Foraging with Laszlo: Discovery of new tastes

Laszlo and crabapples

The munching explorations of Laszlo, our new puppy, has had me in stitches more than once this summer. When I trimmed and bundled garlic, the puppy was sitting underneath the patio table chewing on leaves and stalks that fell down. I did not realize that a big fat garlic clove had dropped down as well, until my husband, who was lying down with a headache and cuddled with Laszlo for comfort, wondered about the puppy’s intense garlic smell, which made him feel even worse. Continue reading

In pursuit of black raspberry vinegar

Wild black raspberries

A few years ago I bought a bottle of black raspberry vinegar from Montgomery Place Orchards in the Hudson Valley, as a gift for my cousin and his girlfriend in Germany. They liked it so much that I bought a second bottle for my next visit, but then had to tell them this would be the last one, because after our daughter graduated, we would no longer make frequent trips to Annandale-on-Hudson. I suspect one of the motives of my cousin and his now wife for spending their summer vacation in the US this year is to load up on black raspberry vinegar… There are no black raspberries in Germany, they are a North American specialty.

We have a few black raspberries on our grounds, usually not enough to get excited about. This year however seemed different. I spotted brambles full of berries and picked a handful for fruit tart the other day, making a note to myself to get more. It took me a few days to work up the energy to leave my cool office and actually do it – in 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 55 percent humidity, covered up head to toe with boots, long sleeves, hat, protective glasses, and gloves. Even the dog, usually following me everywhere and inching forward with me sphinx-style when I pick strawberries, preferred to stay in the house.

For a good hour or so, I disappeared into the thicket. It was work but I picked more berries than I had hoped for. And I even found a large patch of blackberries, to return to in August. I don’t think I have had this explorer/discoverer feeling since I was a kid. When I came back to the house I was filthy and slightly scratched yet exhilarated and happy.

Of course the black raspberries had to go into black raspberry vinegar. For all that effort, I want something lasting. For instant gratification, there were enough berries left for a quick dessert for two.

I had made raspberry vinegar before, according to a recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook, and found it a bit too sweet. This time I followed the recipe recently posted by Phoebe’s Pure Food.

It remains to be seen if the black raspberry vinegar will be as good as the one I gave away as a gift. Maybe knowing that it was made with the berries I foraged will make up for the difference in taste.

Raspberry vinegar & dessert

Elderflower feast


When we drove up north to the Hudson Valley yesterday, the edge of the woods along the highway was lined with shrubs that looked like elderberries in full bloom. I could barely sit still in my seat. Last spring was the first time I took a few handfuls of elderflowers from my plants to make elderflower jelly. It is delicious but I am not sure I will dare to do that again, as the yield of those shrubs is so modest to begin with.

Here were enough elderflowers to try all the elderflower recipes in the world, and then some! Once we reached our destination, I quickly excused myself and, equipped with a plastic bag and a knife, strolled into the meadows behind the house. I did not have to walk far before I found a big elderberry bush in full bloom.

On the way home, I started to wonder. The leaves looked slightly different from the cultivated elderberries I have in the garden… I’d better do some research before processing my botanical booty.

Of all the areas of gardening, I find plant identification with plant identification keys the hardest, and I usually take the easiest way out by just comparing photos. Yet this time I had to dig a bit deeper. I was glad I brought home a twig with a full set of leaves, in addition to the flowers.

I needed to make sure it was American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and not Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), which is unfit for consumption and whose berries are toxic. The flowers and fully ripened berries of the American Elderberry are edible (its other parts are indeed poisonous). From the USDA database and other reliable sources I learned that the smell of crushed red elderberry leaves is strong and unpleasant, the twigs are pithy with raised pores, and the flowers are conical, pyramidal clusters. What I had picked was American Elderberry. Also, it reassured me that on local Hudson Valley websites and blogs people were raving about the abundance of wild American Elderberry in the area.

So I was safe and happily went to work, making a large batch of elderberry syrup and elderberry vinegar. The rest of the elderflowers are drying on a tray lined with paper towels to make herbal tea against cold and fever.


Elderflower Vinegar

Some recipes require soaking the flowers in salt water, I suppose to get rid of any insects. Although this removes some of the pollen, for vinegar this makes sense to me because unlike syrup and jelly, it is not boiled afterwards.

1 tablespoon salt

1½ cups packed elderflower blossoms, all stems and leaves removed

3 cups (750 ml) white vinegar

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (75 g) sugar

¾ cup (190 ml) white wine

1. Fill a large bowl with cold tap water. Holding each umbel by the stem, gently move it around in the water. Exchange the water as necessary.

2. When the water is clear, add the salt to the water and stir to dilute. The blossoms should be fully immersed. Set aside.

3. Bring the vinegar, sugar and wine to a boil and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.

4. Drain the elderflowers and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a 1-quart sterilized jar with a lid and pour the hot vinegar mix over it. Cover and let sit in a dark place at moderate room temperature for 2 weeks. Strain twice through a sieve lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Fill in sterilized bottles.

Makes 1 quart/1 liter


Photo by Ted Rosen