Beebop a reebop a Japanese Knotweed preserve

Among the many fantasy hobbies I have, one of my favorites is fantasy foraging. All winter long, I have Northeast Foraging on my bedside stand, attempting to memorize the facts for field garlic or may apples or fiddleheads so that on some future date I might be walking through the Fells, stop short and knowingly declare to my companion “Ah, it looks like the epazote is in season. Excellent, my last preserved set is nearly done, and my enchiladas simply aren’t the same without it!” Then (in my fantasy life) I’d take out my beautifully prepared foraging kit, expertly select a sustainable harvest of the plant in question, and then go home and use it in my latest home cooked meal that night.

I do have a great imagination, don’t I? It’s a consolation in this troubled age.

On Saturday, Adam and I took a run along a portion of the as-yet-unfinished Tri-Community Greenway. Running along, I spotted not two blocks from my house one of the approximately five plants I *can* ID at sight – the ubiquitous Japanese Knotweed.

A common sight

Today, in a break in the rain, Adam and I returned to the spot, knives in hand, to make our harvest. A very very short time later we had about 10x more knotweed than we needed, and I returned to the kitchen. In my fozen reserves are one pound of chopped rhubarb from last season. It’s difficult to get one’s rhubarb and one’s strawberries to tie out perfectly, especially when one has preteen boys who like strawberries. So here’s my plan – I’m going to make rhubarb knotweed jam, using a rhubarb jam recipe. It’ll probably be really quite sour. It may be terrible. It may be amazing. Here’s the journey of discovery!

Step 1: Cut up the knotweed
Fortunately, my handy foraging book explains how to prep the knotweed for use. I only used the smallest shoots, guaranteeing tenderness. I contemplate, cutting them up, how much like octopus they look. I’ve given up eating octopus on the belief that they’re too smart to eat. The same may be true of Japanese Knotweed, but I show no mercy to the invasives.

Choppy choppy

Step 2: Decide on a jam recipe
So here’s a secret for you. There aren’t THAT many variables in a jam recipe. Basically you have fruit mass, sourness, sugar & pectin. The only tricky one is pectin – some plants have it natively (mostly apples). Most don’t. I ended up with:

1 lb cut japanese knotweed
1 lb frozen cut rhubarb
1/2 cup water
7 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter (I always add this, despite no recipes ever calling for it, to keep the foaming down. #secrets)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (I debated – this was definitely sour enough – but decided the anti-oxidation factor was worthwhile)
1 packet liquid pectin (Certo)

First I boiled the rhubarb & knotweed in the water until tender.
Then I added the butter & sugar & lemon juice.
Once it was at a roiling boil, I added the pectin & boiled for one additional minute.
Then I jarred it.

Step 3: Realize that making up recipes is harder than it looks
Japanese knotweed is green. Rhubarb is dominantly red. When you mix red and green together, whaddya get? That’s right. Puke brown. With greenish flecks. The color was just… wrong. Bad wrong. You think about taste in a recipe. Perhaps while baking you think about leavening. But you forget about color, about scent and about texture. Or rather, I did. This one had like 5/7 correct. That is, er, not enough.

Not a good food color

Still I sallied on. Lots of foods go through ugly duckling stages. And hey, were we so shallow that we wouldn’t eat food just because it tasted red and looked brown? Well, maybe. I started coming up with a list of people who were known to be polite, regardless of provocation. You know, possible future jam-gift recipients.

Step 4: But how does it look in practical applications?
A great joy in life is mopping up hot jam with fresh bread. The moment of truth arrived. I have 8 jars of this stuff. Would this be my stocking stuffer at Christmas to the long-suffering? Would it be so bad I should just pour it out here and now? Had I discovered a new culinary delight, the likes of which the world had never seen? It was the moment of truth.

It definitely looks better in small quantities

And it was… pretty good? Not bad? Probably better than the jam you get at Denny’s in the little square Smucker’s packages? Perhaps? If you’re into a sort of, er, greenish flavor overtone? And it doesn’t look quite as bad in the jar as in the pot, either.

Could be, uh, something with cinnamon

Step 5: Make other people eat it
I didn’t invite anyone to dinner tonight. No, I rather informed them that they were eating my food. Unless they had a better idea, which I knew they didn’t. I didn’t invite someone who would give me a polite platitude, but rather someone who would tell it to me like it is. I got a mixed reaction – I got neither a flat rejection, nor a subtle request to go home with a jar.

So, all in all, probably a B- effort. That’s below the level I’d need to repeat the experiment.

It definitely looks chives-y on bread. It’s not.

What did we learn from all this?

1) It’s easy to harvest too much Japanese knotweed, but no one cares if you do

2) Maybe it would be good pickled. I liked the shape of the circles. Raw, it’s ok but nothing you’d ever crave. It is apparently very high in resveratrol, but I’m pretty sure the 2:1 sugar to weed ratio more than counterbalances that. Also, I’m pretty sure resveratrol is just an excuse to drink wine.

3) I actually liked it as a jam ingredient except for the critical failing of color. I am trying to think of a seasonal, local green fruit to pair it with. I thought of green grape (I think a sweeter pairing would be better than sour/sour). If you like mint, I think that would be a really interesting pairing (cut down on the sugar and make it a meat sauce). It might also go well in a pie. I’m thinking blueberry would overcome any green and balance it out. I have quite a bit set aside in the freezer, so I might actually try this latter option.

So friends! If you would like some extremely nutritious, hyper-local, small batch artesenal jam, let me know. I have seven jars currently looking for a home – first come, first served!

Just not quite right
Advertisements

October is Over

Sometime around Halloween, I usually start to despair. My life is such that I’m always busy. But between September and November I’m not just busy, I’m epically busy – and it’s been even truer than usual this year. Contributing factors include four birthdays in six weeks, apple picking and preserving, Halloween and the last good weather of the year (see also: raking time!).

This year I added to that normal busy mix a cat who requires tube feeding, soccer-which-requires-practices, a new role at work that has me travelling fortnightly and the World Series (I didn’t miss a game this year, at the cost of sleep, relationships and using my spare time for anything that wasn’t baseball). Somehow I felt just a touch busy, even with the strong effort by my husband (and mother-in-law for the past week).

So this is a catch-up post, where I get back on the horse and update on you a few activities.

Grey striking, surrounded by two of his good friends.

Soccer
Stoneham has a great town Soccer club. We haven’t done it in the past because it’s on Sunday mornings. But this year, it really seemed like something we needed to do. (It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that all their friends are in the league.) We showed up to church in cleats a lot, and only missed a handful of Sundays. It was pretty great. Grey was on team Greece, who pretty much rocked it. They lost two games (I think) and won several quite decisively. By the end they were doing things like “passing” and “having a strategy” and “knowing what they were supposed to be doing”. There were a few actually thrilling moments of soccer! It did involve practices, but Grey’s coach understands that I’m coming from work, and so it was relaxing instead of stressful. Greece will hit the fields again in Spring, and I’m excited for it. Thane did soccer too, but his version seemed to involve a lot of falling down.

My best preserve, I think, is the autumn pear.

Canning
This year I made: 2 strawberry jam, 3 pesto (frozen), 4 plum jam (shiro, red, Santa Rosa & mixed spiced), 1 plum compote, 2 autumn pear, 1 ginger lime pear (remind me never to accept a bushel of pears again), 1 crabapple jelly (from wild crabapples on the soccer field), & 1 apple butter. I think that’s it. I missed making a second batch of apple butter (I usually make two) and pepperonata (the red peppers didn’t do as well this year). Next year I hope to have damson plums from my tree.

Thane listens to Grey read a very sick Tiberius a story about cats. You can see Grey petting Tiberius.

Tiberius
One of our new cats (what was I THINKING getting new cats at the beginning of heavy season?) developed fatty liver disease, and required a feeding tube. It was put in three weeks ago (I think?). For the first week, he was being fed four times a day and throwing up five. He was within two days of me deciding that this was no kind of life, and ceasing his pain. The second week we started getting some traction. It’s been up and down since then (it was a great day when I got down to three feedings a day, eliminating the middle of the night feeding). Today, for the first time, he started eating food. You’ve never seen someone as excited as I was about a cat eating cat food. He’s going to make it!

Best friends in line for a roller coaster

Grey’s birthday
Grey turned eight, and I took he and two of his best friends to Canobie Lake Park. I had a blast as we rode very mild roller coasters, hung out in the arcade and made fart jokes. Well, some of us did. Then we had sushi, followed by a Minecraft cake. It felt… older. It was the first time I’ve taken Grey and his friends out to do kid stuff and be kids. I loved it – they were old enough to have so much fun with, but young enough that all of them would hold my hand. Pictures here

Scary birthday goers!

Thane’s birthday
I will confess that I just threw an invite out there at the last minute for Thane’s fifth birthday, figuring I’d figure it out as I went along. Two days before the event, I panicked as I realized that it was EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as the Main Street trick-or-treating! I was going to miss it, and all these five year olds were going to miss it too. So I sent out a last minute change asking that the kids come in costume. We spent the first hour trick or treating together. We had a blast, and I felt brilliant. Let the record show that it took 5 years for a kid with a 28th birthday to have a Halloween/Birthday party. I held out that long.

(Does it say anything that I’m going through my pictures trying to remember what the heck I’ve been doing that’s made me so busy?)

Well, that’s about it. I think you’re caught up. Don’t get too comfortable with it though, because Mocksgiving is in (EEEEK!) a week and a half, so yeah…

Anyway, pictures of my super-busy October can be found here!

Makes preserves, and redeems us

I’m sitting in the kitchen, waiting for my apple butter to cook. It’s mid-October, so unless I get 70 apples on Monday (it’s happened before…) I’m probably done with my seasonal canning for the year. I have a farm share – a double fruit share and a theoretically small but is actually vast vegetable share. I try, as much as possible, to do my preserving from this local, fresh, organic produce. So with my source of prepaid goodies ending soon, I’ll hang up my magnetic lid grabber, at least for now.

I feel like this was an off year for jam. I blame it entirely on plums. Previous years, I’ve gotten loads of plums — significant amounts of 3 or 4 varietals. There were Shiro Plums and black plums and Italian prune plums and “I don’t know, they’re just plums” plums. (There have never been Damson plums, to my tremendous disappointment. This might be the lamest bucket list item ever, but I really want to make damson plum jam.) This year, we got Italian prune plums once! Not nearly enough to turn into jam, either! So I made at least three fewer batches of plum jam than in previous years. I even repeatedly went to farmer’s markets looking for plums and found NADDA. Apparently plums aren’t hip. But man, they make delicious jam. I may yet break down and buy (shudder) supermarket plums and turn them into jam. We’ll see how big the rebellion in the troops is before we take such a drastic step.

Also on my weirdo bucket list: crabapple jelly. I can’t find a source of crabapples, and of course nobody but nobody sells crabapples. So if you have a crabapple tree (or know of an unloved one) and live in the greater Boston area, let me know. I pay in jam.

Also also: one of these days I’m going to make rosehip jelly. Slightly easier to find than crabapples, but require the chutzpah to go to some random shrub and start harvesting.

What did I make this year? I made:
2x Strawberry jam (a perennial favorite)
1x Strawberry rhubarb (which tastes identical to the strawberry)
1x Concord Grape jelly (check that one off my bucket list!)
1x Blueberry jelly (no on in my family likes it, but the farmshare gives me blueberries by the bucket and it makes a nice gift)
1x Peach butter (a labor of love!)
1x Apple butter (makes a huge amount)

I’d been thinking about making hot pepper jelly, but my neighbor made some and I figured that was enough hot pepper jelly for one street for this year.

I was thinking about making some of the more unusual recipes from my beloved “Ball Book of Home Preserving”. There’s a curried apple chutney that would help if I only get 45 apples next week, which sounds fascinating and exotic. Oh, and I think I’ll preserve some Pomegranate molasses, because I need it for my favorite cranberry sauce, and it’s a pain to make during Mocksgiving, and I only need a bit of it… so it would be a good candidate for canning.

Then again, if I never peel and core another apple it might be too soon.

Oh, also, for those following the drama… I did get to remove my brace yesterday. Yay!

So tell me… which one of my jams sounds best? Why are there no plums to be had this year? What should I find a way to make happen