Monday, March 4, 2013

Making Lemonade from Lemons

 When the sky pelts us with enough hailstones to collapse the extension to our vegetable tunnel, and freeze our lettuce and tomato plants, it's time to make lemonade from lemons.

Gather up a cup of clean hailstones, pour over grape syrup to taste, stir vigorously, and enjoy your hail slushy.

Considering that we drink borehole water, breathe road dust daily, and eat what we grow, the infinitesimal pollutants in the hailstones are unlikely to harm us. There is an Afrikaans saying here in South Africa, 'Wat nie dood maak nie, maak vet'. (What doesn't kill you makes you fat)

A frugally minded friend collects buckets of hail, stores them in her freezer and uses them to ice the vegetables that she is blanching. It saves the effort of freezing lots of ice in the first place. My freezer is too full of garden harvests to do that, but it's a cool idea.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Foraging for Prickly Pears

During his tea break this morning, my ever-helpful son ran up the hill and collected a bucket of prickly pears for me, well, for a bit of financial reward. This interesting fruit has always intrigued me the way they grow on the end of the cactus leaves, like jewels. 

Inspired by my beautiful recipe book, Prickly Pears and Pomegranates by Bernadette Le Roux and Marianne Palmer, I decided that today my family could dine on this sweet, veld delicacy. I spent quite some time peeling them with a knife and fork to avoid the fine hairs that can be as irritating as fibre glass under your skin, and which my boy had succeeded in imbedding in his fingers in spite of the recommended tin-can-and-stick method to extricate the fruit from the cactus.


One third were chilled until lunchtime, then enjoyed in their juicy, fresh, unadulterated sweetness for dessert. Their seeds, much like a guava, are very hard, so one has to chew them carefully. 

The second third were cooked up into a translucent syrup with an unusual, tangy sweetness that had me licking fingers and the spoon. This is another pantry treat to be saved for special occasions. I can imagine it poured over flapjacks topped with fresh fruit and yoghurt, dolloped on waffles or drizzled over custard ice-cream.

The final third are decorating our dining table in a beautiful, locally crafted, Mud Studio, yellow pottery bowl.

It is easier to forage in the countryside, but even in the city, there are interesting foods to be found if you open your eyes. Reminiscing back to when we lived in the city, some Cape Town treasures that I can think of are:
Black mussels picked off the rocks at low tide
Mushrooms in the pine forests
Dandelions in the fields
Pears dropping off a lone tree on a popular walk
Friends and family with unused fruit on their trees.
Sour figs that grow wild on the sand dunes and make a cheek-sucking, tart preserve
Eugenia berries in the hedges
Chestnuts underfoot in the older suburbs
Pine nuts if the squirrels didn't get them first
Fennel in abundance on certain pavements I know
Figs hanging over a neighbour's wall
And fish, of course.

And then when we visit my sister in the foothill pine plantations of the Drakensberg Mountains there is hunting, trout fishing, mushroom foraging and berry picking.

What is free for the foraging where you live?

Edited to add:  I have realised that I am one of the 1% of people allergic to prickly pears. Eating them makes my chest tight. The more I ate, the tighter my chest became, and my lips became tingly and numb. I am terribly disappointed, as I had all sorts of plans for prickly pear wine, prickly pear ice-cream, and other concoctions. A bit of internet research also revealed that the leaves are edible, and frequently used in Mexican cuisine. Prickly pears are apparently useful in helping diabetes and high cholesterol. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Extending the Abundance

My mum-in-law is one of the kindest, most generous people that I know. She has taken the principle of USE-IT - DON'T LOSE IT to far greater heights than I could imagine. 

Here's her story:

"I have spent the last month foraging granadillas, crawling through dense undergrowth and dead spikey shrubs that the granadillas had killed, my arm is permanently bleeding.  Had a great idea to put them up for sale at R1 each in the  front of pharmacy to raise funds for Grace the cleaner who lost everything in a huge fire that swept through Khayalitsha . I was picking up 200 a day (also sold 20 kilos to your friend), well she was given over a thousand rand today to buy little hotplate and oven and an iron and still have change. Also have bags of frozen juice. Hope you can take some back with you!"

I am inspired. What better way to use the abundance that we live with, than to share it with another person, enriching their life and our own. After all, it is far better to give than to receive.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Foraging for wild Mushrooms

While walking in the pine forest plantation behind my sister's secluded home on a rainy afternoon last month, we came across some beautiful boletus edulis mushrooms. They had freshly sprung through the fragrant carpet of needles, as yet undiscovered by the vigilant resident baboon population. We gathered as many as we could hold, mouths watering for the rich feast ahead.

After scrubbing them well and wiping away any persistent goggas (bugs), we sliced them up.

Then we simply fried them in butter, garlic and rosemary, later adding cream and seasoning to the pan.

Tossed with pasta, they made a lip-smacking meal.

The leftover slices of mushroom were dried on a rack in the oven. The weather was too damp to dry them any other way.

By morning we each had a jar packed full of pungent dried mushrooms. A couple of slices flavour a whole pot. My well guarded jar is hidden in my pantry, only to be used on special occasions.

Although we didn't initially set out to find them, mushroom foraging is an exciting activity that involves the whole family TREASURING TIME TOGETHER, provides FREE FUN FITNESS. A true CAREFREE COOKING experience too, considering the current retail mushroom prices. The way we live, eating mostly home grown, local food, mushrooms have become a treat which I seldom buy. In fact, all through Summer, I have hardly set foot in the fresh produce section of our grocery store. We just live off what's in season here on the farm.

What are you currently foraging for where you live?

Leave a comment. I'd love to hear about it.