make for a good salad green, if scientists would just put their minds to work on ways to develop dandelion blossoms into a nutritious food (without gobs of sugar), it might just help to alleviate world hunger.
I’m currently in the midst of cleaning for Passover and, while dusting off my cookbook shelves, I found a gift from my mother-in-law, a Julia Child cookbook inscribed to me. That started me thinking of the movie Julie and Julia, which then got me thinking that it’s time to start a new project. Because I’m often asked to review cookbooks, I have a LOT of them, but so many others that go untouched from year to year. So, I’m going to try to make one recipe picked at random from each book over the next several months. Let’s see how that goes. There’s quite a selection: Chinese, Spanish,Italian, Asian, African, Israeli, Persian, Lebanese, Syrian …
Gotta go. I’m getting hungry.