Winter has settled in over the mid-Atlantic, and it’s much too cold for outside activities. For me anyway. Luckily I have plenty of foraging-themed indoor projects to keep me busy.
As mentioned in my last post, I am actively working to incorporate foraging and wild foods as a daily part of my life, rather than a hobby that I blog about (*cough, cough*) once a week on Sunday.
First up: processing spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin) in a way that makes them palatable to other taste buds in my home! Generally I store the whole berries in my freezer, and grind them as needed with an electric coffee grinder dedicated for this purpose. However, while the seed is as edible as the rest of the berry (technically a “drupe” according to the horticulturists), the flavor can be intense with a lingering aftertaste which is can be overwhelming (or even unpleasant) to folks who aren’t accustomed to it.
And there are so many options besides grinding the whole seeds! Just to name a few:
- Separating the seed from the dried pulp and only grinding the pulp
- Infusing sugar with the flavor (Marie Viljoen includes a recipe using spicebush twigs for this purpose in Forage, Harvest, Feast)
- Soaking the berries in high proof alcohol, similar to vanilla extract
- Making them into a syrup
And I’m sure there are many other ways to enjoy the flavor of spicebush in even more subtle ways.
I went with option #1 which was slightly less tedious than you would guess. The seeds, though large, remain largely intact when the fruit is crushed gently with a tamper. This means they are relatively easy to separate from the rest of the fruit. I was surprised to discover that (despite appearances), seed and non-seed had roughly the same volume. A teaspoon of seeds left me with a pile of flaky brown bits that, once ground, also measured about a teaspoon. I was expecting it to end up with much less.
I added the teaspoon of seeds to a cup of granulated white sugar in a mason jar, to experiment with infusing sugar with the flavor. According to Viljoen, it takes about a week for twigs to infuse sugar so I’m hoping it’s about the same for the seeds. Or less, since the spice flavor in the seeds is more concentrated than that of the twigs.
I added another teaspoon of whole spicebush to one cup of high proof vodka to see if “spicebush extract” is indeed a thing. Time will tell, stay tuned for the results! I will probably let it steep in the alcohol for several weeks before checking it.
Now that I had the hopefully-milder ground spicebush, what to do with it?
I opted for a simple recipe that would highlight the natural appeal of the spicebush: stewed apples. This is a great way to use up extra apples which may be past their prime and too soft to eat raw. (Another excellent option is to stuff a chicken with the chopped apple before roasting.)
The recipe was a definite success – although once again, neither teen would so much as try a taste. One claimed not to like cooked apples of any sort, while the other said it looked too much like cracked pepper. Oh, well! More for me and my husband!
I’m pleased to say this treatment for spicebush, while more time consuming, did meet my need for a milder version of ground spicebush to use in recipes.
Serves … um … one
- 1 medium to large apple, peeled
- 1 Tbs unsalted butter
- 1 tsp ground spicebush (with or without the seeds, according to your preference)
- 1 Tbs maple syrup
- Sprinkle of sea salt, or to taste
Cut the apple however you like – thin slices, wedges, large chunks or small. The cooking time will vary depending on how large the pieces are, but the process is the same.
Melt the butter in a small pan over medium-low heat. Add the apple, spicebush and maple syrup, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apple is soft. Remove from heat, sprinkle with sea salt, and serve.
This recipe easily scales up as needed. (Or to accommodate however many apples you have!) Serve alone, as a topping for pancakes or waffles, as a compote for grilled pork chops or a filling for roasted acorn squash.