Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sumac Spice

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an entry on using soapberries to make a mild detergent.



I learned about soapberries from a Facebook group called Oklahoma Wildcrafting.  Another thing I have learned by keeping up with this group is how to use native sumac seeds to make a kind of spice that has a tangy lemony taste.

There are many varieties of sumac, including Poison Sumac.  You don't want to eat that!  In general, the varieties that have red berries are edible.   The following is a picture of the typical native sumac shrub that grows along the roadsides and in the fields here in Oklahoma.


The spice is made from the seeds that make up the red clusters, like you see above.  Here's one of them.



Here's how to make the spice.  First, remove the seeds from the stem.  This can be quickly accomplished by rubbing the bunch between the palms of your hands over a piece of newspaper.  Then, pick through the seeds and remove any bits of stem and other debris.


Next, put the seeds in a mortar and grind them until the red coating comes off.



It should look something like this.



Pour the mixture into a sifter and shake the bits of red seed coating into a dish.  It is the seed coating that you want for the spice, not the inner seed.



At this point, a lot of the seed coating may be too big to go through the sifter.  So, you can pour it back in the mortar, regrind and re-sifted it again.  Some of the seed coating may stick to the inside of the mortar.  You don't want to waste it, so use a pastry brush to brush this out.



Finally, pour the spice into an empty spice bottle and label it.



I sprinkled the spice on sugar cookies before baking.  This gave them a delicate lemony taste that was delightful.



I found many other recipes for using this spice on the internet.  It appears to be used a lot in Middle Eastern cuisine.

If you are interested in making your own sumac spice, the following Eat the Weeds website is very informative and tells how to make a type of "lemonade" from the berries.



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Preserving Garden Goodness - Dried Dill

Dill is one of my favorite herbs.  In addition to its lovely smell and culinary uses, it has pretty fern-like foliage.  I enjoy adding it to green beans, as in this recipe:


Dill is an annual and does best in cool weather.  As the weather heats up, it quits producing foliage and sends up flower stalks.  The flowers themselves are tiny, but grow in clusters that are several inches in diameter.  These are sometimes used in canned dill pickles.  

I planted dill in the spring, enjoyed it while it lasted, and left it to make seed.  In September, I was rewarded with a second crop that grew from these seed.  I preserved much of it for winter use by drying it in bunches.


Hangers in my laundry room made excellent drying racks for both dill and cayenne peppers.


After the bunches dried, I trimmed off the stems with a pair of kitchen scissors.....


Put them in the food processor and pulsed them until they looked like this.



There were a few errant stems that had to be discarded and the remainder was sealed in a plastic bag ready for use.








Thursday, December 4, 2014

Soapberries

Over the last couple of  years, I've become interested in native plants that can be used as food or for other useful purposes.  I've even joined a group on Facebook named "Oklahoma Wildcrafting".  This is a group of very knowledgeable people from all over the state who are interested in foraging wild edibles, mushrooms and herbs. 

This fall I learned about "soapberries" through this group.  These come from a tree that is native to Oklahoma and Texas called the Western Soapberry tree.  Here is some information I found on the web about these trees.



Note that, while the name implies the fruits are berries, I don't believe they technically are berries in the true sense of the word.  However, for this article, I will refer to them as such. 

As you might guess from the name, the fruits can be used to make a kind of soap.  Here's a picture of what they look like up close.



They are really quite pretty.  The dark centers are the seeds.  The berries contain chemicals called saponins which foam when water is added.  This foaming property makes the berries useful for cleaning, but also makes them toxic when taken internally.  So, pretty or not, DO NOT eat these!

I ran across a lot of different recipes for making laundry detergent from the berries.  Some of them called for cooking the berries.  Others said to just soak the berries in tap water for a period of time. I decided to try one of the "cooked" recipes and ended up taking an average of a couple of these.  Here's what I came up with.

First, I combined 20 soapberries with 3 cups of water in a saucepan.



Then, I brought the water to a rolling boil and turned the heat to medium for about 20 minutes.  Notice the foam.


Next, I let it cool a bit and strained the berries out of the liquid using a medium sieve. 


I then poured the liquid through a finer sieve into a glass bottle.


Most of the recipes said to keep it in the refrigerator to keep it from spoiling.  Some of them even suggested sterilizing the container.

All the recipes said they made a mild, low-suds laundry detergent that only required 2 or 3 tablespoons per load.  I've used it for a couple of loads of laundry and it seems to do a good job.  

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Windmill Grass

Here's another post on fall grasses.  A couple of weeks ago I posted an entry about Prairie Threeawn Grass

This post is about another grass I identified with the help of the book I bought at the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in October.  This one is named Windmill Grass.  I first noticed this grass when I found piles of it laying around in areas sheltered from the wind, like this.


The dried seed heads had broken off and were blown around by the wind until they came to rest in the corner of one of our cold frames.  Here is a closeup picture of one of these.


You can kind of see why it is called Windmill Grass.  Like Prairie Threeawn, it is another of the native grasses we have here in Oklahoma.  




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Greenhouse in November

We have a small greenhouse that we use primarily in which to raise tomato and pepper plants during the spring.  However, this fall we have a few other things going on in it as well.  For example, I have some Diffenbachia house plants I am propagating in there.


And, here are some Aloe Vera plants.


Tom has some lettuce plants he has started in flats.  He will set them out in the hoophouse when they get a little bigger and the weather has warmed a bit.  This is the best way to start lettuce that will be sold by the head.  



If you look closely, you can see some red just beginning to appear on some of the varieties, like Lollo Rossa, which have red leaves when mature.



Finally, before it frosted, I brought one of the potted tomatoes in.  It is doing great and even has blooms!



It will be interesting to see if these flowers actually make tomatoes and, if so, whether they will ripen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Prairie Threeawn

My last post was about fall grasses.  In that post, I mentioned a book that I purchased at the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve gift shop in October. 


 I'm happy to say the book has come in handy and helped me identify a grass named Prairie Threeawn, a very odd name in my opinion.  Here's how I happened onto this particular grass.

Our cat is an indoor/outdoor cat.  Here's a picture of her lounging on the sidewalk.



She normally spends the day outside, keeping an eye on things, and comes in at night.  As a result of her being outside, she sometimes picks up stickers and other debris in her fur.  She's pretty good about grooming herself.  But, a few days ago, I noticed some odd pieces of grass stuck in the fur on her tail. I gently pulled them out (she doesn't like for me to mess with her tail) and here is what they looked like.



Each one had three spikes at the end attached to one main stem.  I dug out the book I purchased on our trip to the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.



And, found that these came from a grass called Prairie Threeawn.  From the book, I learned the spikes at the end of each stem are called "awns", thus the name "threeawn".  

The book says this grass tends to thrive in poor soil and that there are seven species in the 3-state area covered by this book.  It also says it can cause injury to grazing animals.  I assume this means the awns can stick in an animal's eye while its head is down close to the ground.  That seems likely as they certainly were stuck tight in the cat's tail and felt quite prickly to me.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fall Grasses

Back in October, we made a trip over to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, to attend an open house at the Nature Conservancy's Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.



It was a beautiful day.  We took a picnic lunch, listened to talks about the resident buffalo herd and took a short hike.  I also purchased a t-shirt and the following book at the gift shop.



I bought the book because I've become fascinated by the many species of grasses I've found growing on our land.  If you recall, a few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about Little Bluestem grass



The clumps of Bluestem shown in that article have turned reddish-brown and stand out beautifully in contrast to the snow in this picture.


I've never paid much attention to grasses, I guess because my eyes were distracted by the much showier wildflowers.  I wrote a blog entry on those, too.



However, in the fall, most of the wildflowers are gone and the grasses begin to send up seed stalks.   I took several pictures of various grasses this fall.  Unfortunately, I didn't buy the grass book in time to be able to identify most of them.  But here are the pictures I took.







I know a lot of folks who want immaculate lawns and cannot stand it if their grass gets over 2 inches tall.  I'm happy to say that I'm not one of those folks!  I love the bio-diversity of the small prairie that we have created around our house.