In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Pawpaw Preserves, Week Ending 10/28/2018

I lied.

Well, maybe that’s a bit strong.

I didn’t “lie” exactly. But I certainly didn’t believe for a second that my improvised freezer jam-style pawpaw preserves might, just might, actually turn out to be tasty.

Maybe I should say I was wrong… but that’s much harder to admit!

Much to my surprise, after a few weeks of the preserves languishing in my fridge, a quick sample revealed it was actually delicious. I guess the flavors had time to mellow and relax and blend, and by that time the instant pectin had set up to an acceptably spreadable texture.

So here is the pawpaw preserves recipe after all. (Sorry I don’t have the fancy WordPress business plan that allows plugins for nicely formatted recipes. Hopefully you can copy & paste it to your word processor of choice to print or save.) Also the blog post continues below the recipe. I am always frustrated when I have to scroll through mountains of text to reach the recipe in a post, so I try not to foist the same experience on my readers (all two and a half of you – hi!).

This recipe was a mishmash of the original recipe, Ball’s generic instructions for freezer jam, and my own compulsive need to tweak any recipe that crosses my kitchen counter.


Pawpaw Preserves – Freezer Jam Style

1 1/2 c pawpaw puree (mine was relatively lumpy for texture purposes)
1/3 c sugar, plus more as needed to taste
3 Tbs bourbon
3 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs water
2 Tbs instant pectin
1/4 tsp ground spice bush
1/4 tsp salt

Heat pawpaw puree and water gently in a pan over low heat, so it just simmers for 10 minutes. (I am not sure if this is “really” necessary, but that is what they did in the original recipe so I did it too!) You can add water if it seems too thick, or strain if it seems too lumpy.

Stir in vinegar, bourbon, spice bush and salt. Taste and add a tablespoon at a time more sugar (for sweet) and / or vinegar (for tart) according to your personal preferences.

Allow the preserves to cool slightly, then whisk in pectin. Store in containers in the fridge or freezer.

Makes about 3 cups.


Pawpaw Preserves

Pawpaw Preserves

Here’s my challenge: how do I use the preserves? I haven’t eaten toast since I stopped eating grains years ago. And after many failed attempts, I finally realized there is no “perfect paleo bread”. I wasted a lot of time and money trying to find or create the ideal recipe for grain-free bread before I finally realized that for me, personally, mimicking mainstream food was actually counterproductive to how I had chosen to eat.

As a result, I don’t eat many things one would normally top with preserves.

If I ate ice cream, I could imagine dribbling preserves over it.

Stirring it into yogurt might work.

Basting pork or chicken while grilling or roasting might also be an option, though after reading Eating Appalachia I’d be concerned about how high heat would impact the flavor. Plus at least one member of my family wouldn’t even try dinner if there were pawpaw anywhere in it.

What’s a forager to do?

Feed it to friends and family, of course!

I decided to share the preserves at a Halloween party, and they were a hit! I topped crackers with goat cheese and a dollop of preserves and They. Were. Amazing. The goat cheese contributed a slight tang to offset the flavor of the preserves, and the cracker provided a satisfying crunch.

Pawpaw Preserves, Served

Pawpaw Preserves, Served

(I even made a few with store bought almond flour crackers, because no one at a party should eat a dish the cook won’t eat herself.)

Tips: Remember to assemble the crackers just before eating, and only make as many as will get consumed quickly. (The crackers eventually absorb the moisture from the goat cheese and turn soggy.) Also be prepared for a LOT of questions about what pawpaws are because most people haven’t heard of them, even in areas where they grow wild!


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Fantastic Foraging, Week Ending 10/07/2018

Well, I meant to post more about black walnuts this week. Truly I did.

But Friday I walked through the woods, and was astounded to find there are still pawpaws lurking in the trees and on the ground.

“Common knowledge says” – aka, “everybody knows” – that pawpaw fruit is only available for a few weeks in the fall. When I found my first ripe ones on September 3, I figured I should take advantage of the harvest while I could! The last thing in the world I expected was to find plenty of pawpaws still available in early October.

Pawpaw Lingering in the October Canopy

Pawpaw Lingering in the October Canopy

And I couldn’t just leave them there. That would be wasteful. Especially knowing how many other foragers can’t find Asimina triloba because it doesn’t grow locally.

Problem was … I didn’t know what to do with them. I don’t normally eat a lot of fruit, due to the havoc even healthy sugars wreck on my body.  Since it’s so labor intensive to process pawpaws, the ideal recipe(s) would be fairly quick; use a minimum of heating and exposure to air for the pulp (since according to Eating Appalachia both treatments could bring out underlying bitter flavors in the fruit).

A plethora of pawpaws

A plethora of pawpaws

When using pawpaw, remember two things: the skin and seeds are not only inedible but toxic; and some people are intolerant to pawpaws so always try a small amount first before consuming significant amounts. (For more on foraging safety, please see this page.)

After doing some research on “pawpaw intolerance”, I decided to use an abundance of caution while preparing this batch. The seeds are surrounded by a membrane sack which can be split and peeled off using a fingernail or a knife. I didn’t know whether these sacks in fact contained the same toxin as the seeds, so I took extra care to avoid getting them in the pulp.

I also made sure no skin clung to the pulp. For firmer pawpaws, a vegetable peeler works well to remove the skin, as long as you make sure to get off all the green. Once they get riper and softer, a paring knife is more useful.

(Fun fact: allegedly the original consumer of pawpaws was the same as that of avocados, the giant sloth. I can imagine the gastro-intestinal distress caused by the seeds and skins of the pawpaw helping to ensure the seeds passed quickly through the beast’s guts, ending with them being deposited in a new location in the process.)

I tried two different recipe approaches (not recipes, per se) – a  liqueur recipe and an improvised freezer jam recipe. The liqueur involved soaking pawpaw puree in vodka for several weeks, then straining and adding simple syrup to sweeten (if necessary … pawpaws are pretty sweet on their own). No, I don’t know yet how I will use pawpaw liqueur. I’ll figure it out sometime after the liqueur has matured.

Pawpaw Liqueur

Pawpaw Liqueur

Next, I invented a freezer jam recipe, riffing on this water canned jam recipe. I would post the actual ingredients / method I used, except I was unhappy with the results. I heated the pawpaw puree and other ingredients only slightly to help the sugar dissolve into the rest of the ingredients. Unfortunately, I had the “clever” idea of substituting spicebush in place of the ginger, clover, allspice, and cinnamon. Not everyone likes the flavor of spicebush. In fact, no one in my family except me. Oops? Apparently I have a few containers of freezer jam to enjoy all by my lonesome!


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Foraging with Fox Haven, Week Ending 9/9/2018

This week, I had the opportunity to forage with a group, as part of a class offered through Fox Haven Farm & Retreat Center. They run a series of foraging classes throughout the year, and people can sign up for the entire series or just individual classes. I happened to learn about this past week’s class via a Facebook event – possibly the only good thing that has come from Facebook all year – and I had to sign up when I saw the class name: Pawpaw Haul!

Fox Haven is “a farm, non-profit ecological retreat, and learning center”. They practice organic gardening, offer retreats and classes on a variety of subjects, run an herb-specific CSA, and provide our local coop with produce. Most important for foraging, they participate in the “Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program” which allows them to leave land for native species in the local area. The land set aside for conserving natural resources is where we we spent the day hunting for fall wild edibles.

Thankfully, the blistering heat and humidity of the previous week had finally ended. The morning was cool and overcast, perfect for hiking through the woods. Lacey, the foraging instructor, led us to the area where the pawpaws (Asimina triloba) could be found. She taught us that if you shake the tree, any ripe fruit will fall to the ground. Unfortunately, this time the only fruit which fell was small and rock hard. The weird weather we’ve had all year may have been a factor in how small and late to ripen the fruit were. She said you can try roasting them if they are almost ripe to soften them up enough to eat, so we kept the handful we collected to try. I was particularly curious about this suggestion, since in Eating Appalachia they had specifically warned against overheating pawpaw when cooking; but Lacey said they had used that technique successfully at a local restaurant where she used to work.
Fox Haven Pawpaws

Fox Haven Pawpaws

Next on our class “to-find” list was autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). Autumn olive is a very invasive species, but it also provides food for wildlife and humans. The berries contain more of the antioxidant lycopene than tomatoes do, and the seeds are high in omega-3 essential fatty acids. The seeds are so large, compared to the overall fruit size, it is easiest just to eat them along with the flesh. One shrub can apparently produce almost eight pounds of fruit, which is good and bad: it’s a lot of food, but a lot of seeds that can be easily dispersed and allow the shrub to spread even further.
Ripe Autumn Olive Berries

Ripe Autumn Olive Berries

I learned that each individual shrub tends to have its own flavor; some will bear more sour fruit, and some sweeter. You can harvest fruit from different plants for different uses. The first shrub we visited had very astringent fruit (like an unripe persimmon, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing that). The second shrub had berries so tart they made my mouth pucker. (That one was my favorite.) Since we were planning to make Autumn Olive Ketchup, we wanted sweet fruit. At the third shrub – the sweetest so far – it began to rain. We ended the gathering early due, and only ended up with about 1.5 cups of the berries.
We also harvested some goldenrod (Solidago spp.) for tea. Please note this beautiful yellow spray of flowers is NOT what is causing your fall allergies! Goldenrod often gets blamed for what is ragweed’s fault, because goldenrod is easier to identify. But the pollen too heavy to be spread by the wind, and needs insects like bees to carry it.
Goldenrod Flowers

Goldenrod Flowers

We went back to the farm for lunch early, hoping the rain would end so we could forage more in the early afternoon. We were supposed to go harvest spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries but the rain never let up so we remained trapped near the buildings. Dried ground spicebush can be used as a substituent for allspice in most recipes. However the oils in spicebush fruit go rancid quickly (even after drying), so it should be stored in the freezer for the longest useful life.
The other plant planned for harvest during the class was Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus). The Jerusalem artichokes thankfully were in the garden near the buildings and barn where we tried waiting out the rain. Jerusalem artichokes, also called sunchokes, are a member of the sunflower family with edible tubers. The tubers apparently form as nodules along the plants roots as they grow during the summer.
Feral Jerusalem Artichokes along a Roadside

Feral Jerusalem Artichokes along a Roadside

The tubers are very high in inulin, which is prebiotic fiber that feeds the intestinal flora and fauna.  This is another great example of a food that should be sampled in small quantities the first time, or maybe even several times. If you are unused to that level of inulin, it can result in a very “fragrant” experience. They are even sometimes jokingly referred to as “fartichokes”. The inulin can be reduced by roasting, cooking with lemon juice, or waiting until after several frosts to harvest the tubers. Or you can build up your tolerance gradually by increasing the amount of Jerusalem artichoke you eat over time. Don’t eat it the evening before anything important, like a major presentation at work, an interview, or any other time you have to be serious. Trust me on this one. I don’t care if you are a grown up; farts are funny.
However, the plants we dug up had no significant growth on their roots at all. We tucked them back into the mud, hoping they would grow more. Jerusalem artichokes are practically weeds, and any part of their tubers that get left in the ground results in even more Jerusalem artichokes the next year.
While we were in the garden, Lacey pointed out different herbs and invited us to pick a few to make infused vinegar. I chose yarrow (Achillea millefolium), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), and a few pieces of cayenne pepper(Capsicum anuum) for mine, and added goldenrod to it as well. I have no idea how it will turn out after a few weeks of steeping, but that is part of the adventure!
Herbal Infused Vinegar

Herbal Infused Vinegar

At the end of the class, we hadn’t harvested much to cook together! The small, unripe pawpaws were roasted at 350F, but they came out gray-fleshed and mushy looking. I wasn’t brave enough to try them! We also didn’t have Jerusalem artichokes to roast and sample with the autumn olive ketchup. Fortunately, another of the Fox Haven staff members had found some chicken of the woods mushrooms (Laetiporus sulphureus) while on a separate trip, and he shared his find with our class.
Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

While Lacey sliced and sauteed the mushrooms, we made a small batch of Autumn Olive Ketchup since we weren’t able to gather enough berries for a full batch. The recipe we used was similar to this one although we used ground spicebush that Lacey had gathered a previous year in place of the allspice. The mushrooms were delicious dipped in the “ketchup”. And yes, the flavor and texture of the mushrooms eerily resembles chicken.
I really enjoyed the class, despite the disappointing harvest. It was a very different experience to go into the woods with other people, rather than my usual solitary excursions. It would have been nice to find more edibles, and at one point, Lacey mentioned that if we were only eating what we could forage, today would have been a day that we went hungry.
However, I think there is a different mindset between a class and foraging for survival. The only things we tried to forage were the specific items we were looking for as part of the class: pawpaws, autumn olive, goldenrod, spicebush, and Jerusalem artichokes. If we really focused on survival, on the other hand, we would have harvested everything we found, such as dandelion greens, chickory, and the earliest hickory nuts. Additionally, if this had been our only food, we also wouldn’t have let the rain discourage us because hunger is a powerful motivator!


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Pawsibilities

This week we have a bonus foraging post! Ladies and gentlemen, may I present: pawpaws. The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is almost as mythical a foraging find as morels and ramps. The difference? I actually found pawpaw fruit!

The fruit is extremely soft when ripe, the yellowish green skin easily torn, and it often looks unsightly with discolored or black spots. Which means you’ll never find pawpaws in grocery stores! The pawpaw is indigenous to the Appalachians. Luckily I live just on the outskirts of the mountains so of course I had to try finding some for myself!

The pawpaw is a short understory tree. (Or an overgrown shrub.) The trick was first recognizing the huge leaves in the local woods; then spying the fruit high up in the branches. There are some guidelines to tracking pawpaws here.  They don’t always produce fruit consistently, depending on the conditions from year to year. They are pollinated by flies instead of bees, so apparently roadkill or scat helps produce more fruit. The larger ones seem to produce the most fruit, which unfortunately means they are out of reach. Once I finally confirmed the trees with fruit, I began stalking a few local groves.

Can You Spot the Pawpaws?

Can You Spot the Pawpaws?

Fast forward several months to early September. I didn’t mean to come home with an armload of the fruit. I just wanted to check if any nuts had fallen from the possible butternut tree. But the road was muddy where we wanted to pull over, so we drove about a mile or so past the tree. And since we were going to be near the pawpaw groves anyway, we decided to check how close the fruit was to being ripe.

I figured we were still a few weeks early because any fruit we could reach to check was rock hard. Thankfully, my husband remembered something I’d just told him from my recent reading of Eating Appalachia. You know the fruit is fully ripe when it falls to the ground. So while I was looking up (in disappointment), he looked down. Sure enough, green ripe fruit lay scatted among the leaves and weeds. So it didn’t matter after all that the fruit grew out of reach. Except may be it getting more bruised on its way to the ground. Critters and ants had beaten us to a few, but we still gathered a lot.

Pawpaw Harvest

Pawpaw Harvest

Interestingly enough, when we checked other trees, there were no fruit found on the ground at all. Not sure if they had already been eaten by forest creatures, found by other foragers, or just hadn’t ripened enough to fall yet. We also collected the end of a branch loaded with fruit that seemed almost ripe. Still to be determined whether they only will ripen on the plant (like strawberries) or off the plant (like tomatoes).

The seeds are huge compared to the overall fruit size, and present a challenge to effectively eating the fruit or extracting its pulp. The easiest method is to slice open the fruit and eat the yellow pulp with a spoon, discarding the seeds as you encounter them like watermelon seeds. (Except don’t try to swallow these, please!) Each fruit tastes different, and no two people will interpret the flavor the same way. The one consistent impression is “tropical”. You can variously experience banana, vanilla, mango, or pear. Or a mix of multiple flavors. The flavor is overwhelmingly sweet; I couldn’t eat very much since I eat very little sugar in my diet. Sometimes there is a bitter aftertaste, which may increase as the flesh oxidizes. I haven’t worked with it enough to confirm if that is the case. The texture is like custard, or pudding.

That's a lot of pawpaw seeds and pulp

That’s a lot of pawpaw seeds and pulp

After eating a few, we processed the pulp from the rest. We tried to use a food mill, but the size of the seeds prevented the mill from turning at all. So we separated seeds and skin by hand, then ran the resulting pulp through the food mill for a more consistent texture. We ended up with about two cops. I added a tablespoon of lemon juice to help preserve the color. I used part of it to make the Eating Appalachia recipe Pawpaw simple syrup – yes, for cocktails. Don’t judge!

Pawpaw Simple Syrup

Pawpaw Simple Syrup

The Pawpaw Whiskey Sour recipe was waaaaay too sweet for me; instead of 2 parts pawpaw syrup to 1.5 parts whiskey, our ratio ended up closer to 1 part pawpaw to 2 parts whiskey. We froze the rest of the pulp for future use… maybe for ice cream! The possibilities are endless.

Pawpaw Whiskey Sour

Pawpaw Whiskey Sour

If you cannot forage pawpaws locally, you can actually order frozen pulp online, for example from Integration Acres.

Obligatory warning: some people feel sick, even to the point of nausea, after eating pawpaw. Always sample new foods in small amounts first to ensure they agree with you before eating larger amounts. Additional foraging safety tips are here.


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Fruitful Foraging, Week Ending 6/17/2018

Summer is the season for fruit! Except summer starts next week, so we’re still awaiting nature’s bounty.

The exception is black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis), which are the first cane fruit to ripen. Blackberries and wineberries won’t be far behind.

Black raspberries

Black raspberries

These black raspberries became accessible when a road crew “finally” (alas) mowed the roadside, reducing the chance of an unfortunate encounter with ticks and poison ivy. (Random mowing. Yet another reason why you shouldn’t count on roadside foraging.)

Recently, I found a wild pear (Pyrus pyraster) tree. The fruit doesn’t ripen until  November, and remains small and gritty compared to cultivated pears. Rather than eating straight, their flavor is best enjoyed in infusions. Pear liqueur, anyone?

Wild pear

Wild pear

I also FINALLY found pawpaw (Asimina triloba) trees in the area. As is so often the case, they were there all along, I just didn’t know what I was looking for. The fruit should grow larger and turn yellow by August. I hope the weight of the fruit will help bring the branches closer to being within reach.

Pawpaw

Pawpaw

I am currently dreaming up a “food forest” for my front side yard, and pawpaws will play a role in the design. More on food forests in another post.

Deeper in the woods, female spicebush (Lindera benzoin) shrubs are starting to show berries. They will be ready to harvest when they turn red, much later in the summer and into the fall.

Spicebush berries

Spicebush berries

What I did not find in the woods: mayapple fruit! The lush carpet of mayapples had vanished. The few scraggly plants I could still find were too small for fruit, or the fruit was already gone. In two weeks, the entire harvest was just poof. Gone.

Not fruits, but still worth noting: yarrow & day lilies are finally flowering. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) made an appearance on this blog two months ago. This pretty herb is primarily used for tea, seasonings, or garnish. I am waiting for more flowers before I harvest any, so I can’t report on its flavor yet.

Yarrow in flower

Yarrow in flower

The shoots, flowers and tubers of day lilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are all edible, although some people find it upsets their digestive tracts. When introducing wild foods, you should always try a small sample first in case of adverse reactions.

Day lilies

Day lilies

Day lilies exemplify one of the main differences between foraged food and the industrial-agribusiness-grocery-stores. While they provide three different edible parts, the flowers (which are prime forage now) are each only available for a single day. You can’t really “plan” on having enough flowers on one day to feature as an appetizer for a dinner party. Nature doesn’t care about your hors d’oeuvre tray!