Sorry… couldn’t help it… that’s right, today’s post is about QAL, aka Queen Anne’s lace, aka wild carrot. (Daucus carota). If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember my struggles to effectively use this wild resource that pops up everywhere along the roadsides this time of year. By the time you a) see the flowers so b) you’ve found the plant, it’s c) way too late to use the roots for anything because they become tough and woody. Much like garden carrots, or any other root vegetable, that has bolted in the blistering Mid-Atlantic summer heat.
Today’s foraging tale was a collaboration between myself and my eldest child, who decided to grow carrots this year in my garden (more on that in the forthcoming Annual Garden Update). Our erratic spring weather made most of the carrots bolt, shooting up flowers as early as mid-June. The carrots we pulled up were mostly small and inedible, and she was beyond dismayed at the results of her first gardening attempts.
When life gives you flowers… make jelly!
Since only a few carrot flowers seemed to be ready at any given time, we rounded out the harvest with Queen Anne’s lace growing along a relatively untraveled country road. Given where we live in the country, there is no avoiding agricultural pollutants, but I could at least limit the amount of road runoff. (Although I’m not sure how much they would affect the flowers versus the roots.)
Standard disclaimers apply: Queen Anne’s lace can be confused with water hemlock (Cicuta spp., primarily maculata in Maryland), so check and double check your identification before harvesting. That said, it is REALLY hard to mix them up this time of year, because hemlock flowers tower overhead, whereas QAL maybe reaches your waist. Either way, look for the telltale signs: “Queen Anne has hairy legs” – aka hair grows on the stems – and has a distinctive carroty smell to the leaves.
Once we had enough flowers, we turned to the business of finding recipes. We found two mostly identical recipes for Queen Anne’s lace jelly. The main difference being one called for “low sugar pectin“, and the other used regular pectin. I only had regular pectin, so we followed that recipe.
We learned the hard way exactly why the first recipe called for low-sugar pectin. Yes, the recipe even warns you that the jelly will not set correctly if you use regular pectin, but it didn’t explain why. I finally realized that most jams and jellies are made with fruit, which brings with them their own natural fructose, adding to the sugar in the recipe. Flowers have no inherent sugar. So even though you are adding sugar to make the jelly, the overall amount is still less than needed for the standard pectin.
So rather than a nicely set jelly, we have a very thick syrup. Hmmmm. It’s still insanely tasty despite the texture. I expected a carrot-flavor but there’s no hint of its vegetable origins. I have been unable to find the right words to describe the flavor, but suffice to say that normally I don’t like jelly (too sweet!) but this was delicious.
This has been a valuable lesson for us (okay, mostly by daughter) about resourcefulness, redefining success, and making the best out of the unexpected.
(Oh yeah, and following the recipe.)
As an added bonus, the carrot greens are still edible, and are now feeding three black swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes) we rescued from my parsley.
Every other year I have let them be, figuring nature knew best, and every other year the birds ate them. We have seen so few butterflies and bees this year, we agreed to bring the three babies inside so they might reach adulthood. And now they feast on fresh carrot greens instead of my parsley!