Kindred Homesteading Folk

People get passionate about food and plants. Some of my best friends are people I know through those shared passions.

Yesterday I got to meet Miriam for the first time…but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like a reunion with an old friend. Miriam and I met for the first time online via a wild edible plants group, and then a wild homemade wines group I started, over a decade ago. We’ve shared recipes, foraging tips, mailed each other packages of dried herbs and other gifts, and spoken on the phone. But this was the first time we’d met face-to-face.memiriamsmall

Her greatest gift to me was how she really saw what I’d done with the garden and the kitchen (which is also my living room and dining room). I introduced her to the place plant by plant, and she knew what they were and what they were for, and that was a blessing. Nice to have someone recognize what I’ve done with my urban homestead.

While I was showing Miriam the place, I got to mention Ellen, whose botanical photographs grace my walls and who wrote the foreword for my first book. Miriam and Ellen are both on that homemade wine list I started, and so know of each other.

Even though we both live in NYC, Ellen and I have scheduled our next dinner date for next month because we’re both that busy. But Ellen is still, despite the long gaps between our meet ups, one of my best foraging buddies. There has to be someone I can text the excitement of a great foraging find to, and that would be Ellen.

While I’m tipping my hat to great homesteading buddies, let me also mention Kat and Meg.

Kat, like Miriam, was initially an online acquaintance. We’ve met in person twice now, once when I stayed at her place in France and again when she visited me in Switzerland last year. Like Miriam and Ellen, she’s wild edible and medicinal plant savvy and can talk about what’s for dinner while she’s cooking lunch (so can I, in case you were wondering).

Meg is a new friend, initially met via Twitter. She is an expert beekeeper, a backyard chicken raiser, and a terrific person all around. Today I started harvesting the red currants in my garden. I set aside one pint of my ripe, de-stemmed, frozen currants to trade with Meg for some of her honey in a previously arranged

Cheers, fellow homesteaders and foragers! I lift this glass of elderflower champagne to you.


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The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes

Wild Fruit

I know that according to the calendar summer hasn’t officially started yet, but for me it started when the first fresh fruits of the year showed up in the field, in the garden, and at the markets. The parade of gem-bright colors and juicy sweetness continues now through the first apples of fall in an ever-changing parade of ripeness.

black-cap raspberries

black-cap raspberries

I indulged in the first strawberries to appear at the farmers’ market even though they were pricey. It was the first fresh fruit I’d seen since last year. I’ve had plenty of fruit in my diet since last fall, but it was the storage apples and pears on offer at the markets or the frozen fruit, jams, and otherwise preserved fruit on my shelves. So I had to have that first strawberry. Now, however, I’m holding out for the more affordable (and often tastier) strawberries I’m expecting in my CSA share next week.

It’s the wild fruits that are exciting me now. Juneberries and mulberries have been coming in for a few weeks, black-cap raspberries just started. Soon there will be wineberries and wild cherries, followed by blackberries, elderberries, beach plums…

One fruit, though, doesn’t seem to be doing too well. Mayapples are dropping before they’re ripe, and have for the past couple of years. Something is wrong there. NYBG pulled up the mayapples in their native plant collection because of a disease. Sad.

Meanwhile, tonight’s dessert is black-cap raspberries and juneberries on spicebush ice cream. I still need to cook dinner first, right?

If you’d like to dig into the parade of wild summer fruit, please join me for one of my upcoming wild edibles tours:

Edible Native Plants in Brooklyn  July 18

Stalking Wild Edibles July 20

Urban Foraging Aug. 21

And one other thing I’m excited about: Leda’s Urban Homestead made it onto a list of 50 Best Homesteading Blogs. Besides being tickled to be included on the list, I discovered some new-to-me great sites there.

Time to go cook dinner so that I can get to that wild fruit dessert…

The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget by Leda Meredith

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

Green Garlic Tostadas, Elderflower Champagne-Hello, June!

Today I went foraging and came home with elderflowers for “champagne” and basswood a.k.a. linden blossoms that Ellen will make into wine. I also collected mulberries, juneberries, and nettles.

I also have a fridge stocked with the current wealth of the farmers’ markets, including some green, or spring, garlic. I used that up on some tostadas I made with Hot Bread Kitchen’s tortillas made with locally grown corn and Cayuga Pure Organics local beans. Some of the nettles got cooked up and added along with lettuce, cheese, and hot sauce. Yum!tostadas-sm

pickled-pep-smI made the hot sauce with the last of last year’s pickled hot peppers. Simplest pickle recipe in the world: seed and chop large hot peppers, or leave small ones whole and prick with the tip of a knife. Loosely pack into a glass jar. Cover with vinegar. Use in any recipe calling for jalapenos or other hot peppers. Since the hot pepper plants I overwintered indoors are already bearing fruit, I have no need of the preserved ones any more. I threw them into the blender along with their vinegar, and voila, hot sauce.

elderblow-smThe elderflower “champagne” recipe is a variation on the one in Ellen’s excellent book Down & Dirty Gardening. The original calls for (non-local, where I live) sugar and lemons. I’ve worked out a variation using local honey and homemade vinegar (see recipe below).

I collected lots of the elderflower umbels, but was careful to leave plenty on the shrubs (no flower=no fruit later in the summer). Then I realized I had a problem: the batches of elderflower champagne I’ve made in the past required plastic bottles because the liquid gets really bubbly and can explode glass bottles.

I no longer drink anything that comes in a plastic bottle. Last year Ellen saved me some bottles from her recycling, but I didn’t want to wait to start this batch (yes, you can make it with dried elderflowers, but I like it better when made with fresh). I considered going through my building’s recycling.

But some of the recipes I looked at predate plastic bottles. There must be a way to do it. I’m going to try using some thick ceramic jugs with wire flip-down tops that I’ve saved over the years (from some very non-local Belgian beers). To hedge my bet, I did mooch one plastic bottle from my neighbor, and I plan to divide the batch.

I know it’s not officially summer yet, but harvesting wild fruit and making elderflower champagne makes me feel like it is.

P.S.–Ms. Ella Fitzgerald says hello:


Elderflower Champagne

Makes approximately 4 quarts

4-6 large elderberry flowerheads

6 pints cold filtered or non-chlorinated water

2 pints boiling filtered or non-chlorinated water

1 lb honey OR 1 1/2 lbs sugar

1/4 cup cider vinegar OR 2 large lemons (juice & rind) plus 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1. Do not wash the flowers–it’s their natural yeast that will cause fermentation. Just shake off any insects and remove the thick stalks.

2. Place the honey in a very large bowl and cover with 2 pints of boiling water. Stir to liquefy.

3. Add 6 pints cold water. Stir in the vinegar and the flowers.

4. Cover and leave, for 48 hours, stirring occasionally.

5. Strain out the flowers (and lemon rind, if using). Pour into clean plastic bottles with screw tops (or, we hope, thick ceramic or beer bottles with flip tops), leaving at least an inch of headspace.

6. Leave at room temperature for a week, “burping” (opening briefly) the bottles occasionally. After that, move them to the refrigerator, but keep “burping” the bottles for another week. Store for an additional 1-4 weeks before serving cold. The earlier you drink it, the yeastier it will taste. Wait the full six weeks from bottling if you want it at its best. (Note: the honey version takes longer to ferment out than the sugar version. The final drink should be fizzy and sweet, but not cloyingly so).

Upcoming Foraging Classes in Brooklyn on June 12 & June 13!

The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget by Leda Meredith

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith