Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

Category: local food

Magical Mother’s Day Flowers: The Lilac

The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris)  is anything but common. The lilac is an ephemeral scent of spring, its fragrance from the purple and white blossoms wafting in the warm breeze of May. For me, the scent reminds me of my own Mother, her love of Derby Parties and Mother’s Day with my own children.

Of course, the lilacs are gorgeous as cut flowers, arranged in large vases that should fill every room of the house. But did you know – the lilac flowers are also edible!

The Delectable Lilac

Gather the lilac’s blossoms and bring them into the kitchen, preserving their fragrance for use in drinks, confections, and desserts.

The lilac’s memorable springtime scent can be captured in an aromatic simple syrup or lilac jelly. The lilac syrup can be used in refreshing cocktail recipes, lemonades, and soda spritzers.

Lilac jelly can be topped over pastries, shortbreads, or an accompaniment (with fresh flowers as a garnish, of course), to French madeleines. It can also be drizzled over fresh spring goat cheese with spring chives for a savory and beautiful appetizer.

The fresh flowers and flower odor of the lilac can be infused directly into white sugar (let infuse for two weeks to allow the aromatics to scent the sugar) and used for baking projects – particularly delightful in shortbreads and sugar cookie recipes, or even for lightly flavoring ice cream or white yogurt.

How to Identify & Harvest the Lilac

The lilac is a European shrub that grows to heights of 15 feet tall.  The lilac has dense branches with smooth, gray bark when young. As the branches grow older and larger in diameter, the bark becomes grayish brown and shreds. The leaves are simple, ovate, green and shiny. The lilac blooms around Mother’s Day in May, with showy flower heads (panicles) of sweetly aromatic white and purple flowers.

The lilac is commonly planted as an ornamental and found often feral along hedgerows and fences. Gather the flower heads (be sure to ask if you are gathering from someone’s private garden) on a dry sunny day. Take them into the kitchen and process immediately, as the flowers quickly wilt and do not tolerate refrigerated storage for a significant amount of time.

The lilac is a common planting across the Midwest, but the forager can propagate the lilac with cuttings, air layering, or from seed. It’s a delightful spring flower and adds a nice touch to a permaculture landscape design.

Interested in learning more about wild plants as food and medicine? Take a look at my books, “Midwest Medicinal Plants,” and “Midwest Foraging” (Timber Press, OR) – both available on Amazon.com.

 

 

PreOrder: Midwest Medicinal Plants

“Midwest Medicinal Plants”

“Midwest Medicinal Plants” (Timber Press, OR) is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Maple Syrup: A Forager’s Sweet Treat

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Drip. Drip. Drip. That’s the sound you hear of the maple tree’s sap dripping into buckets.

Did you know that it takes up to 60 gallons of sap to produce just ONE gallon of maple syrup. Consider that next time you are incredulous over the price of real maple syrup in the market — most commercial brands are made entirely of corn syrup – not a drop of that natural sap. Cheap and totally not the real deal.

In its raw form, the sap is a drinkable beverage that endurance athletes are realizing has a similar content of electrolytes as coconut water – and local, too. The sap also contains trace minerals of zinc, manganese and some iron, and these minerals remain as the sap cooks into maple syrup.

Foragers – aka Sugarbushers – tap a variety of trees and species to gather sap to make syrup – from maples to walnut trees to birches.  Most commonly known is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) that produces the sweet vanillin flavored syrup we all know as REAL maple syrup.

The sap has to be boiled down in an evaporator- this reduction process boils off the extra water to produce that condensed, sweet syrup. Caution – don’t ever try to evaporate the sap inside. My mom did this once, and it peeled the wallpaper off the kitchen walls and left a sticky residue on the walls. It is now a family joke, but it wasn’t funny at the time.

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An outdoor evaporator is used by the students and staff at the West Michigan Academy for Enviro Science to boil down their sap.

As a sweetener, maple syrup has half the glycemic load of refined or white sugar, making it a good choice for those minding their sugar intake (all of us, right?). It’s delicious of course in pancakes, stirred into coffee, topped over oatmeal and drizzled over ice cream.

Maple syrup has lovely savory uses as well – as a glaze for meats and fish, balsamic dressing, or drizzled atop stinky cheeses.And the baking and candy making – oy – the candy making. My favorites are turning maple syrup into caramels and toffee. Super yum.

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Maple Fleur de Sel Caramels 

What’s more decadent than a delicious caramel? Why, one that is made with maple syrup, of course! These classic French-style caramels are styled similarly to a Fleur de Sel caramel.

The use of maple syrup in lieu of the commonly-used corn syrup will require close monitoring as the mixture reaches 248 degrees, but results in a much more balanced vanilla flavor that’s worth the effort managing the viscosity.

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Ingredients: 

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

Parchment paper, baking sheet or pan and a candy thermometer

1) Prepare pan with parchment, oil slightly – the caramel making process is a sticky one.

2) Bring cream, butter and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

3) Boil syrup,  sugar in a large saucepan, dissolving sugar and gentle stirring until syrup comes up to a boil.

3) Stir in cream, stir constantly and simmer until the candy thermometer reaches 248 degrees.

4) Pour caramel mixture into the prepared sheet, let cool.

5) Cut into strips or bite size candies, wrapping them in pieces of cut parchment, twisting ends.

6) Caramels store in a cool location for up to two weeks.

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Want to learn more? Click HERE  to go to WZZM13 to learn how Maple Syrup is made or visit my other posts on the blog HERE to learn about the syruping process.

Claiming Our Place At the Table: Growing the Good Food Movement

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Each one of us has an important role to play in growing the good food movement in Grand Rapids. What’s your role? Photo by Ryan P. Photo

On September 21, 2001, a group of about 25 people representing all sectors of the food community – from farmers to schools to clinics to social agencies addressing hunger – gathered at what is now known as Feeding America West Michigan. With Groundswell farmer Tom Cary at the helm and with me taking notes, we collectively organized Grand Rapids’ first food policy council. We all recognized and outlined the myriad of challenges facing our fractured food system in Grand Rapids, including race, the built environment and socio-economic disparities, to name a few.

This community effort – over time – faced its own hurdles and challenges in the decade that followed. Programs in the community came and went, and today – while the food system landscape is completely different, the core issues faced then remain the same.

Since I published the local food documentary, Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution (History Press, 2013), citizens have continued to take up shovels to clear grass and concrete and build gardens. When policy gets in the way, citizens continue to appear at policy meetings to help coax our leaders to make change.

From the outside, it can appear that the local food system in Grand Rapids has taken off – from beer to markets, it could seem that the larger Grand Rapids community has benefitted tremendously from the various additions to the Grand Rapids food landscape. 

But has it?

For nearly 14 years to the day, I’ve been engaged in helping grow the local food community in Grand Rapids. It’s been a pleasure to call the Grand Rapids cadre of food activists my most dear friends – those working to increase access to fresh foods within the urban community through a myriad of channels – community gardens, urban farms, food cooperatives, a more effective pantry system – to name a few. 

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When stepping into the Wealthy Theatre on Monday for the Urban Roots local food community conversation I left my preconceived ideas, assumptions and past experiences at the door. I arrived open to learn of new endeavors and to be inspired by new faces on the front lines.

Surprisingly, I was glad to know only a few faces as part of the group. I was excited to hear about the experiences of other community organizations and people working for systems change in Grand Rapids. It was inspiring to witness the passion and commitment of others trying to make change in the ways they knew, yet humbling to realize the vast expanse of work that still is ahead, with many hurdles to tackle.

Addressing Systems Issues as a United Front 

In the recent opinion article penned by urban farmer and local food expert Levi Gardner, many of the issues raised with the Downtown Market are larger systems issues that face all of Grand Rapids – particularly those that are immediately relevant to food access rooted in socio-economic disparities, race and segregation because of our built environment. 

To be fair, the criticism the Downtown Market has received isn’t because the market isn’t a needed piece of food systems infrastructure for the local downtown community — it is. The Downtown Market has tremendous potential to bring people together, to be a welcoming space for people to learn and share knowledge. The Downtown Market has tremendous potential to serve the local community as a food hub, meet local access needs and provide an economic platform for vendors to be able to affordably participate in economic exchange. 

The Downtown Market has received criticism because the greater community  wants its leadership to rethink its outreach, its purpose, its messaging and how it engages a diverse set of audiences. The greater community has needs and is asking the Downtown Market to proactively help meet those needs. The community wants the leadership of the Downtown Market to be present and responsible for being part of the solution. And as a point of order: as a publicly funded institution, the Downtown Market leadership has an ethical obligation to do so, and to ensure it is inclusive of all backgrounds in an intentional way and to actively be a part of community conversations.  

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Growing Roots. Photo by Shane Folkertsma.

But let’s be real: This isn’t an issue that faces solely the Downtown Market. While it’s easy to critique a large organization like the Downtown Market, we all need to examine the ways in which we each engage and mutually support open and honest dialogue. We need to examine how we engage each other in the various aspects of our work, helping to make it accessible and inclusive and actualize co-learning.

My own food systems learnings have led me down the path to foraging, wild edibles and herbalism as a form of healthcare. Admittedly, I find that it’s easier to sit in the woods, alone, working with plants rather than people. But I know that its the education I have to share that I feel can help effect change and so I work in my community as a community herbalist and teacher about the natural world.

To that end, I, too, am holding myself personally accountable to consider how I design my work to address issues of race, culture, poverty, education, socio-economic disparities and health disparity in our City. To work in partnership with others in the community, rather than shy away from working at it alone because it is “easier” or without political (read exhausting) drama. And to invite others to be part of the conversation, and helping make a place at the table for many voices to be heard. 

It is only by working through difficult conversations and partnerships that we can grow. Stonewalling, boycotting and judgement won’t get us where we need to be. Repeatedly showing up and being open to arriving to new destinations will get us where we need to be. When we shut down – close each other out – we will go nowhere. 

We need process and intentionality, but we also need to allow room for organic growth. And be accountable for each other and help our organizations grow in the directions our community needs. 

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Grand Rapids’ New Mayor-Elect, Rosalyn Bliss, an active leader who helped champion the urban hen legislation in GR. Photo by Ryan P. Photo.

Leaving Room for Organic Growth

Intentionality is important. Each decision should be made with focus and purpose. But it is also worthy to be flexible and open to change and new directions. I leave you with a segment from my book, Grand Rapids Food, where a local gardener talks about the vision for their community gardening space. 

Amy contemplates the future of the community garden space. “I would like to see it be a place where the neighbors are investing their time. For what we have — the social aspect — It’s what draws people here. We have such a small space compared to other community gardens. But it’s perfect for our block — we aren’t trying to reach large scale. Certainly people can come from anywhere, but we want  the neighbors to enjoy this. To be their garden.  

“Beyond that? I don’t know. I think that is the enjoyment — that we have of these dreams. We just start in one place and keep moving forward. Which is exciting because people’s needs change, the neighborhood changes. I like that space to be open — it leaves room for creativity. Let’s keep the master plan in the shed.” 

It is my wish that you, too, can be inspired to move forward with intentionality and openness to continue to address the rooted issues that face our food system in Grand Rapids.

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