International Food Bloggers Conference 2014

This is first year I will attend, legitimately (as opposed to sneaking in for a session or two here and there) the International Food Bloggers Conference, being hosted by Foodista.com and held in Seattle. This conference is an excellent resource for food lovers (they have SO many brands represented and on display all weekend), food bloggers (a weekend packed with technology sessions and information), media types (unfettered access to active bloggers) and businesses seeking to commiserate with food experts. While the conference is ONE WEEK away, there are a few spots left! Sign up here and let me know you’ll be coming.

ifbc2014-seattle-banner.pngProfessionally, the event makes sense for me. I’ve never thought of myself as a blogger (I’m terrible at keeping up) but I do have great information available on my site featuring food and urban farming. Personally, there is nothing better than doing business with friends, and the founders of CEO are like family to me. Many years ago I heard from my dear friend Sheri that she and her partner, Barnaby were launching a new website about food. Today, as a well-used and adored site that “features a wealth of encyclopedic content about foods, tools, and techniques, and house a growing database of user-added recipes,” FOODISTA has been a home to many food bloggers and food lovers since their launch in 2008. I couldn’t be more proud of the founding team and I’m stoked to see them all at IFBC Seattle 2014!

Preserving Plums

Together, plums and cherries make a happy marriage of texture and flavor: plums break down easily in cooking, and cherries hold their shape. They are both stone fruits, and maintain a slight almond essence that can be highlighted with a splash of brandy or kirsch. Plums are excellent fruits for both sweet and savory preparations. Broken down into a luscious sauce spiked with Asian flavors, they are easily manipulated into a silky condiment. The sauce also comes together quickly and will take little more than an hour to make and jar, resulting in the perfect jar of preserves for gift-giving.

Ginger Plum Sauce
Makes 4 to 6 half pints | start to finish: 1 hour

Sauces and savory relishes are an excellent way to add some flexibility to your pantry; this spicy ginger plum sauce has a kick of heat from jalapeno peppers. Use the sauce as a condiment to barbeque with, or as a dipping sauce for grilled meats. Drawing from Asian flavors, this is also exceptional as an accompaniment to summer spring rolls and steamed dumplings. You can easily turn up the heat by adding more jalapeño, or go sweeter with a bit more sugar. Neither will affect the safety of the sauce and can be adjusted to your personal taste.

3 pounds purple plums, pitted
1 cup brown sugar
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Prepare jars for canning. You’ll need to sterilize the empty jars for this recipe. Place all the ingredients into a large pot and set over medium-high heat. Stir frequently until the plums release their juice. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the fruit breaks down and the sauce thickens. If the fruit is too hot and sticking to the bottom of your pot, lower the temperature. The sauce is done when a small spoonful is placed on a plate and no liquid separates out, creating a ring around the pulp. Total cooking time can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

When the sauce is cooked, add half of the mixture to a blender (or add it all, if you prefer) and process to a smooth puree. Combine the puree and sauce and add to the prepared jars. Using a damp, clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars and place the lids and rings on the jars. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter. When the sauce is cool, remove the metal rings, check for proper seals, and label with date and contents. Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use, for up to a year. Once opened, store in the fridge.

washed jars • water bath

———–

Plum & Cherry Jam
makes about 7 half pints | start to finish: 1 1/2 hours plus overnight rest

Pectin is the plant cellulose needed to set a jam properly. Cherries are a low pectin fruit, so do not easily turn to thick and luscious jam. Plums, however, contain decent amounts of pectin and so work in harmony with the cherries to make a perfect jam. Both fruits tend to pronounce their acidity when cooked, so the sugar amount is important here. Taste as you go, and feel free to add a half cup more mid-way through cooking if the jam seems sour. With a deep red-purple hue, this spread is gorgeous served on toast or over a bowl of morning yogurt.

3 pounds sweet red cherries, pitted
1 1/2 pounds plums, pitted and split in half lengthwise
2 cups sugar
1 lemon, juiced and halved, rind reserved
Splash of kirsch or brandy, optional

Place cherries, plums, sugar, lemon juice and one half of the lemon rind into a large pot and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Stir the fruit regularly, and reduce heat to medium-low, holding fruit at a gentle simmer. Cook until cherries soften completely and plums begin to break apart, 20 to 25 minutes. Skim any foam. Remove from heat, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, prepare jars for canning. You’ll need to sterilize the empty jars for this recipe. Remove the lemon rind from the pot and return the jam to medium heat. Put a small plate in your freezer. You will use this later to check the set of the jam. Cook, stirring frequently, until jam is set, 30 to 45 minutes. To check jam set, place a small spoonful on your cold plate and let sit for 30 seconds. If the preserves wrinkle slightly when pushed with your fingertip, jam is set. If preserves do not wrinkle, continue cooking and checking the set every 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

After the set is reached, add a splash of kirsch or brandy, if desired, and stir to incorporate. Pour the jam into the jars. Using a damp, clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars and place the lids and rings on the jars. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter. When the jam is cool, remove the metal rings, check for proper seals, and label with date and contents. Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use, for up to a year. Once opened, store in the fridge.

washed jars • water bath

HOW TO :: IDENTIFY, HARVEST & COOK SQUASH BLOSSOMS

One of the most frequently asked questions I get every summer is when and how to harvest squash blossoms. These brilliant tangerine-colored flowers can be cooked in broths, sautéed, or more commonly stuffed and dipped in light batters and fried. Every- one loves fried squash blossoms!

Squash Vine & Blossoms

Summer squash plants (all members of the Cucurbitaceae family, for that matter— cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, gourds, and so on) send out both male and female blossoms. Through pollination, male blossoms lend their pollen to the female blos- soms, and those female blossoms turn into the fruit of the plant. A plant will create more male blossoms than are necessary for pollination, and some of these may be harvested and eaten. (But if you eat all of the male blossoms, you will not have any fruit to harvest!)

Identifying male versus female blossoms is a reasonably simple task. Male flowers have stamens—a long, slender “stalk” that runs up the center of the bloom, tipped with a thick carpet of pollen. Male blossoms grow on long, thin stems from the base of the squash plant—typically about six or seven inches in length. By contrast, female blos- soms sit low to the plant and do not have a stamen. To harvest, cut the male blossoms at the base of their stems, as close to the plant as possible. You can use the stem in your cooking or trim it down to a few inches. (You may also harvest female blossoms, if you are trying to reduce the fruit of the plant or it’s early in the season and you wish for the plant to fully establish itself before fruiting.)

Use harvested squash blossoms right away, as they wilt quickly. If you need to store them for a short time, line a storage container with a linen cloth or paper towel and mist it until just damp. Lay out the flowers in single layers, leaving space between the blossoms, and stack them between layers of moistened towel. Store in the fridge for up to two days.

To prepare squash blossoms for cooking, I like to remove the stamen, particularly if the anther is thick, as it can taste quite bitter. (The anther is the tip of the stamen and contains the pollen.) To do this, use a small paring knife and delicately open the blossom to remove the stamen at its base or as close to the base as possible. Cook squash blossoms by dipping them into a light egg batter and frying, briefly, in a shallow pool of oil. Make sure the heat is high, as they cook quickly and you need only let the batter brown slightly before serving. For more crunch, roll them in bread crumbs (after dipping them into the batter) before frying.

You can also chop squash blossoms and add them to soups, such as Ricotta– Squash Dumpling Soup or Carrot Peel Soup. I have also had squash blossoms in a simple, light quesadilla. Heat a tortilla in a dry pan; when both sides are golden, add cheese and several squash blossoms to one side and fold in half, pressing the sides together. The cheese will melt and the blossoms will steam. Delicious!

[This article has been excerpted from FRESH PANTRY, so if you're looking for more tips & tricks for eating, growing and living seasonally, please check out my book!]

 

5 for FRIDAY :: Cle Franklin with Half Pint Ice Cream

I have the great providence of being surrounded by inspiring people. 5 for Friday questions will be asked of artists, farmers, curators, creators, innovators, entrepreneurs etc – all of the people that I find interesting. Everyone gets the same five questions.

Cle Franklin

I ran into my old pal Cle at the Urban Craft Uprising event a few weekends ago. I was there signing copies of Fresh Pantry and nearly EVERYONE was walking by with a cone or cup of ice cream. I needed one. Turns out HALF PINT ICE CREAM was there scooping and by the end of the day had run out of over half her flavors! (If you’ve never been to this event, mark your calendar for next time – it was awesome.)

Cle started her farmers market-based ice cream business several years ago. She makes all of her ice creams by hand, offers fresh seasonal flavors and is available for private events! Hire her and her team to come scoop! Meet Cle Franklin……..

1. What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
A smoothie with blueberries, bananas, almond milk, oats, yogurt and maple syrup.

2. What is one thing you do EVERY day, by choice?
Drink coffee.  I can’t remember the last time I went a day without it.  I don’t drink a ton, but I always have one or two cups in the morning.  I go to bed at night excited for that steamy cup of coffee the next morning.  I almost always share that time with my fiance, Ben.  It’s a really nice quiet moment in the morning before we go our separate ways for our respectively crazy days.

3. If you had all the time in the world and no budget restrictions, what one project would you take on just now?
I just bought my first home. If time and money were no object, I would spend my days making it into the most perfect house I can imagine!

4.Where is your ‘happy place’?
Either curled up on my couch, with a knitting project, a bowl of popcorn and a TV show or in my home kitchen, baking.

5. What is your signature dish – something you make well and consistently? 
Pizza.  In our house we have homemade pizza probably once every week and a half or so.  I’ve got my dough recipe down and we’ve got our favorite topping combos figured out pretty well.  I just started grilling my pizzas and I don’t think I’ll go back to oven-baking them!  Grilling makes the BEST crust.

 

HOW TO :: Tomato DIY – Pruning & Trellises

Come summertime, when the air is hot and the sun is high, everyone comes down with a little case of tomato fever. I’m not sure how this plant grew to such epochal proportions as to measure the success of a home gardener, but it has. Today we present tomato tips and tricks, from pruning for maximum yield to easy DIY trellises.

Pruning Those Suckers
Tomato suckers are the small sets of leaves that grow between the main stem and a leafy branch of a tomato plant. These suckers, if left to grow, become additional flowering and fruiting stems for the plant. That’s good, right? Not quite. If allowed to bloom and fruit, these additional tomatoes will ultimately compete for nutrients from the plant. Over time, this lessens the overall chances of all the fruit coming to delicious maturity. Cooler and shorter seasons (like in the Northwest), cannot support such prolific tomato production — but regardless of your temperature, all tomatoes do well with a little pruning.

Pruned tomato vinePruning, in this case, refers to snapping off those little suckers. When the stems are new and short (say, 3 to 4 inches) you can snap them off with your fingers by bending them back quickly. If you let them get much larger, it’s best to use a set of shears so you don’t tear the main plant stem in the process. Starting in early August (after the plants have some good strong growth and the weather is consistently warm) I snap off suckers — no hesitation, no regrets — from the top half of the plant. (If you planted a smaller tomato variety or cherry tomato plant, leave more suckers on the plant. Because cherry tomatoes are smaller, they ripen faster and the plant can support more production.)

In addition to trimming suckers, now is a great time to prune about 30% of the green leaf stems from the tomato vine. This sends the plant’s energy into fruit production, rather than upward growth. This also allows for air to pass through and for sun to shine on the fruit, which helps develop sweetness. More practically, pruning also allows a gardener to clearly see when tomatoes are ripe.

pruned tomatoesBe aggressive and fear not — pruning will seldom cause damage to the plant or overall tomato production. Our “job” as home cooks and gardeners is to produce the most luscious tomato for our table. Keep that in mind, and you won’t have a problem getting rid of suckers and excess leaves. One last note: some people (like me) find the leaves of tomato plants highly irritable to their skin, especially on prolonged contact. For this reason, I always, always wear gloves and long sleeves when dealing with tomato plants.

DIY Trellises
A structured tomato trellis offers support to climbing or tall plants and is perfect for maximizing and managing your space — they keep tomato stems from breaking and allow for pruning. I know everyone loves tomatoes, so now is the time to get in the garden and focus on building tomato supports, if you haven’t already!

DIY Fence TrellisPerhaps you’re one of the many who purchase tomato “cages,” but find that the plants are growing well over the confines of the cage and dragging it down. I’ll be honest and admit I am not a fan of tomato cages. Instead, I build a support system of bamboo in all of my tomato beds. DIY trellising is uber-efficient and less expensive. It also allows for easy pruning, good air circulation, and good fruit maturity, as it allows sun to sit on individual tomato fruits, ripening and sweetening them up. There are lots of other options for trellising, as well – re-using a fence, for instance. If you have supportive items like this around, use them. If not, build your own.

Tomato trellis

To Build: You need 5 lengths of 6-foot bamboo. Crossing two pieces of bamboo, tie string about 5-inches down, creating a small “X” at one end. Once tied, splay the bamboo apart, making a large “X” – these will act as the foundation for the trellis. Do this twice and position the the bamboo legs about 5 feet apart in the bed. Position the remaining piece of 6-foot bamboo across the frame and voila! A super durable, strong trellis in which to trail over vining plants.

To Support Tomatoes: Use garden twine and loosely make a knot around the main stem of the tomato, winding the string up to the top of the bamboo and tying off. Do this in one or two places along the main stem, gently twisting the tomato plant around the string for extra support and VOILA. Tomato support!

Watering Tomatoes
For heat-loving tomato plants, it’s smart to water in the morning before you leave for work. Watering in the morning leaves time for plants to soak it up before the heat of day and evaporation take over. Watering in the evening results in a drop in soil temperature which these heat-lovers do not appreciate. You wouldn’t like to go to sit outside in wet socks at night time, would you? Same, same.

Keep me posted on all of your tomato successes and failures. Have a great tip? Be sure to post it in the comments.

[One last note -some people (like me) find the leaves of tomato plants highly irritable to their skin. For this reason, I always, always wear gloves when dealing with tomato plants.]

Garden to Glass :: An Evening of Botanical Cocktails & Herb Inspiration at Swanson’s Nursery

Hey Seattle – do you have plans this Thursday?!! The weather has been so lovely and summer is here in all her glory, so it’s time to get outside and get growing in the gardens. Come join me this Thursday at Swanson’s Nursery for an exclusive INVITE ONLY EVENT, where I’ll be shaking up a refreshing & herbaceous beverage and signing copies of Fresh Pantry! Get your personal invite here.

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Over the years, interest in urban gardening has continued to grow and I’m thrilled to be part of a movement that gets people out in their gardens and into their yards to grow their own food. Even more thrilled when they love to cook with it! Come learn how to maximize your herb garden and make use of those prolific perennial plants.

This Thursday, join me, Swanson’s and the distillers from Sound Spirits for a festive evening event, Garden to Glass. This evening of botanical cocktails features cocktail demonstrations, botanical infused waters, an herb planting station and several of Seattle’s delicious food trucks.

The Garden to Glass event will be an opportunity for people to:

  • Learn more about planting & using herbs
  • Get inspired & learn a few cocktail recipes
  • Relax on the gorgeous and peaceful grounds of Swanson’s
  • Shop for your home garden

This event is 21 and over and you must RSVP HERE, so Swanson’s can send you a super VIP invite!

You can find us here on Thursday from 6-9pm:
9701 15th Avenue NW

 

The Whole Plant :: Using All of the Crops You Grow

Today: Amy shows us how to harvest plants from root to stem. Don’t stop at eating fruits and vegetables — eat pea vines, squash blossoms, and even tomato leaves!

Squash vinesUrban farming implies that you’re growing in a small space, so maximizing that space with an eye toward production is the most practical way to grow and harvest food. Fortunately, many plants are a virtual buffet, with edible, harvestable parts from root to stem. You need only know what bits you can harvest and how to introduce them into meals for a progressive harvesting schedule that lasts for months. Today: a round-up of goodies to harvest and cook with — a timely, seasonal guide for what to harvest now.

Pea Vines

1. Pea Vines
Spring peas are on their way out (though in temperate climates, now is a great time to sow a second crop of peas for fall harvest), and it’s time to pull the plants out of the garden to make way for another crop rotation of summer lettuce, or a row or two of bok choy. Before tossing pea plants into your compost or yard waste bin (or feeding them to your chickens), consider using the last few inches of pea vine in your kitchen. Harvest them by cutting the topmost 6 to 12 inches of tender, thin vine from the plant.

These pea vines can be sautéed or tossed in to salads, but this late in the season the odds are greater that you’ll be harvesting woody, tougher stems from the plants. It may take a little effort to coax them into something delicious, but using every bit from the plant is economical for both your time and your budget. I have a great recipe for Pea Vine Dumplings — try it! It’s a great recipe to double, as well: just freeze extra dumplings and use them for another meal or as a quick appetizer the next time you need to whip something up in a hurry.

Squash Vine & Blossoms

2. Squashes
This is the perfect time of year for squash blossoms, and zucchini are shallow-rooted plants so anyone can grow a plant or two in containers. (Make note for next year, if you aren’t growing already!) All squash plants make flowers — zucchini, pumpkin, winter squash, etc. Before you harvest squash blossoms, know that there are both female and male blossoms on every plant. Male blossoms grow at the end of a long, thin stem, and have a long stamen in the center of the blossom. Female blossoms have no stamen and will develop fruit — you can see the to-be zucchini just under the flower’s stems. They also tend to die a bit faster. If you’re harvesting squash blossoms, be sure to opt for the male blossom, leaving the females behind to grow zucchini. Stuff the blossoms with cheese and fry, fill them with seasoned rice or meat and bake in the oven, or cook them into a frittata. Some Mexican cultures use the squash blossoms for a thin tomato soup.

You can also use squash leaves in recipes. While they are edible, they can be a bit prickly and tough, so choose smaller leaves. Some Asian cultures sauté young tender leaves or curling vines. I have also used large squash leaves to cover and insulate squash gratins. They act as a gentle covering to keep vegetable gratins moist while the leaf on top chars to a crisp – a nice final combination of textures for a vegetarian meal.

Fava tops

3. Fava Tops
Fava beans have a long growing cycle, and anyone lucky enough to have space for these tall plants should plant a thick crop in the fall for an early summer harvest. While you wait for the fava bean pods to mature, snip liberally from the top of each plant — about the last 4 to 6 inches, which are the most tender. Use these tops as you would pea vines: as a simple sauté or raw in a salad serve them best.

Carrot Tops

4. Tiny Carrots & Greens
If you’re growing carrots at home, you will need to thin them in order to make space for each individual carrot to mature. I try and thin carrots at the last possible moment — this means that I harvest teeny tiny carrots and greens that can be used as garnish or, even better, pickled whole.

You can use carrot greens as you would parsley. The flavor is strong and slightly carrot-like, but the bitterness makes a nice counterpoint to fatty fish or meat — use carrot greens in a gremolata with lemon peel next time you grill this summer. It is also worth noting that the older the carrot, the more bitter the green, so opt for thinned carrots or smaller tops when harvesting.

Tomato leaves4. Tomato Leaves
It is widely supported that tomato leaves can be poisonous, as they’re in the nightshade family. Tomato leaves, however, are not dangerous if ingested in small quantities, and in fact can be used as an infusion, much like tea leaves. Tomato leaves add a level of depth to the flavor profile in a simple red tomato sauce. They can also be steeped in strained tomato water for a super fragrant cold summer soup or beverage. (I don’t recommend eating them up three meals a day, but occasional use is just fine.)

PLANT SPOTLIGHT :: Salvia

I’ve been growing food for people in their backyards since 2004 and while my breadth of knowledge for edibles is deep, I’ve only just scratched the surface of all other plants. Landscape plants, bushes, annual flowers and trees remain a mystery to me. Solution? Write a column! Introducing PLANT SPOTLIGHT.

Black & Blue Salvia

Salvia’s are a large genus of plants that include all sage. Everything from the commonly known varieties, like Common Sage (aka Salvia Officinalis) that we use to cook with, to more showy ornamental plants like this Salvia Black & Blue. Woody and fragrant, salvia’s add both color and productivity to any garden. Most importantly, perhaps, they are powerful pollinator magnets – attracting hummingbirds and insects to the garden. With blooms ranging from red to purple and heavily scented leaves, salvias are a hardy plant and will last for years in your garden. (Note that for hard winters, you must definitely mulch!)

I’ve grown Tangerine Sage in my gardens for years and love it. It does well in a large pot on my patio and absolutely explodes if given the space in a garden bed. I use the leaves in sun tea infusions or add them to tomato salads. Plus, the blooms can’t be beat for attracting hummingbirds to a space.

All plants have different growing needs, but salvias do well in full sun or partly shaded areas of the garden. They are off-putting to most pests, so you shouldn’t have to worry about deer or bunnies. And they are drought tolerant, so a great choice for any apartment dwellers that are adding containers (which tend to dry out quickly) or a garden bed that does not have regular irrigation.

Swanson’s Nursery put together this amazing collection of salvia plants – a great resource for anyone wanting to add herbs, color and attract pollinators to the garden. In honor of National Pollinator Week, let me also add that an edible garden is only prolific when insects, bugs and birds spend time there. These pollinators play crucial roles in our ecosystem and help to disperse pollen and seed. While bees are most easily thought of as pollinators, flies, butterflies, beetles, moths and even bats are help this natural lifecycle. With a foundational role in our ecosystem, it is thought that pollinators contribute to 80% of the planet’s plant life. So, it is VERY IMPORTANT that we all do our part and support this process. Swanson’s also put together a great pollinator resource, for a quick reference tool. If you live in the city, go nab yourself a plant today!

And if you need MORE help, don’t forget to check out Swanson’s Grow With Us Project – they offer advice and give you a discount on plants. Total win. AND, and, and……stay tuned for details on a great promotional give away they are hosting next week! We are collecting awesome garden ideas on Pinterest and would love to hear from YOU. I’ll have details here – stay tuned.

All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. This is a sponsored post. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

How To :: Propagate Herbs

Last summer I met up with my friend Sarah, a farmer. Sarah has been farming for years and she’s an absolute pro, so I asked her to meet me out at a new space to help me devise the perfect garden plan. (She’s a genius that way – indispensible knowledge.)

We met up and walked to the garden. On the way, she spotted a old, prolific fig tree and stopped in her tracks. “Oh – I need that,” she exclaimed, and simultaneously reached into her back pocket as she crossed the street. With at quick snip, she cut a couple inches length from the fig plant, looked at me, and whispered, “You want one?”

Splitting thyme rootsThe practice of growing a plant from a small clipping is called propagation, but I had no idea you could grow a fig tree from a mere four inches of branch. Propagating a plant from a cutting or root division is one of the coolest parts of gardening. Propagating plants, quite simply, extends a plant’s reproduction beyond the usual blooming and seeding. There are two methods we’ll cover today: splitting the roots of a parent plant, called root division, and taking a cutting. (Grafting is also considered a form of propagation, but requires a bit more work.)

Root Division: Split One Plant Into Two
Many herbs and plants can be divided by simply splitting up their roots: Thyme, Oregano, Mint, Strawberries, Rhubarb, Chives, Tarragon, Lovage, and Marjoram are all perfect candidates. It’s easy:

transplanting thyme

1. Dig up the plant and its entire root system as best you can in early spring or fall. Growth is slow during these seasons, which makes this treatment easier on the plant.

Root Division, thyme

2. Work apart the roots and slice through them with a clean knife or your hands. (You can also trim the root balls with scissors.) Be sure that each division has both healthy roots and at least one small green shoot!

Root division, repotting thyme

3. Repot into a large enough pot and water well. Be sure to keep it watered well until the plant catches on and begins to put out new growth. You don’t want to add any additional stress to the plant from lack of water!

A note for apartment gardeners: if you already have perennial herb pots going, it may be time for you to split them and separate the division into two pots. Every three years or so, perennial herbs do well with some dividing. Add some compost to the new potting mix and repot in a same-size or larger container. If you don’t need more of the same herb, divide them anyway and repot as gifts for friends or neighbors.

Taking a Cutting: Cloning Your Plants
Some plants root out from the stem, making them excellent candidates for cuttings. Examples include Figs — like the one my friend Sarah clipped — Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Scented Geraniums, Tarragon, Sage, Lemon Verbena, and Oregano. (Yes, many plants can be propagated in both ways — use the one most convenient for you.)

As a general rule of thumb, take a cutting from new plant growth. This is best done in late spring or early summer — cuttings prosper in warm conditions. This also allows enough time for the cutting to put on some new growth without the stress and cold of winter.

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1. On some plants, new growth comes in the form of a side shoot; in others it grows from the top of the plant’s branches. Choose the newest growth and cut about a five inch length just below a set of leaves.

propagating scented geranium

2. Remove the lowest leaves from the cutting, as well as any buds or blossoms on the stem. (If left, these will take energy away from the plant by producing seed.)

propagating geraniums

3. Place the cutting directly into a small pot of potting soil (leave it unfertilized for now), being sure to bury the lowest leaf node (the node is the area below the lowest leaves that you just removed) and water well. This leaf node is where the bulk of the plant’s hormones are located, and they will aid in root development. Keep the cutting watered until the plant begins to put on new growth.

Propagating geraniumYou will know it’s ready when the cutting does not pull out of the soil with a gentle tug, indicating the new growth is sufficient for transplanting to a bigger pot. This generally takes from four to six weeks.

There are many, many edible plants that you can propagate easily (including tomatoes!), so share in the comments if you have some great tips! And if you’re interested in learning more about herbs, check out this upcoming class on Growing Herbs in Containers from Swanson’s Nursery in Ballard, Seattle.

Photos by Della Chen

 

 

 

Spring Forage Fever

A few summers ago on the highway home from a long weekend at Lake Chelan, I pulled my car across three lanes of traffic when I spotted a tall slender tree hunched over by the weight of its small blue berries. I had noticed the same trees on the way out to the lake, but wasn’t sure they were what I thought they were – elderberries. Some sleuthing in books (yes, I packed my copy of Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples) and a quick bit of online research over the weekend confirmed my suspicion and I made a vow to find some trees on the way home. Yanking my car across the road may have startled my co-pilot (sorry, Katie!) but she forgave me as I scaled up a loose clay hill and threw fat clusters of berries her way. Elderberries! It was like we struck gold and were giddy with excitement. I knew I was going to make syrup and Katie knew she was destined for elderberry tincture (elderberries are thought to be high in antioxidants). With four shopping bags full, we headed home with stained fingers and dusty clothes.
These same gorgeous trees produce dense clusters of blossoms in the spring, more commonly known as elderflowers. According to an online index of plants from the University of Washington, the trees can be found from British Columbia to California and typically grow along river banks, and open places in low level areas near a water source The flowers blossom around May, growing in dense clusters. These white flowers are heavily scented and smell of thick honey and sweet pollen. When steeped in water and sweetened, they impart a delicate floral note and make an excellent syrup for sipping

(they’re the basis for trendy St. Germain liqueur). I first had this syrup in Croatia, at my cousin’s landlord’s house, with a splash of seltzer. She called it Sirup od Bazga, and taught me how to make it. Now that I know where to find these trees in spades, I’ll definitely be stocking my pantry this year. Drivers east of the mountains, you’ve been warned.

Elderflower Syrup

Makes about 4 cups
start to finish: 2 days plus 30 minutes

30 flower clusters
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
1 lemon, zest reserved & juiced
2 teaspoons citric acid (available in the vitamin section of most stores)

Place flower clusters in a large bowl and cover with the water. Make sure blossoms stay submerged and let it sit out on the counter for two days. Strain out blossoms and discard. Over medium heat, heat the blossom-infused water and add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Remove promptly from heat and add lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour liquid through a fine mesh strainer lined with damp cheesecloth, straining out any residual petals and the lemon zest. Add citric acid, stirring to dissolve. Bottle syrup in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 8 weeks.
washed jars | store in fridge

Lucky for us, in the Pacific Northwest we have gobs of edible wilds ripe for picking. Unlucky for us, sometimes you really need to do your homework to know where to look. Good thing, then, that our urban jungle is home to easily identifiable treats from nature. Apples, blackberries—these plants are easy to identify and everyone knows they’re edible. But a Big Leaf maple? I’m betting that never crossed your mind. Seattle plant expert, Arthur Lee Jacobsen wrote about these large maple trees several years ago, and what I recall most about the article is that the tree’s flowers are edible. Like the elderflower, maple trees form heavy clusters of florets each spring, starting in April. Most maple trees are quite tall, so foraging after a storm is a great idea as branches tend to break off. Failing that, put on your climbing shoes. The flowers are lime green and look like tiny pine cones, and carry a soft, round sweetness. Similar to maple syrup, but not nearly as sweet, these blossoms can be made into an infusion (as above), sautéed or eaten raw, but they also make a subtle and delicious quick pickle. These little pickled buds can be added to salads of bitter greens or used as a garnish along with minced shallots and chopped herbs on a grilled steak. They don’t keep long before getting mushy, so are best eaten within several weeks.

++photo credit to Edible Seattle