Posts tagged ‘weeds’

August 27, 2012

I fought the root and the root won…. cooking burdock roots

by Ciaran Burke

Bowl of cooked burdock roots- a tasty healthy snack

The story goes, George de Mestral took his dog for a walk and then invented Velcro. The Swiss inventor took his canine for a stroll one day sometime in the 1940s and upon arriving home he noticed that his dog has in this fur the spiky seed heads of Actium minus otherwise known as Burdock. The barbed seed heads attached themselves to the dog’s fur as they do to any fur or clothing that they come in contact with, this is the plants clever method of seed dispersal. Mr. de Mestral was fascinated by this and apparently examined the seed heads under a microscope and voilá…velcro was invented. Well, maybe not quite so easily.

The spiky seed heads attach themselves to clothes and animal fur

Burdock grows in our garden, especially under the old hawthorn tree in the woodland. Each year their impressive wide leaves wave in the wind to be followed by their thistle flowers, which then make fruits that attach themselves occassionally to one of our cats. Many a time I have cursed the burdock plant. Its roots go deep into the earth and I treated it with disdain, because I had viewed it as an unwanted plant, a weed. It was very hard to eradicate. But things have changed, or rather my attitude to plants, and what I condsider a nuisance or a weed has changed. As I grow increasingly interested in using native and wild plants for cooking and exploiting their culinary possibilities, it means that I now embrace a far greater range of plants than I did previously whenI gardened purely as a gardener interested in ornamental, exotic plants.

Burdock, Arctium minus is a handsome plant in its own way, broad dramatic foliage and emphatic thistle flowers of pink. It is a biennial, it dies after it flowers, just as carrots do. Also in common with carrots, the food stored in its long deep tap root can be exploited by us. In Japan, burdock is commonly used in cooking and is cultivated as a crop for its slender tasty roots. In Japanese the it is known as gobo. It is also used in England for making a traditional beer .

Cover the burdock root slices with water and add a good dash of soy sauce

To cook burdock the Japanese way, you cut the centre core of the root into slivers the size of match sticks and boil them in water into which a dash of soy sauce has been added. When the roots become tender, the liquid is reduced until the root pieces have absorbed all the flavour of the soy sauce.

Deep rooted burdock root

With this recipe in mind my wife Hanna and I decided to tackle a burdock root with a garden and tool of which she makes much use of called a Cobra Head. The Cobra Head tool is made in USA and is most effetive a removing weeds from the garden especially deep rooted weeds such as dock and dandelion. As she dug around the burdock root it became apparent, that even the Cobra Head was no match for the stubborn nature of a burdock root, they do not like to be dug up. After much digging and scraping, Hanna’s efforts to remove the whole root intact were in vain, the burdock root won, and a fair portion of the root remained deep in the soil as I finished the extraction process with a shovel.

Use only the central part of the root, burdock roots are best harvested before the plants have flowered

Luckily we had more than enough to work with for our tasty snack. When preparing a burdock root for cooking, wash it well. Then with a sharp knife remove the outer layer of the root and only use the central core. The outer parts remain woody even after cooking. The flavour of burdock root is mild and agreeable but the addition of the soy sauce when cooking gives it a salty zing. It is high in fibre, calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is low in calories. Also, as it is prepared in water and not frying it makes a healthy snack. I wish I had not weeded out so many burdock roots in the past…

Cooking burdock root slivers in water with a good dash of soy sauce

 

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May 20, 2012

Spruce Shoot Jam – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
New spruce shoots

New spruce shoots

Spruce trees are a common site in the west of Ireland, not just as part of the alien forestry that covers much of the land, but also you see groups of old trees close to houses, derelict old cottages and lived in houses like ours.

Spruce trees beside our house

Spruce trees beside our house

That is exactly what we have close to our house, very close. I guess that these spruce trees were originally planted so as to provide shelter from the frequent and strong west winds.Now they have grown tall and cast a shadow over the garden in the evening time. We plant exotic woodland species under them, and hostas thrive there.

The species often seen is Sitka spruce, Picea sitchensis, a fast growing species. It is the most widely planted forestry tree, a non-native species that is controversial. It is favoured by forestry companies due to its rapid growth but it does not do much for enriching the wildlife of the country. Beneath them nothing grows and they have a big impact on acidification of soils.

Spruce trees are a common sight in the west of Ireland

Spruce trees are a common sight in the west of Ireland

Spruce has been traditionally used as a cough syrup, in fact it is sold in health food shops in that form. Spruce syrup can be made which is quite tasty and sweet and also spruce cordial. I made the cordial which is very nice and refreshing when diluted with sparkling water. The spruce shoot jam is very good too, an almost caramel like flavour with a hint of, spruciness…

 

To make the jam I first cooked the spruce shoots in water, i used about 2 cups of shoots and covered them with water and cooked simmered for about four hours. After it cooled overnight I strained it through a muslin cloth and then kept the spruce liquid in the fridge.

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of spruce concentrate (see above)
  • 3 Large dessert apples, peeled, cored and chopped finely
  • 2 bottles (2 x 360ml) of apple juice concentrate
  • Juice of one lemon

Method:

  1. Wash the spruce shoots in cold water
  2. Add the apples, lemon juice and fruit concentrate to the saucepan
  3. Cook with a medium heat until the apple pieces are soft (about 15 minutes)
  4. Add the spruce concentrate
  5. Turn up the heat and cook until the jam starts to thicken, about 15-20 minutes
  6. Spoon or pour into sterilized jam jars and put lids on straight away

This made three jars of jam.

Fresh new growths in May on spruce tree

Fresh new growths in May on spruce tree

May 19, 2012

Primrose Petal Jam– Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
Petals in measuring jug

Petals in measuring jug

Primroses carpet the ground under an old hawthorn tree in our garden, the clothe the soil with a fragility and light, their gentle perfume is a delight. Primula vulgaris is a native plant, a wild flower that is always welcome in our garden. Each year they bring freshness and beauty to the Spring.

Their flowers appear delicate but they are robust plants. The petals of each flower untie at their bases to form a narrow tube that attached to the green stalk. Given a gentle tug, they detach easily from their bases. You can munch them and they taste nice, an unique flavour. I imagined a jam made from them…

Primrose flowers

Primrose flowers

Based on recipes for rose petal jelly and adapted to include some apple for abit of body here is a jam I made from primroes petals gathered in our garden last weekend. It is deilcious, a flavour which is a mix of fruity sweetness and a late hint of turkish delight…

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 litre of primrose flowers. When foraging for wild food, do not collect flowers, leaves or fruits from beside busy roads, or areas where they are exposed to possible pollution.
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1½ cup of fruit sugar Ii used Fruisana, a fructose based sugar which is lower in calories and has a lower GI rating than ordinary sugar).
  • 2 Apples, peeled, cored and diced finely
  • Juice of one lemon
Primrose flowers in saucepan

Primrose flowers in saucepan

Method:

  1. Wash the flowers in cold water.
  2. Add the flowers petals, water, lemon juice and apple pieces into a saucepan
  3. Cook with a medium heat until the apple pieces are soft (about 15 minutes)
  4. Slowly add the sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved
  5. Turn up the heat and cook until the jam starts to thicken, about 25-20 minutes
  6. Spoon or pour into sterilized jam jars and put lids on straight away

This made nearly two jars of jam.

pouring Jam into a jar

pouring Jam into a jar

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April 30, 2012

Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
15 - Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers

Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers

Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale , are the bane of many a gardener’s life. They pop up everywhere, their happy flower heads cheekily appearing in the lawn, in the borders and even in the driveway. They are however nice flowers, they spread like a golden coat over the spring green fields at this time of year. Soon their fluffy seedheads will take to the wind, only to settle in gardens, roadsides and fields. There the seeds will germinate and grow a deep tap root that breaks when gardeners pull them out. Even a small portion of the root remaining in the soil can grow back to taunt us. Well, revenge never tasted so good…

Dandelion flowers in the colander

Dandelion flowers in the colander

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 30 dandelion flowers, collected when fully open and fresh. When foraging for wild food, do not collect flowers, leaves or fruits from beside busy roads, or areas where they are exposed to possible pollution.
  • ½ cup of flower, we used wholegrain spelt.
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of coriander
  • ½ teaspoon of paprika
  • pinch of chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying, we used rapeseed oil.
11 - Fry the flowers until golden brown (2-3 minutes)

Fry the flowers until golden brown (2-3 minutes)

Method:

  1. Remove the green calyx from the backs of each flower (that is the green leafy bits attached to the base of the flower).
  2. Wash the flowers in cold water. Don’t dry them.
  3. Mix spices in a bowl with the flour.
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan.
  5. Dip each flower into the flour and spice mixture and place flower side down on the pan, about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Fry until golden brown and turn the flowers over, let them brown, another 2 minutes.
  7. Remove from the pan and drain on a sheet of kitchen towel.
  8. Eat immediately, savour the flavour and think of all the dandelions that wont be growing in your garden next year!
14 - Drain the fried dandelion flowers on a piece of kitchen towel

Drain the fried dandelion flowers on a piece of kitchen towel

A tasty snack in the evening after pulling weeds in the garden for a few hours.

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