Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Japanese Knotweed Recipe - Knotweed Pudding Cake

After we made the Japanese knotweed syrup, we started thinking about what else we could use it for besides flavoring soda, drizzling over ice cream, and pouring over pancakes. Taking inspiration from maple syrup, we adapted the Maple Pudding Cake recipe to make Japanese Knotweed Pudding Cake, a self-saucing dessert.

I'll readily admit that this recipe looks weird when making it, pouring the syrup mixture over the top of the batter really is correct, it will cook its way to the bottom and thicken up nicely into the "pudding" layer. While you can use larger knotweed to make the syrup, try to harvest smaller, more tender shoots under 12" tall for the cake batter.

Japanese Knotweed Pudding Cake                 makes one 8" square pan or 9" pie pan

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 c. milk, coconut milk, almond milk, or soy milk
1 c. sliced Japanese knotweed, leaves and tips removed
1 c. Japanese knotweed syrup
1 c. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil

1. Heat the oven to 350º F for a metal pan, or 325ºF for a glass pan. Grease the pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 c. sugar, salt, and baking powder and blend well. Mix in the milk or milk substitute, and stir just until combined, fold in the chopped knotweed.
3. Press the batter into the prepared baking pan.
4. Combine the Japanese knotweed syrup, water, 3 Tbsp. sugar, and butter or coconut oil in a saucepan, and heat just until the butter melts. Pour over the batter--it will look weird, do not stir it!
5. Bake 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean and the top has browned slightly.
6. Allow the cake to cool, the syrup mixture will now have sunk to the bottom and thickened, and should be scooped up with the cake to serve.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Japanese Knotweed Recipe - Japanese Knotweed Syrup

Spring has sprung and Japanese knotweed season is upon us here in southeastern Connecticut. We furiously gathered huge baskets of shoots that were less than 12" tall, the optimum height before the stalks start toughening up and getting woody. Most was made into fruit leather, which keeps very well once vacuum packed, several batches of jelly were made, more was stewed to keep in the freezer for making muffins and quickbreads, and some was eaten raw with cream cheese and raisins!

Why yes, that IS a biodegradable straw made from last year's knotweed stalks!

Robert made some tasty Japanese knotweed syrup, to which he then adds some carbonated water or canned seltzer for a fizzy, pink drink. The ascorbic acid powder is something we order from a vitamin company in bulk and add it to our syrups to keep them fresh and from crystallizing. It is basically vitamin C in powder form, adding a slightly sour taste to the syrup.

Japanese Knotweed Syrup        makes about 4 cups of syrup

2 1/4 c. water
3 1/2 c. sugar
2 c. chopped knotweed, leaves and tips removed
3 Tbsp. ascorbic acid powder

1. In a saucepot, heat the water to boiling and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves and turn off the heat.
2. Add the chopped knotweed to the hot syrup, and cover. Allow the syrup to steep for 24 hours.
3. Filter out the knotweed with a mesh sieve, and filter again through a coffee filter to remove all the debris.
4. Remove 1 cup of the pink syrup, and warm it in a small saucepot. Add the ascorbic acid powder, stirring to dissolve it. Pour this back into the rest of the syrup and stir. Store in air tight containers at room temperature for 3-6 months.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Japanese Knotweed for Eating and Playing

Japanese knotweed at the ideal size for recipes

We have conflicting feelings about one of the most abundant invasive plants in the Northeast, Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica, syn Polygonum cuspidatum). Yes, it is edible when it first comes up in the spring, and purportedly it has all kinds of medicinal properties, but is its potential edibility blinding some people to the fact it is also terribly invasive? I cringe all the time when I see people wish knotweed grew in their area! We have witnessed many native habitats taken over by a mono-stand of impenetrable knotweed forests, all to the detriment of diversity and a healthy ecosystem. Invasive plants like Japanese knotweed are successful because they seed prolifically, grow faster and earlier than native plants thereby cutting off sunlight for the smaller, slower-growing plants, and invasives tend to alter the soil making it undesirable for the native plant populations. While we would never advocate for the CT DEEP's suggestions of poisoning and spraying populations of invasive plants, we also feel we shouldn't gloss over the destructive nature of Japanese knotweed for romanticized versions of wild edible plants.

The history of the introduction of Japanese knotweed to North America  plus some identifying information can be found in the Wild Edible Notebook, a monthly e-publication put out by Wild Food Girl for a nominal subscription fee. We were very happy to contribute to the April 2015 edition.

Over the years, we have come up with several recipes to eat the spring shoots of knotweed, trying not to present them as an ideal solution to the invasive plant problem, but rather as an alternative to spraying or ignoring your local knotweed sources. Eat the Invasives! But also remember to curb their spread by harvesting responsibly and properly disposing of any plant material that may take the opportunity to root and spread further.

We have started collecting some of the dried, smaller hollow stems of knotweed to use as biodegradable straws. They are not completely impervious to getting wet over hours of being immersed, but are useful when sipping drinks around the house, and kids get a real kick out of wild-crafting with natural items they can find and manipulate on their own. Gillian has even crafted a blow-dart gun with the hollow tubes, using the larger lower stalks for the "gun" by cutting off the joints at both ends, and making the "dart" from smaller diameter stalks that are have the closed joints at both ends to provide air resistance when blown out of the "gun" tube. Involving your kids in the hunt for wild foods can be fun for them, even if they are just fooling around while you do all the dirty work of harvesting. Sword fights with dried knotweed stalks are always fun, and the hollow tubes can be cut down to use as small bowls and vessels while building fairy houses.

Lots of potential straws here, as well as building material for kids and their imaginations
Eat the knotweed, play with the knotweed, but don't spread the knotweed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spring Greens 2015

Cardamine hirsuta, hairy bittercress

After so much snow this winter the spring greens and shoots are a bit slow to emerge. We find ourselves turning our faces up towards the sun on the nice days, warming our cheeks. Looking down at the ground for signs of life is second nature for us as we take short walks along muddy trails, and we are even taking note of the swelling buds of the trees. Not long now before we begin another year of enjoying our scavenger hunt for edible plants and fungi, where the prizes are delicious!

Matteuccia struthiopteris, ostritch fern fiddleheads

Allium vineale, field garlic

Alliaria petiolata, garlic mustard

Hemerocallis fulva, daylily shoots

Urtica dioica, stinging nettles

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Black Locust Recipe Roundup

Here in southern New England, we have about two weeks in late May when the black locusts bloom. This mildly invasive pioneer tree is often found along waterways, highways, along the edges of open fields, and in poor soil; the roots of black locust alter the nitrogen content of soil. The bark can be quite rough looking, deeply grooved and grey. The only safely edible parts of the locust tree are the flowers. There are ways to make the beans in the pods edible, but we have not bothered trying to detoxify them as a food source. The flowers are fantastic raw, with a sweet, pea-like flavor. We have flavored sugar with the blossoms, as well as cooking up a few other recipes and making a peasant wine. We also make a simple flower infused drink by soaking the blossoms in water with lemons, and then straining and lightly sweetening the drink; it's very refreshing on a warm spring day!

Black Locust Custard

Black Locust Flower Jelly

Black Locust Flower Doughnuts

Black Locust Flower Syrup

Black Locust Flower Infused Sugar