Friday, May 29, 2009

Riversong Garden

The 'P' Garden
Since moving to the country in 1987, I have always had a herb garden. BIG herb garden. We went from downtown Toronto to Riversong cabin: 18 acres on the Saugeen River in Grey county. There we planted the first of several 'teaching gardens' from which we gave our famous Herb Walk and Gourmet Lunch programs. 

The Herb Walks were an all-day affair, starting with a light herbal breakfast and introduction to the herbs of the season, and moving on to a tour of the roadside, meadow and riverbank wild herbs surrounding the cabin. The climax to the day came with a 6 or 7-course meal that featured all of the wild herbs we had gathered along our walk.

In fact, my first cookbook was a compilation of the three-season recipes I had developed over the 6 years of leading the Riversong Herb Walks. With subsequent moves, the herb walks became a memory only, and I moved on as well..

Which brings me to my newest herb garden. We call it the 'P' garden because TheBigGuy–landscape designer and head gardener poobah–decided that the center of the raised garden should be in the shape of a P (for my name, in case, like me, you didn't get it the first time).

First we tracked the sun as it came around the mill, which looms higher on the south side than even our building, because as everyone knows, herbs need 8 hours of sunlight to thrive. Then we designed the raised beds and TBG built them. Living in a small village with its own brewery has some definite advantages, and we were offered 21 25-kg bags of spent grain from the beer-making process, which we mixed with 3-way soil. [The soil was actually hot when we started planting out the herbs.]
While TBG was hauling around soil and grain mash, I was up on the second floor pouring over Richter's catalogue. About 200 plants were ordered, and last weekend, they went in. Here in southwestern Ontario, the golden rule of planting is "not before the 24th of May weekend" due to rogue frosts that are prone to devastate new seedlings.

A whole week later and two days of obliging gentle rain, and the plants are looking exceptionally healthy...enough so, that we have already enjoyed the first of many fine green salads...

Herb Society of America

I'm in Grand Rapids
I'm off on the annual herbal adventure with the Herb Society of America June 3 to 7 at their annual conference. This year is special for me because I will receive the Gertrude B. Foster Award for Excellence in Herbal Literature.

While there, I will be joining other herb experts and enthusiasts on garden tours, seminars and workshops. I am planning a guest blog for The Herb Companion magazine on the garden tour/s, and will highlight some of the events here and I will be on the prowl for new ways to use herbs in foods when I get back, so check back here the week of June 8.

For those of you who are always looking for my next herbal recipe, I do apologize–I have been developing, testing and photographing, but they are all recipes for my latest books and I can't make them public before they are published. Once back and settled into my routine though, I should be able to share one great herb recipe a week all summer. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


It's Alive!
Here are the first of the 'furry things' - Hope you had fun with them!
They were all photographed at the end of April, early part of May.
The fungus isn' t exactly a plant, but I threw it into the mix as a dried up thing.
Promise to get the last three up shortly.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Almond-Orange Cake

Sweet Cicely the Star of this Flour-less Cake

Gerarde (The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597) writes about Sweet Cicely, "It hath leaves of a very good and pleasant smell and taste like unto Chervil and something hairy, which as caused us to call it Sweet Chervil. The leaves of the Sweet Chervil are exceedingly good, wholesome, and pleasant among other sallad herbs, giving he taste of anise seed unto the rest. The seeds, eaten as a salad while they are yet green, with oyle, vinegar and pepper exceed all other sallads by many degrees, both in pleasantness of taste and sweetness of smell and wholesomeness for the cold and feeble stomachs. The roots are likewise most excellent in a salad with oil and vinegar, being first boiled, which is very good for old people that are dull and without courage."

For more information on both the cultivated Sweet Cicely (M. odorata) and the native plant (O. chilensis), visit my guest blog on Cuisine Canada .

Almond-Orange Cake

8-inch springform pan, lined with parchment paper and lightly buttered

preheat oven to 375° F

Serves 6

1-1/4 cups blanched almonds

4 eggs, separated

1 cup caster sugar, divided

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sweet cicely

grated rind and juice of 3 oranges (about 1-1/4 cups juice and 3 tablespoons rind)

1 tablespoon Anisette or other anise-flavored liqueur, optional

1. Using a food processor, chop the almonds until they are coarse. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with ½ cup of the sugar until thick. With the motor running, add the yolk mixture through the opening in the lid, processing until the mixture is thick and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the orange rind. If the mixture is too thick, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of the orange juice, until it is of batter consistency.

2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar over and beat until the peaks hold their shape. Fold half of the meringue into the almond mixture until just evenly mixed. Fold the other half into the almond mixture, being careful not to over mix in order to keep the air in the whites.

3. Spoon the almond mixture into the prepared springform pan. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until set in the center and a light golden color. Cool and transfer to a serving plate.

4. Make orange sauce: In a saucepan, combine orange juice and remaining sugar. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Adjust heat and lightly boil for 10 minutes, or until thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur if using. Drizzle the orange sauce over the top of the cake and let sit for 20 minutes or longer before serving.

5. To garnish, lay fresh sweet cicely leaves over the cake and sprinkle icing sugar or cocoa over the leaves to impart a leaf pattern. Garnish the serving plate with fresh sweet cicely leaves.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rubarb's Ready

Rhubarb is Rarin to Go

In Bashia's garden, from this taken on April 16, 2009

 this, taken today!
stay tuned for rhubarb recipes.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wild Leeks

Wild Leek Loaf
Green and garlicky and fresh, wild leeks are going to star in my potluck contribution to the Women's Culinary Network meeting in Toronto on Tuesday evening. I am looking forward to seeing my foodpals and smoozing.

This is not a potluck like any other potluck and I did angst over the dish that I would slide onto the groaning board. Would my humble loaf sidle up to that of a well-known daily paper editor? Or would it rub rims with the globetrotting best selling cookbook author/photographer's exotica from Thailand? Who knows. But for sure I wanted to bring something that would tell a little bit about me.

Where to start? Probably with my moniker: Culinary Herbalist. THAT sounds good. Even though I tell people I am from Toronto, which I am, I live in the country now: Bruce County, Ontario's beef country and the gateway to the Bruce Peninsula. 

So why not bring something that speaks to wild herbs: Wild Leek Loaf. Perfect. 

But like anything, there is a knack to cleaning these small bulbs. You can see the shovelful that we took at the top of the blog. 
To clean wild leeks:
Grasp the leek in one hand.

Pull the short, dirty outer layers of white skin back over the roots.

Snap off the root end along with most of the dirt.
Wash bulbs and leaves in running water, drain and dry. 

Here is my recipe for one of the most flavorful plants found at our feet.

Wild Leek Loaf

1/3 cup chopped wild leeks, save 6 whole, with leaves for garnishing the top

2 cups chicken stock

½ tsp salt

1-1/2 cups couscous

3 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 tbsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp red pepper flakes, optional

1 small zucchini, diced

8 oz/228 g mushrooms, chopped

½ cup chopped roasted red bell pepper

1. Line a 2 L (8 cup) loaf tin with plastic wrap, letting it overhang on the long sides. Lay 1 or 2 the wild leek(s) on the base of the tin, set aside in a cool place. Set aside remaining whole leeks for garnish later.

2. In a saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and stir in salt and couscous. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.

3. Meanwhile heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and onion for 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the garam masala, coriander and red pepper flakes if using. Cook, stirring frequently for 1 minute. Add the remaining oil and cook the zucchini and mushrooms for 7 minutes, or until soft. Let cool.

4. Add the onion-mushroom mixture and the red bell pepper to the couscous. Cover and chill for an hour. Press the mixture into the tin, pressing it in and around the leek on the bottom of the tin. Fold the plastic wrap over to cover. Weigh down with food tins and chill overnight.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Both Chuck and Simon know their horsetail. Perhaps because they are both farmers at heart and see it popping up in fields. 

The picture to the left was taken last Sunday and already it is over a foot high. You can see where it is muscling out everything in its path.

Here's what Chuck has to say about the species of horsetail growing near him:

Your mystery plant is what I have always known as horsetail, an Equisetum species I believe. The horsetail I know has vertical ridges on the stems, and is very abrasive, I think due to its high silica content. Sometimes it is called "scouring rush" for this property. It's what Jim Long uses in his foot soak for toenail fungus, too. It grows along ditchbanks here like the "gone wild" photo you sent, usually on the shady side of the ditch or in slightly moist sites, where more aggressive grasses predominate. For all I know, there may be hundreds of species of Equisetum. The trouble with common names is that they aren't usually that uniform across geography.

Chuck sent this link for more interesting information on both Eleocharis and Equisetum (horsetail and other interesting common names).


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Name That Furry Thing

Tune in on  Friday May 8 for the new Mystery Herb but just in case you are hankering for a new challenge, here is my Name Those Furry Things- probably only once will I do this.

Basically, these are all plants. Well. One might not be a plant exactly, but none are animals.
I have not manipulated or rotated the photos, just cropped them. 
I don't know what you will WIN if you name them all. Some sort of BOOK. Give it a shot and I will post All of your guesses...


Congrats to Simon who correctly named Horsetail as the Mystery Herb. My little herb handbook, Oregano is going out to him or he might want this book if he doesn't already have it.

Horsetail- Simon gathers it and dries it to a powder for some of the best silica locally grown. 

I used horsetail in hair rinses and to soak my nails to strengthen them. I have even made a tea from young horsetail gathered before the end of May. 


This is the little spore head - this was taken Sunday May 3.

A WASP in my Scales?

Help, Waiter! There's a WASP in my Scales
I know he's small and, well, sort of helpless. I know better. He only looks helpless because he's behind glass. The glass of my food scales for heaven's sake. I managed to spend [PatSpeak: waste] a good half an hour watching him crawl all over the place this morning.

Then TheBigGuy came along to see what had caught and actually held my attention for so long, and without a "sorry little guy" warning, pressed down on the scales causing the measuring arm to swing over, something like a windshield wiper blade, and the thing disappeared. 

I think I can see a wing still clinging to the arm. And happy to have been of great help, TBG was gone, leaving me to ponder this: Where has TLG gone? And will I ever be able to weigh ingredients without a thought about his body lying somewhere in the lower mechanism of the scales. And then, are the scales now accurate? or should I be allowing for TLG's bodyweight? But how to calculate the loss of his weight over time as he dries up and turns to dust?
These are the deeper questions that arise in the life of a foodie.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Wild Leeks

Foraging for Wild Food- All in one day
Here it was the first really really beautiful day of spring for us here in Bruce County and TheBigGuy and I were out along the trails. We happened to be in the right place at the right time, because there were so many things blooming. 
I was especially tickled to see the wild ginger (Asarum canadense) in bloom because that single burgundy bugle is hard to see growing as it does from the base of the 2 heart-shaped leaves. And it lasts for a very short time. We gather the rizomes of the wild ginger that creep along the top of the forest floor. It can be used in teas and dried for winter blends.

Too early for the leeks to bloom, and once they do, it is so hard to find them because the leaves have died back, but right now is the perfect time to dig. Of course we made sure we only took one shovel full from the largest patch, leaving 90% of the patch to keep growing for future years. I plan to use them in a bread stuffing for a fresh roasted chicken tonight.
Of course, always growing right near the leeks, and always in deciduous forest, is Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), the medicinal and helpful plant especially for women's ailments. We caught it at that perfect time when the yellow bloom is at its peak and you can see the small blue berries that grow larger as the season progresses.

Bloodroot, that plant that stays wrapped up in its own leaves until the afternoon sun warms it and it unfolds into the delicate white flower we saw today. Native peoples used the blood red root as a skin and fabric dye.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Guest Blog

I'll be at the Herb Companion every month with a new post.

Visit the Herb Companion and view my Green Garlic post with a Roasted Chicken and Green Garlic recipe.

Check out the Name That Herb Contest today. This herb is used in some cosmetics and old English texts tell of its use as a pot scrubber. It is a very old form of plant life. WIN a Kasbah or Oregano or Pelargonium herb handbook by correctly naming this herb. 


All photographs and recipes are original and copyrighted to Pat Crocker. Pat invites you to use her recipes and share with family and friends. Please contact Pat Crocker for express permission for commercial, internet, or other use of her photographs and recipes.