Monday, September 5, 2016

Meatless Monday: Raspberries, Raspberries

The normal late summer sequence of Pick Your Own in Connecticut is blueberries, peaches, raspberries. It was a terrible season for pick your own peaches; a string of 50 degree days in February tricked the trees into thinking Spring had arrived and then two extremely cold spells damaged the buds, but this year’s raspberry crop is amazing! 

Nearby Bishops’s Orchards grows a variety called Heritage. Their orchard handout sheet explains that pruning the canes to ground level in late winter yields new growth that produces a crop in late summer and early fall. The season typically begins in mid-to-late August, peaking in September, and winding to a complete close after a killing frost. Several friends have reported that the picking is already great, and I have evidence, too — the 4 qt basket of freshly picked berries two friends gave to my husband on Friday!

Raspberries are a fragile fruit, and you really need to use them within a day to keep them from losing their shape and spoiling. I didn’t want to waste a berry. So I came up with a plan. 
  • We gently washed and ate some right away.
  • We picked out individual beauties, laid them out on a single layer on a baking sheet, and put them in the freezer. The next morning I poured the frozen berries into a ziplock bag. I followed old advice to freeze the berries without washing and to rinse the frozen berries well before using. The new message seems to wash and dry gently first. You can read more about storing fresh berries here. 
  • We set some aside in one layer in the fridge for eating on cereal over the next two days.
  • I measured out 4 cups to bake into raspberry crisp the next morning.

We had been buying and enjoying long distance berries over the past few weeks as they have been a BOGO item in all the supermarkets. But it was amazing to taste the difference a local berry makes.

Crisp is one of the easiest desserts to bake. It stores well in the freezer, too. Here’s a photo of the one I baked while it was still intact.


Here is the recipe I used; it is based on an old Bishop’s Orchard handout.

RASPBERRY CRISP
Ingredients
  • 4 cups fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup almond meal [The original recipe called for flour.]
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • Fresh lemon juice

Directions
  • Place berries in a 9” square pan.
  • Sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice.
  • Mix together dry ingredients.
  • Cut butter into the dry ingredients [This is a snap with a hand held pastry blender if you have one.] 
  • Sprinkle the topping evenly over the raspberries. 
  • Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until the berries start to bubble.

This was a birthday dessert, so we topped it with Farmer’s Cow Hay! Hay! Hat! Vanilla Ice Cream

Raw raspberries (fresh or frozen) are high in Vitamin C and dietary fiber and have many other health benefits. You can use them to top your cereal or spinach salad

Raspberries are also great in pie. And they make delicious syrup and jam. There are many, many ways to prepare them

I plan a visit (or two) to Bishop’s soon, a tradition I began when our son was small. It was the perfect outing for those early fall school holidays. Bishop’s has a “sin bin” for contributions to pay for the berries that never made it to the basket for weighing; back then I was a generous donor.

If you want to locate a PYO near your, Local Harvest is a great place to start. Enter a location and click on Pick Your Own to find the farms nearest you. It’s a great and healthy family outing. Enjoy!

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Shorts: 08.27.16 Out with the Old

I’m finally back, with a really short post. It’s not like me to throw anything away, but today I tossed the incandescent lightbulbs I had stashed in my basement. I put them in a sturdy paper bag. I crushed them. I bagged the paper bag in a saved plastic bag and then I put the whole shebang into my brown Toter for pickup on Monday.


I had long suspected I should no longer use these old bulbs. I knew that incandescents, unlike fluorescents, contain no hazardous material requiring that they be brought to a collection center. I had been hoarding them in the hope that I could find out how to recycle them. In August the Sierra Club’s “Mr. Green” answered the question: “Is it better to use up old incandescent bulbs, or should I recycle them for LEDs instead?” In his answer he confirmed that  yes, these bulbs are energy hogs and should never again be used. He also stated that the recycling value of incandescent bulbs is really low and he advised his readers to throw them out. So I finally did. You can read Mr. Green’s full response to this dilemma here

When shopping for new bulbs, please take Mr. Green’s advice (and mine) and visit the Energy Star site for some excellent tips.

Have a great Saturday!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Meatless Monday: The Ubiquitous Prickly Lettuce

Prickles
Even in the midst of this year’s rainfall deficit in Connecticut  [currently down about 6 inches from its usual total], the wild urban plants continue to thrive. One of the most prolific inhabitants of the space between fence and sidewalk is prickly lettuce (Lactusa serriola), so named for the prickly spines on the underside of its leaves. An ancestor to today’s salad lettuces, Lactusa serriola is a member of the sunflower family and is native to Europe. 

Prickly lettuce has a basal rosette of pale green leaves from which rises a single hollow stem that can grow to 7 feet! Its alternate leaves are deeply lobed; they typically orient themselves vertically toward the sun, rather than horizontally, leading to the nickname “compass plant.” The tops of the leaves are smooth, but the bottom is prickly, particularly along the midrib [an easy way to distinguish this plant from the dandelion whose leaves have a somewhat similar appearance]. It has a long and sturdy taproot and spreads by re-seeding. Like its modern-day relatives, prickly lettuce grows best in nutrient-rich soils, but it can tolerate dry sites with poor soil, one of the reasons it thrives when lawns are turning brown!

Tiny flowers, gone by.

Pods starting to form.
Prickly lettuce was traditionally used in herbal medicine as a sedative and a painkiller, hence one more nickname, “opium lettuce.” Some modern day foragers gather and eat its shoots or smoke its leaves, but most authorities caution against harvesting and using this plant as it is known to have toxic effects. In fact, WebMD has listed a number of warnings to those who decide to experiment with this plant. They urge everyone to avoid eating wild lettuce in large quantities, but the site also lists a number of immediate dangers to ingesting even a small amount of this plant for those with medical conditions including enlarged prostate, an allergy to ragweed, or narrow-angle glaucoma, as well as for those taking prescribed sedatives or about to have surgery. As a food source, perhaps it is best to leave this lettuce alone.

The plant is particularly troublesome to wheat farmers because the buds can be difficult to screen out of grain. The latex can clog equipment. However, rather than demonizing the wild lettuce, Washington State researchers chose to explore its possibilities as a cash crop. They were intrigued by the milky sap the plant exudes from all its parts when it is broken. A 2006 study had found that the latex in prickly lettuce was very similar to the polymers in natural rubber. The WSU researchers began by mapping prickly lettuce DNA. The initial findings were published in 2015 and seem promising; regions in the plant’s genetic code were found to be similar to those of plants used in the production of rubber. This is indeed good news as the Brazilian rubber tree, our main source of natural latex, is threatened by disease; over half of our rubber products are now being made from petrochemicals. Perhaps one day prickly lettuce will be cultivated and our tires will be made from this wild plant.

Prickly lettuce has one other property I should mention. Peter Del Tredici, author of Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast, states that this plant can be used in phytoremediation of urban sites contaminated by heavy metals, particularly zinc and cadmium. [Another reason not to eat prickly lettuce harvested from a parking lot.] 

I hope you have enjoyed this tale of a plant that you most likely have seen but may not have noticed. If so, you might also like to read my past posts on the wild carrot and purslane

Happy Monday!


I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”