Saturday, February 14, 2009


Last week I was thrilled to bits to find a purslane plant had decided to make its home in our garden.

It planted itself next to a luffa plant that was growing in slow motion and was never going to fruit - so I pulled that out to give the purslane more room.

I'd been hoping I might find some purslane this summer. So far this is the only one I've found though. I wonder if I can propagate it?

I've put an entry on purslane up on Wild Picnic, as well as (finally) one one flax. Have also been tinkering with some other entries there.

I put a new recipe up on Wild Concoctions too.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Foraging on a tiny scale

With some wild plants in urban areas, it seems difficult to find enough of them at any one time to do anything useful with.

Still, if I can store little bits at a time and gradually build up a supply, that feels quite satisfying.

Blackberry leaves, for example.

We have only little patches of blackberry where I live, and the leaves that make the best-tasting tea are the newly sprouting ones. (I've tested this out - drying new leaves and old leaves separately, making teas out of them side by side, and comparing the smell and taste. The new leaves are fragrant and delicious. The old ones are a bit gross.)

At any one time, there are usually just a few tiny sprigs of suitable tea leaves on the blackberry bush nearest us. Whenever I go past, I pick those ones, and lie them in the permanent spot I now have for them by a window to dry flat. After a couple of days I add them to the jar in the pic above.

The level of the jar's contents fluctuates as I build the supply of dried leaves up, then use or donate some. (Blackberry leaf tea is good for upset stomachs.)

I've been using a similar principle with nasturtium seedpods as well as onionweed bulbs - which my daughter often finds little clusters of in the soil. (See above!)

I've made a pickle of 50/50 water and cider vinegar, with a fair bit of added salt, and I keep it in a jar in the fridge. Whenever we find nasturtium pods or onionweed bulbs I just drop them in. Although before pickling the onionweed bulbs, it's best to soak them in water and rub off the papery outside skins.

It's like a mix of capers and mini pickled onions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coffee and the crisis

The two reasons I've just started home-roasting coffee are:

1. It's way easier on my wallet - even taking into account electricity use.

2. Green beans keep a lot longer than roasted beans. (I've read that if stored well, green beans can keep for 2-4 years with little loss of quality.) I'm keen to start storing coffee in case imported supplies become unreliable. Given how long they keep, it makes a lot more sense to store the beans at the green stage.

Of course I could solve all the issues in one fell swoop by giving up coffee, but I'm not quite ready for that!

I used this website's instructions to get started.

I buy green beans - Ethiopian Yirgacheffe - from People's Coffee.

I roast them in our little old electric popcorn maker.

The first time I did it, it took eight minutes.

Now I've got it up to nine.

Dan, one of the lovely People's Coffee barristas, says the ideal amount of time (for a dark roast I think) is about 16 minutes. If you roast too fast it doesn't taste as good.

Apparently electric popcorn makers can sometimes roast coffee much, MUCH too fast, but Dan seemed to think that 8 or 9 minutes was pretty respectable for one of these appliances.

A few notes:
I was relieved to find that the smoke produced during the process wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

As the beans heat and puff up, they crackle and pop a bit. I put a bowl under the popcorn maker just like I do for popcorn, and during the roasting, when any beans come flying out and land in the bowl, I quickly drop them back into the popcorn maker.

The husks that fly off have to be cleaned up afterwards, but it's really not that bad.

I'd like to try roasting beans in our cast iron frying pan. That way I could do it over the woodburner in winter and avoid electricity use. I think I'd get a more uneven result, but I might be able to control the overall speed of the roast better.
Ultimately I'd love a proper stove-top popcorn maker to use.

I've just found out that Sharon and her family roast their own beans too - have been doing it for ages. Hopefully I can pick up some tips and ideas from her.