Friday, July 24, 2009


ANGELICA- this week's NTH
It's difficult to identify plants from such a small picture, I know. This week was a bit more difficult because the flower resembles other plants, Queen Anne's Lace being the most popular guessed.
At the very last moment, Susan came through with this week's herb: ANGELICA. She collects one of this week's books as her reward. Tune in Monday for next week's NTH and your chance to WIN.

Angelica archangelica grows wild where I live, but I never use it from the wild because it so closely resembles deadly hemlock (Water Hemlock), which grows in the same locations, in wet, boggy areas. ALWAYS USE CAUTION WITH WILD PLANTS. Hemlock is toxic.

If you purchase angelica from a local herb farm, you know that you have the correct herb.
I have candied the young stalks in a simple syrup. This takes several days where you simmer the stalks in the sugar/water mixture for 30 minutes to an hour and then cover the saucepan and let it sit for 24 hours in the syrup. Next day, you repeat the process. After 3 or 4 days, the stalks have absorbed the sugar and the next step is to let them dry before storing in an airtight container.
I use candied angelica in drinks, to decorate cakes or cupcakes and to flavor desserts. Its anise flavor is mild and fragrant.
In the summer when the huge leaves are abundant, I use them to wrap salmon and trout for grilling. I soak the leaves in a bucket of water for at least an hour or overnight, prepare the fish with pesto or tapenade, and wrap the angelica leaf around each portion. The fish steams inside the leaf pocket, lending its light anise flavor to the fish (you could use vegetables in place of the fish).
Of course, the leaves may be eaten cooked or raw like any leafy green.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Elderberry Trees
Some very early translations of the Bible mention a small, stringed musical instrument named sambuke. The frame of this instrument was made from the hollow branches of the Sambucus or elder tree. There are many different varieties of Sambucus, most being more shrub than tree. The variety that grows wild here in Bruce County is Sambucus canadensis, which bears dark purple, almost black berries. This variety has naturalized here, the elder tree being native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.

I have used both the flowers and the fruit in recipes and there are many recipes for elderflower or elderberry wine. The flowers form in large, creamy-white flat-topped clusters and their taste is somewhat bitter when nibbled right off the tree. (DON'T try eating any wild plant until you have verified it as edible. There is a dwarf elder that bears poisonous berries!). The fragrance and pleasant taste of the flowers is developed with the syrup or wine-making process, or in cooking them. I have made elderflower fritters by dipping the flowerheads in a light batter and frying them in olive oil.

The berries, which you see just forming in the shot below, taste a bit like blackcurrants and are made into conserves and jam. As the berries form and ripen, the stems that once bore the flowers turns from green (top picture) to dark red (picture below). You can substitute elderberries for currants or gooseberries in preserving recipes.

Elderberry Syrup ©pat crocker
In anticipation of the elderberries, which won't be ready to pick here until late August, early September, this is my recipe for a smooth-finished, rich and fruity, sweet-tart syrup. Splash it into white wine or champagne, sparkling mineral water, smoothies, milkshakes and all sorts of cocktails and mocktails.
1 lb elderberries or red or black currants
grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1 cups water
1 cups granulated sugar

1. In a saucepan, combine elderberries with orange rind, juice and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes, crushing the berries with the back of a wooden spoon. Strain the juice through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a non-reactive bowl. Press the pulp to release as much of the juice as possible.

2. Meanwhile, sterilize a 1-pint (2 cups/500 mL) jar in hard boiling water for 15 minutes.

3. Return the juice to the saucepan and stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil hard for 1 minute. Skim and discard any foam. Pour hot syrup into hot jar. Cover with flat lid and metal screw band. Allow to cool completely. Label and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Name that Herb Winner
YOU were correct in naming this week's herb as Elder.
The picture is of an elder flower.
Please e-mail me-
you can choose one of the following books:
The Gurus' Guide to Serenity
Summer on a Plate by Anna Pump and Gen LeRoy
or one of my herb handbooks:
kasbah herbs
pelargoniums (scented geraniums)

Friday, July 10, 2009


The Big Taste of Bay
Congrats to the 2 individuals who knew that this week's NTH is Bay. This is the arbor in France from which the small detail on the right was taken. How wonderful it would be to live in zone 8 were it grows to be a tree, not the twig I have here in Bruce County.

Bay is one of my favorite herbs because with its sweet, slightly pungent balsamic aroma and spikes of nutmeg and camphor, the beauty of cooking with bay is that it releases its flavor slowly, so that it is an essential herb for slow, long cooking techniques. That's why I call it one of the Big Tastes- it hangs in there for the long haul, not like some of the other more delicate herbs that are really flash-in-the-pan tastes.

Indeed, stocks, soups, stews, sauces, marinades, stuffing and pickles benefit from the addition of fresh or dried bay leaves. Garnishing cooked or cold-pressed paté or terrines with a leaf or two infuses the spicy essence of the Mediterranean, its native homeland. Fish dishes are enhanced by the combination of bay and fennel; lamb and other robust meats may be stewed or grilled with bay as a key ingredient; bay adds the characteristic flavor to béchamel sauce; tomatoes, oregano, thyme and bay are the foremost ingredients in tomato sauce; bay is a popular herb used to flavor wines; and it is positively brilliant in baked bean and lentil dishes.

Boquet Garni is the French name for a bundle of cooking herbs tied together with string and used to flavor slow-cooked dishes. Whole fresh sprigs and leaves are preferred but dried herbs are a practical option. The traditional Boquet Garni combination is thyme, parsley and bay. Often the sprigs of thyme and parsley are wrapped in a large bay leaf, tied and hung to dry and stored in a cool, dark place for using throughout the winter months.

Sweet dessert dishes also benefit from the addition of bay. Custard, poached fruit, sweet sauces, simple sugar syrup, and rice desserts are richly complex thanks to the addition of bay.

Bay complements the following herbs in foods:

Allspice Oregano

Cardamom Parsley

Garlic Sage

Loveage Savory

Marjoram Thyme

I have found that many supermarkets are now selling fresh leaves in the produce section, so look there first–besides being more flavorful, the fresh will be larger and less expensive than dried bay in a jar. Fresh leaves store best if wrapped in a moistened tea towel and placed in a sealed plastic bag on the door of the refrigerator. Fresh leaves need to be rubbed or crushed to release their aromatic compounds. Eventually the fresh leaves will dry. Keep dried bay leaves whole in an airtight container in a cool dark place. Store dried bay leaves for one year and then replace with fresh because the essential oils dissipate over time.

Usually whole leaves are added to foods at the beginning of the cooking time and removed at the end. One or two whole leaves are enough to spice up a dish that serves 4 to 6 people. Rarely are bay leaves shredded before using, except when being used in a tea blend, because the smaller bits are too difficult to remove from the cooked dish. Even more rare is ground bay because the whole leaves flavor dishes without the trouble of grinding.

What people often overlook is Bay's big taste in desserts. Try these poached peaches with the Bay Custard and tell me what you think?

If you have any unusual ways of using bay in cooking, I sure would be happy to hear about them and post them here for other BayHeads.

Poached Peaches with Apricot Ginger Sauce

Use other fruit such as pears, nectarines, apples and plums in place of the peaches.

Makes 8 halves

1-1/2 cups apple juice

1/2 cup white wine

Half vanilla bean Half

1 3-inch licorice root, optional

1 bay leaf

4 peaches, halved and stoned

1/3 cup finely chopped dried apricots (or roughly chopped fresh)

1 tsp finely chopped candied ginger

1 cup yogurt, optional for garnish

1. In a large skillet, combine apple juice, wine, vanilla, licorice and bay. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Add peach halves, cut side down. Cover, reduce heat and gently simmer for 7 minutes or until peaches are crisp-tender.

2. Remove peach halves from poaching liquid, set aside. Remove and discard vanilla, licorice and bay from poaching liquid. Add apricots and ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is reduced and syrupy.

3. . Arrange peaches on individual plates, spoon apricot sauce over. Garnish with yogurt if using. Serve immediately.

Rosemary Custard

Infusing the milk as it heats imparts not only the flavor of the herbs but their medicinal benefits as well.

Serves 4

1/2 cup soy or rice milk

1 whole (3-inches) vanilla bean

1 bay leaf

1 sprig rosemary

12 oz firm ‘silken style’ tofu

1. In a small saucepan, combine milk, vanilla, bay and rosemary. Cover and bring to a light simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and cool with lid on. Strain and discard vanilla, bay and rosemary.

2. In a blender or food processor, process tofu for 30 seconds or until smooth. With motor running, add infused milk through opening in the lid. Custard should be blended and smooth. Store: Cover tightly and keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

Serve: Spoon over poached pears, peaches, cherries or baked apples. Pass as a sauce for gingerbread or breakfast grain dishes.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lady's Slipper

A Northern Orchid
Driving into Cypress Lake Hiking Trails this past Monday, we spotted clumps of these beautiful native orchids growing by the roadside. A quick bound out of the car and I had some good shots.
Also called 'American Valerian' (probably due to its most common use, I'll get to that later), Lady's Slipper really does look like a dainty slipper. Well, I think it really looks like Minnie Mouse's shoe. The Latin name is Cypripedium pubescens or C. hirsutum, Cypripedium being Greek for 'Venus's slipper'. I have even seen it referred to as 'squirrel shoes'. A bit sloppy on their dainty paws I would think...
Not surprising that I would find at least one orchid on that trip up the peninsula in Bruce County even though it is late June. The Bruce Peninsula is rich in native orchids– some 44 wild species, giving the Bruce Peninsula the "distinction of having one of the greatest varieties of natural orchids in North America". WOW. The town of Tobermory hosts an Orchid Festival in the late spring every year.
Probably the best known of all the eastern North American orchids, Lady's Slipper is protected from picking or transplanting in many areas, so capture only on camera.
Here's a site that is actually cultivating Lady's Slippers and that sells the plants.

With a limited range: Nova Scotia to Ontario in Canada, Minnesota, Alabama and Nebraska in the United States (has anyone seen them in New England?) we need to be respecting their habitat: rich woods and thickets.
I found a great description in Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Enjoying Wildflowers by Donald ad Lillian Stokes. (My 1984 edition has a different cover, so hopefully the one listed on Amazon has the same information.) Does anyone have the book shown on the link? Does it have a 6 page description of Lady's Slipper?
As for uses, you can't eat the flower! And nowadays, you can't dig the roots, but I find it interesting to note that the roots of Lady's Slipper were once combined with and infusion of the bark of sassafras, along with cinnamon or lobelia and used externally as a liniment. [Native Plants by Richard Alan Miller. OAK Inc. publisher, Oregon, 1988]
Maud Grieve, in her book, A Modern Herbal says "The roots of several varieties...are employed in hysteria, being a gentle, nervous stimulant and antispasmodic, less powerful than Valerian."

And THAT is the reason the plant is sometimes referred to as 'American Valerian'.


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.