Prickly Neighbours

Thistles, thistles and more thistles I used to think they were just pesky prickly weeds, pretty but not a welcome visitor in my yard, well I’m singing a different tune now I know better, my mouth starts watering when I see their gorgeous succulent variegated crowns exploding out of the earth.

Yes I said variegated for I’m talking about the granddaddy of all the thistles Silybum maranum, heheh makes me laugh every time I use that name sily bum not sure how that came about maybe a silly bum grabbed a hand full and got pricked by their massive spines! No seriously they may have a funny name a mean look but they taste great and are well worth the effort to process as a wild food.

I had looked long and hard at the plain green relative of the variegated thistle, what we here in Tassie call a Bull Thistle (Cirium vulgare) as after hearing they were edible I just couldn’t get my head around eating them but driving through my home town one day out of the corner of my eye down a deserted road three streets before my house I spotted a massive bunch of lush greenness. I had to go investigate, I pulled up got out and stood in awe of the painted picture in front of me, they were nearly as tall as me and still young, I had had small variegated thistles come up in my yard on the rare occasion but I ripped them out before they had a chance to show me their full beauty. Here in front of me was something I thought I could definitely have a crack at eating, these guys dwarfed the Bull Thistles by a long shot!

The Thistle grove

After walking around the what seemed like a grove of thistles I headed to the car to grab my trusty secateurs and leather gloves that I never go anywhere with out these days and I was grateful I can tell ya, for they didn’t just look mean they were mean. I carefully picked a bunch of the best looking leaves but as I cut through their fat juicy stems I thought I must be able to eat them too so I ended up just picking whole plants.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching as I’m sure everyone in town already think I’m some sort of witch or just a plain weed munching freak and jumped back into the car exited about my prickly bounty.

At home I set myself up at the sink to start the task of de thorning the leaves, it wasn’t to bad as they are so massive in no time flat I had dissected the thistles, they didn’t look so mean now!

When I first try something I like to try it plain with just some salt and pepper to experience their pure flavor, then I start experimenting with recipes.

Massive stems and leaves

 

 

Prepared ready to cook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I steamed the leaves long enough to be just wilted and the stems until tender, once plated up I sat and savored the subtle artichokey flavor of the stems and the leaves were one of the best wild greens I have found so far.

 

I don’t always like to relay a flavor comparison as I think it detracts from the plants individual flavor and the mind clings to the description and is disappointed when it doesn’t fulfill that description, so I will just say It is definitely on my menu every chance I get.

I was pretty exited about seeing the flowers to see if they were going to be big enough to process but on seeing I was disappointed at how small they were in comparison to the leaves they weren’t much bigger than the Bull Thistles really but I took a few home to try and it was a nightmare trying to de-thorn them and the few I did just weren’t worth the effort but they are very pretty and I’m sure all the insects in the district were there enjoying their fluffy pinkness so I was satisfied with that.

 

 

Here on this plate I have the cooked thistle leaves, brassica flowers, wallaby burgers and a pickled egg toped of with rose hip chilly sauce!

prepared meal using Variegated thistle (Silybum marianum)

Note- here in Tasmania they have flowered, seeded and are dying as I write this, I harvested these in early spring it is summer now just so you know. I just couldn’t wait until next season to share the scrumptious delights of the variegated thistle.

Also they bolt and flower pretty quickly too so if you wanted a longer harvesting period I would collect seeds and sow at one week intervals so you have a longer harvesting time but if you don’t want them in your yard the leaves on a one minute blanch freeze well. I didn’t get to try freezing the stems I eat them all….. 🙂

Holly tea for me

Holly tea (Ilex aquifolium)

 

Today I want to talk about holly tea, it is my first time experimenting with this plant it is feral here so a good free foraging resource. I picked the branches carefully!! And I let them dry in  my car for a week then I again very carefully picked the individual leaves off the stems and blended them until they were like corse green tea or Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) which is a holly as well. The holly I’ve used here is (Ilex aquifolium) I don’t know if this species has the same compounds as Yerba mate, I know some of the hollies have caffeine and some don’t but I’m more interested in it as a nice drink that I can forage for.

 

 

 

Green & Roast Holly teas

After blending I roast half the batch to see if there would be a difference in flavor and there is so it is worth doing both ways. the green version taste similar to a light green tea doesn’t have that tannin after kick, and the roast version taste an bit like Oolong, almost caramel like.

Apparently it will upset your tummy if you use it raw not dried, I don’t know if this is the case so dry it anyway to be sure.

Holly tea and honey

Tempeh treats.

Today I want to share my tempeh making experience, I have a new batch growing ready for my friend that is coming to install my instant gas hot water system, my way to repay friends that help me is to cook up a storm for them and this friend is vegan so I’m making tempeh for him there is nothing like homemade tempeh, you won’t eat that store bought tempeh that I personally think smells like old socks again!!!

Not sure what I’m going to create with it yet something simple so as not to over whelm the mushroomy sweet taste of the tempeh, I will more than likely stir fry it with some rehydrated slippery Jacks (Suillus luteus) I dried from last season and fresh greens. I will also just fry some and serve with a hot dipping sauce, as in the picture I used here.

Fried Tempeh, with a fermented chilly hot dipping sauce, pickled ginger and fried chickweed greens

I love soy beans but it can be hard to get locally grown organic beans here in Tassie so I’m keen on finding alternate beans that I can make tempeh with and so far I have tried a rice and seaweed tempeh, that was nice and a home grown broad bean tempeh that needed twigging a bit the bean pieces needed to be smaller but it was a nice tempeh and broad beans grow well here in Tassie, I dry heaps each year I use them in everything I use flour in or I ferment them and make fermented broad bean pikelets another story.

Broad bean Tempeh

I have been cooking and working with food for many years and never ever dreamt of making my own tempeh I thought it was going to be some specialized technically hard thing to create so never even bothered to look it up even though I make my own soy milk and tofu. I just thought because it used culture it would be beyond me but it is very, very easy….

On a recent trip to Indonesia where tempeh makes up a good part of their diet and they grow it there it was in every little corner store wrapped in banana leaves just sitting out with the veggies, It motivated me to really look into the process when I got home.

Plus my mother had bought me Sandor Kratz book Wild Fermentation on request which has now become my bible and it is no exaggeration to say this book changed my life! Sandor’s book has many other amazing recipes and directions and he made tempeh making sound so easy, so that was it I decide I was going to give it a crack, so I bought the cultures and I haven’t looked back.

I will explain the process and my experience with making tempeh and hopefully it will motivate you to give it a go you wont be sorry. So once you have everything you need which is beans, vinegar, culture a heat pad or heating source a frame to grow tempeh in and a good digital thermometer you are set. Ok I soak the beans overnight and early in the morning I de hull them by draining them and putting them into a clean tea towel and massaging and rubbing the hull’s off, this also splits the beans and if they are cooked rite they should only split in two not mash up, they are over cooked if this happens.

Tempeh making equipment

I then put them in a big pot full of water and scoop off the floating hulls with a deep frying spoon, the ones with wire scoop that they have in Asian grocer’s, now there is a trick to this technique, it is all about rhythm! or it’s all in the wrist as some say, you need to vigorously stir the beans to get a whirl pool happening and as the beans are swirling around and as they are starting to sink you come along behind in a circular motion and collect all the floating hulls and if you keep stirring in a rhythm and at a pace where you are stirring up the settling hull at every stroke and catching them in the scoop with the next stroke but not hard enough to bring the beans up…… play with it, it can be very relaxing as most rhythmic thing are.

So get as many hull’s out as possible because the next stage is cooking them in a pressure cooker, you can cook them in other ways but it takes 5 minutes in the pressure cooker and probable 4 or 5 hours just boiling and steaming, be careful because any hull’s that are left can get caught in the little steam release valve and I can tell ya it’s not pretty when this happens…….. It is quite dangerous so try to get all the hull’s out, after scooping as much as possible rinse them a few times and as you pour off the water each time more hull’s will float off.

Remember if you have to cook more than one lot make sure you clean out the hole in the lid before each batch ok…. and stand there and listen to the little toggle on top if it stops moving and making a noise it could be blocked so turn of the plate off asap and move away from the cooker hopefully it will settle down but DON’T try to open it, you will get burnt!!!

And if the pressure relief plug does break and it streams out DON’T go near it, it’s better to just clean up the mess after than get burnt all over ok, they go off like a bomb, but they are so efficient so you just need to be careful!

Each pressure cooker is different to, I only have to cook my split de hulled beans for 5 minutes in one of mine and 10 minutes in another… so you need to experiment with your cooker you want the beans to be just el denta, so still firm the culturing process cooks the bean fully. So once your beans are cooked and cooled put them in a big pot and stir in culture and vinegar, cultures should come with directions.

My growing tempeh

Most literature says to use plastic bags to grow in but I don’t like the idea of soft plastic and heat so I made a metal frame and I put cheese cloth in it and pack my beans into this to grow. Now for the harder bit in the process, I use an animal heat pad from when I was a wild life carer so I was lucky enough to have all the equipment I needed, please make sure you get a good quality heat pad with a good canvas or hard cover, not those soft ones they are selling as foot heat pads for people my friend had one of those and it could have burnt don’t the house, the wirers melted through the plastic cover over the night, just a bit scary!

I wrap my heat pad in a towel put it in a box and place my tempeh frame packed with the beans on top of this I put my thermometer sensor in beside the beans and cover it all up and sit temperature monitor on top so I can see it. It has to sit at between 30 and 32 degrees for 24 hours, I sit mine where I can see it at all times so I can just keep checking the temp, some way through the process the tempeh will start to create its own heat so you need to keep adjusting it so it doesn’t over heat.

The reason I make tempeh in the morning is it gives me time to get the temperature rite so I’m not going to bed worried I don’t have it rite! In 24 hour or so, Wallah you will have the most amazing tempeh you have ever eaten, please don’t give up if you fail a few times once you get it down pat you will be rite, I make a batch every month.

You will learn how many covers you need to get your stable temperature, I keep what I use for tempeh together so I pretty much get the temperature rite straight up with a bit of twigging depending on temperature in the room. I suggest you get a digital thermometer that has the little sensor and separate monitor so you can just tuck the sensor in with the tempeh and you don’t have to disturb it every time you want to check temp, it is much more relaxing just being able to glance at the monitor!

Well it is as easy as that really I can’t believe I’ve been a vegan cook and a vegan (not now) all these years and just learnt how to make tempeh!!!!

My Tempeh

My Tempeh

But as I always say, better later then never rite! I really hope this motivates you to give it a go! 🙂

My dehydrating experiments….

Well it is the season here in Tassie for drying as much wild harvest as possible, the sun is mostly out and the temperatures are perfect for getting the winter hamper stocked up……
It still get a bit moist of a night so you cant leave thing out as they tend to get soft over night and go moldy it is a pain in the ass you have to bring everything in and out and when you want to do a lot of stuff its a lot of work and you need space to put everything.

Drying rack

I was determined to utilize the sun without causing myself and my back to much work.

One day why I was pulling a big old fridge apart to use as a spud bed and as I was taking the big grill thingy of the back I thought; this is way to good to throw away it has to be good for something or other soI put it aside finished making my spud bed.

Late as I was packing everything away I was looking at the grill and I thought that would actually make a perfect drying rack, it is light because it is mostly copper and wire so would be easy to lift in and out.

The next day I made some handles by platting some aluminum wire I had lying around and attached them to either end of the rack, perfect……. I was quiet impressed with my ingenuity.

I was putting some shade cloth on it to keep the finer particles from falling threw out in my patio when I remembered I’d left some foraged green out in the car the day before so I went to get them out and they were nearly dry…. A light bulb went of in my head and I thought why cant I put everything in the car to dry!!! and luckily my reincarnated drying rack fitted perfectly in the back of my wagon, I have it propped up on crates that I can put other things in to dry as well.
So my car is now full of a multitude of different plants drying, the smell is over powering when you first open the door but then it become pleasant.

When my dad opened the door to get something out of the car he said “Jezz you will get high drivin round in that, I’m not gettin in there with that smell” and I said well now you know how I feel when you get in the car with after bloody shave on, at least this is natural!!! And it is way better than those awful smelly poisonous things people hang in their cars thats for sure…..

My dehydrator

Everything just stays in the car I don’t take it out when I want to go anywhere, I just drive around with it all in the car I had a chuckle to myself the other day I thought how funny it would it be if the cops looked in there, they wouldn’t know where to start…..

Anyway it really works a treat, it beats having to move things everyday and running power to an electric dehydrator.
The only thing I learnt the hard way was you have to actually cover the produce with shade cloth so the direct sun doesn’t burn the foliage…

Depending on the plant material and your weather it is quite a quick drying time, for greens like Nettles and Lemon balm it only took a few days so it is very efficient, I love utilizing the sun to dry my harvest it kind of completes the whole cycle nicely, the wild plants use the sun to grow and I use the sun to dry them so I can grow…… nice 🙂

My bottled and labelled herbs

So yesterday a big lot of my harvest was ready so I processed and bottled everything they look great.

So from left to right I have Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), Nettles (Urtica dioica), Mullein leaf (Verbascum thapsus) Millein root (Verbascum thapsus) and Bay leaves (Lauras nobilis)…..

I use the Nettles in everything stews, eggs, muffins, sauces and as a tea etc. Nettle is the green I use most in my diet now I absolutely love it!
I use the Lemon balm as tea and cooking, I use the Bay for cooking.
I was told the Mullein root was a good pain killer as a tincture but I’m going to try it as a tea as the alcohol for tincture is expensive and I’m experimenting with the Wormwood and Mullein for smoking as a sedative and pain killer but I found it makes my throat sore because I’m not a smoker so rethinking the smoking thing at the moment.
So just now I made some soothing throat candies that have helped heaps so I may as well share this too…

My herbal throat soothers

This is just a hard candy recipe and I added a very strong Nettle, Chamomile, Rosemary and Tasmanian Sassafrass bark tea and Honey, grated Ginger, a few drops of Eucalyptus & Tea tree oil it is nice as you finish the candy you get to chew the spicey ginger bits….

So back to the herb drying, getting off the subject a bit so easy to do when there are so many great things to share …

So if you family or friends don’t mind sharing their transport with smelly plants give the car dehydrator a go! psssst and I’m sure if you have sick friends or family over winter they would love these home made herbal soothers! 🙂

To oat or not to oat……..

 

So I planted some oats, wheat, barley and rye this season just for the fun and to see if it was worth me growing these grains for myself and my menagerie and I’m very pleased to say it is a definite a big fat HELL YER….. for the oats anyway the jury is out on the other grains yet.

I have been watching with anticipation these grain grow, healthy and strong and at first I had them fenced off from my poultry but once they started getting the seed head I let my girls into them and as luck would have it they are quiet content to just scratch and search for insects around the grain stalks not creating enough damage to worry about which is great!

Next time I won’t mix the grain up I will keep the different grains in their own areas as they all ripen at different times so I had to go through and pick the oats well before the wheat and other grains were ripe, lesson learnt.

 

I couldn’t let them fully ripen there in the garden as I’m having to fight the local parrots and now the sparrows off with my spade….. Bloody things, I will be blogging on skewered BBQ sparrow shortly….. You think I’m joking, I’m not!

Anyway I tied and hung the oats to dry further in my patio, a week later I held the bunches and smashed them against the insides of a bucket to separate the seeds from the stalks and the seeds collect in the bottom of the bucket, once I did this I put them in a cloth bag and with my rolling pin I rolled them hard until I could hear the tough hulls cracking under the pressure, I then tipped them out and winnowed them until as much of the hulls were blown away as possible, I repeated this process a coupler times then I put the cleaned grains into a bowl of water.

 

 

I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get all the hulls off, not sure if it was because I picked them to early or if that is just the way it is.

Oats cleaned & soaking

I wasn’t expecting it to be easy and it was to fiddly to try to get them off separately so I soaked them hoping the hulls would soften and come off the groats (grains) easier but in the end I decide to just blend them and make milk out of them, I squeezed the pulp through a cloth and I was actually shocked at how thick it came out, it was like runny cream.

I was surprised because I had a vague memory of trying oat milk from the shop once a long time ago and it was watery and had no flavour at all, well mine was totally different to that.

Oat milk

 

 

It is nice just raw as a drink or you could use it in cooking or reduce it and use it like that.

I just reduced a cup and added some honey and malt and it was nice like that, I tried it raw like this and it wasn’t as nice, so experiment to see what suits you.

Oats are really good for you so I’m very pleased this worked out and using them like this is well worth doing but for actual eating I need to either find a better way to remove ALL the hulls or grow hulless oats, I need to research this a bit more I’m happy for now knowing I can make the milk and get the nutrients this way.

 

 

 

Also I kept the pulp that was left from the squeezing to use as a facial mask and my menagerie will get the stalks for nesting and get to dig around the root system once it’s all cut down, so nothing goes to waste.

Now that’s what I call a win win situation……

Oat pulp for face mask

Gone nutty over Pine nuts

 

Well a great start to the new year, nature’s bounty never ceases to astound me I love discovering new wild free foods, it makes me immensely happy…..
Strolling through the acres of pine forest (Pinus radiata) surrounding my home town yesterday, my supermarket these days searching for what food was on the menu this week I came across a pine that had fallen and as I was scrambling over it I had an inkling of an Idea that the pine nut from the sticky cones must be edible, so I had a go at removing some cones to take home well I wasn’t prepared for this activity and didn’t have the appropriate tool (tomahawk me thinks) for the job so it was tough going I can tell ya, but after some heaving and swearing I managed to remove fifteen or so stubborn resinous cones.

Pinus radiata cones

As there wasn’t much else around in that patch I headed home exited at the prospects that I could do something with this abundant resource, so I Googled pine nuts and did a bit of digging, as it so happens the Pinus radiate are well known for their tasty pine nuts.
In the literature they are referred to as Monterey pines but either the trees here aren’t Pinus radiata or the ones they are calling Pinus radiata aren’t the real thing, someone is wrong as the nuts in the pictures on the net are double the size of the ones I have here, but I decided to give it a crack anyway.

I put the cones in the sun for the rest of the afternoon so they opened a bit then after the sun went down I put them in the oven for a while until they were totally open and my house was thick with the smell of pine resin, a pleasant side effect of this process. Once the cones had cooled a bit I banged the cones on the sink until they gave up their nuts, not an easy or quiet task but eventually I got a good lot of nuts out, tiered from all this work I went to bed leaving the task until tomorrow a new day.

Winnowed Pinus radiata nuts

I dreamt of pine nuts all night not having really eaten bought pine nut much before I woke up exited to get the job done so I could actually taste them. I winnowed the nut and experimented with de shelling them, the little tease taste of the soft nutty flesh under the hard shell was enough to get my saliva glads working over time, I couldn’t believe the flavour and had a new appreciation of why they are so expensive to buy in shops.

As far as I could tell there was no easy way to remove this shell I couldn’t find any info on the net not for nuts this size they are smaller than small sunflower seeds……

Frustrated but determined I decided to soak them hoping the shell would soften but it didn’t really, so I decide to just grind them up to see if I could get it fine enough that I could eat the shell and all but I didn’t like to result.

Sitting there racking my brain looking at the grey mushy mess I had sitting in front of me I just couldn’t give up on something that was so abundant tasty and so close to home, so just before my head imploded I thought milk!! Like NUT MILK yah I yelped, and after I stopped straining my shoulder from trying to pat myself on the back I watered the mush down and strained it several times until I ended up with a creamy white, nutty with a hint of pine nut milk!

Pinus radiata nut milk

I was so impressed with myself and the result I had to take some strait up to my friends café so she could try it, she suggested we reduce it to see how it would turn out and it was so good it’s like coconut milk with a fresh piney after taste, I’m so over the moon and exited by the prospect of utilizing this abundant wild harvest all around me.

But having said all that and just now making this amazing discovery, it’s just my luck that the company that owns the plantations have decided to log this whole area so I need to pull my finger out and harvest as much as possible before they are all gone, it will take them a coupler years to log them all and then it will be awhile before the new ones they replant have cones again, but it isn’t a big deal there are plenty of pine plantations here in Tassie I will just have to travel a bit to find new patches.

I actually planted these plantations surrounding my home town when I was about fourteen or fifteen and I’m now forty so I’m chuffed that all these years later I am just now getting all these benefits from these plantations, it gives real meaning to the saying you will eventually reap what you sow……….

What an incredible start to my year, I have a feeling it is going to be a wonderfully bountiful gastronomically adventurous year from here…..