Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nettle and Egg Soup

Every spring I am struck by the extraordinary colors and flavors that emerge out of winter. This week, besides the Elderberry Blossoms, there were morels, nettles and pastured eggs overflowing in the marketplace.

Today, there is nettle soup with an egg poached in the broth for lunch and again for dinner.

The nettles sit in large baskets, washed, sorted and prepackaged in plastic bags with directions about gloves, skin, eyes, and boiling water. Easy enough. They grow upright and erect making a clean harvest easy. A quick dip in boiling water and a plunge in ice water steals the toxins and fixes the emerald green.

Every time I see them I remember the first summer I ran through a patch of nettles in the Columbia Gorge. A summer family picnic. I was eight and in my bathing suit. My hair pixie short. It was hot. I had sticky toasted marshmallow in hand as I raced, through the tall weeds behind the large stone fireplace and against my brothers, to the picnic table. Always adventurous and competitive, still, I arrived last and itchy with nettle bumps. My strong memory of a hot and hazy summer day lingers over the stove as I make this soup.

Blanche nettles quickly and chill in ice water. Saute spring garlic or leek in butter. Add nettles and water or chicken stock to cover. A handful or rice is optional too. Cook uncovered at a low simmer for about thirty minutes. Cool. Puree. Season with salt. Finish with olive oil.

For a bit more heft, add a poached egg. Either poach the egg in the nettle soup or poach separately and drop into soup. This'll do fine with many other spring greens too; pea shoots, green garlic, spinach and turnip too. None, though, are like the woodsy nettle tonic.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Elderberry Flower Syrup and a cake

Spring Water Farm had bunches of Elderberry Flowers at the Hillsdale Farmers Market today. I bought three bunches. One bunch would be dedicated to a cornmeal cake I had learned about over the winter at Ayers Creek Farm. With the other two bunches, I'd make a batch of Elderberry Flower syrup to flavor soda and gin drinks with and brush warm cakes with.

The cake is a dense traditional cornmeal cake that China Tresemer made over the winter while we were working with various corn recipes at Ayers Creek Farm. I learned from Anthony that it is an old recipe from when corn slowly moved it's way across Europe replacing millet in fields and kitchens. The recipe asks for six spoons of Elderberry Flower blossoms. The delicate citrus scent and earthy undertones transform the whole cornmeal giving the cake a unique flavor. There were no Elderberry Blossoms at the time we made the cake, so we used dried Pozegaca plums to great effect. Still, curiosity lingers now that the flowers are in season.

The Elderberry Flower Syrup will take a few days of sitting quietly on the stove top. Equal amounts of sugar and water (4 & 4), the zest and juice of two lemons, and about a cup and a half of Elderberry Flowers. Bring the sugar syrup, lemon juice and zest to a boil, pour it over the Elderberry Flowers and let sit for 3-4 days. Then strain and store in the refrigerator.

The first time I had Elderberry Flower syrup was with my friend Cecilia. She had brought some back from Romania in a odd "package". In Central Europe, Elderberry Flower syrup is common. So common, that FANTA, until recently, flavored one of it's drinks with Elderberry Flower syrup. Now it is hard to find. Central European soft drinks are much less sweet than the ones in the United States, so the Elderberry Flower scent is notable.

The cake is out of the oven. I've robbed the syrup pot before it's time and soaked the cake with a little more springtime Elderberry Flower essence.