Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cream of Celery, Potato and Cabbage Soup

Cream of Celery, Potato and Cabbage Soup
From Thea's Kitchen

What good is making a warm nourishing soup if there isn’t enough to go around? This recipe makes a generous 4 quarts of soup; enough to share with family and friends, and to freeze for future use. Combine with a hearty loaf of home baked or artisan bread and feel warmed and at ease. Add a glass of wine and you may find yourself remembering an earlier time when folks gathered in local taverns on the Southern colonial frontier to exchange ideas and decide the fate of our future.

2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon caraway seed
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1/4 tsp dried ground
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 quarts good stock, chicken or veggie broth
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 bunch celery, chopped
½ head green savory cabbage, chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons sea salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large soup pot, sauté onion and garlic in oil and butter for a couple of minutes then add spices and sauté until soft. Add broth and bring to a boil. Stir in potatoes, celery and cabbage. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add parsley and simmer 10 minutes longer. Puree soup mixture, reheat and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add cream, warm through and serve. Serves 12 people.

Apium graveolens
, commonly known as celery has been used in French, English, Italian, Greek and Mediterranean cuisines. It was grown as a vegetable for winter and early spring and used as a tonic that balances the contracting, salty diet of winter. Celery’s cooling thermal nature and sweet-bitter flavor benefits the stomach, spleen and pancreas and calms an aggravated liver. Celery also dries damp excess and reduces wind; cooling an overheated liver and making it beneficial in the treatment of inflammations. High in silicon it renews joints, bones, arteries, and all connective tissue.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July is National Blueberry Month!

Thea Summer Deer's Granddaughter, Natalia
Celebrating the wild and cultivated blueberry.
By Thea Summer Deer

If food is our medicine, which indeed it is, then no other native fruit packs as much nutrition into a smaller package than the beautiful blueberry.  Indigenous to North America they were called “ blue star berries” by the Native Americans because the blossom at the end of each berry forms a perfect five-pointed star. Tribal elders told the story of how Great Spirit sent these medicine fruits to ease the children’s hunger during times of famine.  The versatility of this food, its ability to be preserved and its reputation as a valuable medicine all serve to confirm these earlier stories and legends. Blueberries were dried in the sun and then added to soups, stews and meat dishes, pounded and added to pemmican as a preservative and given to the Europeans when they first arrived to help them survive through the winter.

Bears love blueberries but they are equally important to people as they are to wildlife.  Turkey, quail, grouse, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, raccoons, songbirds and, of course, deer all eat the high quality fruits of the blueberry. They may be small in size, but they are large in nutritional value.  Blueberries should be a part of any longevity plan. They keep our hearts healthy and bones strong. Packed with Vitamin C they are leaders in antioxidant activity and keep us young by neutralizing free radicals. The substances that give the fruit its blue color are phenols, specifically the anthocyanins, which are contributors to its antioxidant activity.  Blueberries are high in fiber and supply manganese, an essential mineral that plays a role in converting proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food into energy.

Used as food, medicine, and plant dye, botanists estimate that blueberries burst on the scene more that 13,000 years ago.  Seeds thousands of years old have been found at several archeological digs in Ontario, Canada. Blueberries grow wild all over the world and have many different names with the genus Vaccinium consisting of more than 450 species of plants. One of my wild favorites is the deer or buckberry (V. stamineum), not only because I am interested in all things related to Deer, but also because it is fun to discover these dark edible berries growing trail side while hiking through the Southern Appalachians in late summer.

Most of the plump, juicy and sweet blueberries you find in the supermarket today are highbush blueberries cultivated in the early 20th century by Dr. Frederick V. Coville and Elizabeth White.  Highbush blueberries grow in clusters and don’t ripen all at once making for a longer harvest.  You can now buy fresh blueberries all year round with North American blueberries available April through October, and South American blueberries from November through March.

The lowbush species of blueberry is a wild crop commonly referred to as ‘wild blueberry’ and is one of four fruit crops native to North America.  Maine is the leading producer of lowbush blueberries, and Michigan is the leading producer of highbush blueberries.  Highbush blueberries require milder growing conditions and tend to be irrigated. There are currently (as of 2010) 526 certified organic farms in the United States growing cultivated blueberries with a total production of 6 million pounds and total sales of over 16 million.  The U.S. imports more blueberries than it exports, mostly from Chile (cultivated) and Canada (wild.)

Leaves, roots and berries all have medicinal value and the fruits have been shown to improve eyesight and protect against ulcers.  They are anti-inflammatory and the juice is useful in urinary tract infections.  The root is diuretic, astringent and antispasmodic, and a decoction of the root has been used to treat diarrhea and other bowel complaints.  Native American women have used a decoction of the root to ease childbirth during labor. The anti-oxidant activity of blueberries reduces heart disease risk, strengthens collagen, regulates blood sugar, and improves night vision.  Blueberries contain bioactive compounds that have anti-cancer properties and are best when eaten whole and fresh in order to obtain the maximum health benefits.

The culinary uses for blueberries both fresh and frozen are practically endless.  Native American recipes passed down for generations combined these fruits with sweet corn, fish, fowl and game including moose fat or deer tallow.  They were added to cakes and breads and simmered into a paste that could be kept for up to 2 years.  Early Americans made them into jams, jellies and syrups, and in many parts of the South jars of blueberry preserve could be used as a form of barter-currency.

As good as gold and equally rich with culinary pleasure, blueberries are a sustainable organic crop with deep roots in North American history and tall benefits for human health. Blueberry Festivals are a wonderful way to sample and celebrate the healthy benefits and super flavor of blueberries, and are held all over the country from May through August. A schedule can be found on the US Highbush Blueberry Council’s website:
In celebration of National Blueberry Month (and my birthday!) I invite you to enjoy Grandma Thea’s Blueberry Pie. It comes out perfect every time. To your health…

Grandmother Summer Deer’s Blueberry Pie
An All American Tradition

2 spelt frozen pie crusts (freezer section your health food store)
4 cups of fresh blueberries
¼ cup minute tapioca
1 cup organic sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
¼ tsp. free trade cinnamon
1/8 tsp. coriander
1 Tbsp. organic salted butter
½ pint organic whipping cream
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix fruit, tapioca, sugar, lemon and spice in a bowl and let stand 15 minutes.  Meanwhile take pie crusts out of the freezer and let defrost for ten minutes.  Fill with fruit mixture.  Dot with butter.  Cover with top crust and slit sides and top.  Bake in a preheated oven at 400º for 50 minutes.  Cool completely and serve with organic whipped cream.

Whipped Cream
Chill mixing bowl and beaters.  Whip on high speed adding 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla approx. half way through.  Continue whipping until soft peaks form.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Got Ramps?!

Worthy of its own festival, ramps are a springtime rite celebrating a Southern Appalachian delicacy. Smelly as a ram in spring, ramps get their nickname from the Old English word “ramson” for wild garlic. They are also affectionately known as the spring onion, wild leek, and in French, ail sauvage and ail des bois, which translates as (no surprise!) wild garlic. This might lead one to think that there are ramps in France, but the French name comes from the Canadian province of Quebec where this wild food also emerges in the springtime. Once considered a lowly member of the leek family, Allium tricoccum, is a perennial member of the onion family, Alliaceae, which has a newfound status as a gourmet wild food. Ramps are popular in the cuisines of the rural upland South and in Quebec appearing in upscale restaurants throughout North America. It is a native of rich, damp woodlands in the eastern US and is becoming vulnerable to over harvesting. Ramps are gaining so fast in popularity, in fact, that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has banned their collection. A permit can still be obtained to dig ramps in the Nantahala and Pisgah National forests of North Carolina.

Slow growing ramps grow in clusters strongly rooted just beneath the organic layer of soil over a limestone outcropping on a north-facing slope that is timbered in hard woods on a well-shaded floodplain or above a streambed. They must be carefully dug in order not to tear the leaves or break their delicate bulb. Unmistakable with their garlicky odor and onion like flavor, ramps are only available for a few weeks in the spring. Mature ramps have two or three broad, smooth, shiny green leaves arising from a purplish lower stem that connects underground to a scallion-like, white, elongated bulb. Ramps can be commercially cultivated, but propagation from seed is difficult. It is possible to transplant them into loose, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter, and plenty of shade and moisture. Other plants you may observe scattered among the ramps are the Trout Lily, Bloodroot and Trillium. There are a couple of look-alikes that one should be aware of and they are Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) and Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) which like the ramp are small and two-leafed. Lily of the Valley is considered to be highly poisonous, and the Trout Lily will induce vomiting. Neither of these has the distinct odor or bulb of the ramp. The young Trout Lily sends up only one leaf, which is much smaller than ramps, and the older leaves are mottled. The young Trout Lily is the one most commonly mistaken for a ramp as it also has a purplish stem. It’s single leaf and lack of ramp odor is its give-away.

So let us welcome the ‘Comin’ O’ Spring’ with a pungent treat and deep appreciation for these bright green ‘wild leeks’, as they are called in the north. An important spring tonic after a long cold winter, both leaves and bulbs are edible and medicinal. They are easily prepared and can be substituted in any recipe that calls for leeks, onions, scallions or garlic. Their pungent flavor helps to disperse mucus, stimulate digestion, and improve sluggish liver function. Its mildly diaphoretic action offers protection against colds. Best combined with grains, which are moderately mucus forming, they disperse stagnant blood and increase qi energy. Eating ramps in combination with grains (full sweet) is a wonderful way to attune to spring.

Folks have long been celebrating the ramp with annual festivals like the one in Cosby, Tennessee that has been going on for over 50 years. One of the highlights of this festival is the crowning of the “Maid of Ramps” in a celebration of music, dance and ritual. But the festival need not be any further than your own kitchen to celebrate the gourmet side of this native plant. And here’s a little secret for you: If you happen to be out in the woods hunting for ramps – keep your eyes open for morels, they like a similar habitat and are ready to harvest at the same time. Fresh morel mushrooms cooked up with a ‘mess o’ ramps’ is heaven on earth!

Wild Ramp and Mushroom Sauté
3 tablespoons bacon grease from organic, nitrate and nitrite free bacon
2 cups chopped ramps, leaves and bulb
1 cup chopped fresh morels
dash white wine or herbal vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté mushrooms in bacon grease until tender. Turn up the heat and using a quick high-temperature sauté method, add ramps and cook until tender, stirring frequently. Add vinegar, then remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve on top of fish, meat or favorite grain.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Edible Spring Weeds

Winter into Spring Salad: with edible spring weeds

The edible spring weeds are abundant, but transitioning from winter to spring is an art. Spring, after all, is defined by its erratic nature. This salad combines some of the heavier winter flavors (bacon and beets) with the lightness of spring all tossed together in a burdock herbal vinegar and bacon dripping dressing. I grow my own sprouts with artesian spring water that comes right out of the mountain behind my house. Healthful , inexpensive and abundant. We are so blessed.

Wild greens and flowers including:
Dandelion flowers
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Violets (Viola odorata)

Alfalfa sprouts
Romaine lettuce
Pickled beets
Organic, applewood smoked bacon bits
Toasted almond slivers
burdock root herbal vinegar and pickled burdock root (fresh burdock root finely chopped covered in pasteurized apple cider vinegar for 2 weeks)
Bacon grease and drippings

Combine, toss and serve.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Diggin' Burdock

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I learned so much about burdock this past weekend as spring is being heralded in, waking me from my winter slumber. A long time friend and I made our way to another friend's homestead where burdock was happily growing in one of her favorite places -- the barnyard. We were both drawn to the back entrance of the barn where one was just beginning to raise her first leaves. Zealously we began to dig to see just what it was that we had here. We caught ourselves in mid spade having forgot to ask permission of the plant to remove this beauty from her barnyard. We paused, asked forgiveness, sang to her, made prayers, asked if she was the one who wanted to come with us and then plucked a few silvery grey hairs to leave as an offering. What we discovered was a second year root that had most likely been cut off at some point, producing two roots that grew entwined together like lovers. Two women, digging two roots joined together as one. My understanding is that as long as some part of the root is left in the ground when harvesting, it will grow back. I suspect this one got cut back because it was in the entrance to the barn, and then married with a first year root. That might also explain why the color of their respective leaf tops was different and one was woodier than the other.

First year roots are the most desirable because they haven’t given up their medicine to make flower stalks and seeds. They contain the most inulin and are sweeter. My feeling that burdock is best consumed fresh in the fall was confirmed upon doing further research. You can dig it anytime during its first year between fall and spring, but first year roots dug in the fall are the best. The leaves on a first year plant are a rosette, stay closer to the ground and don't produce a flower stalk. Burdock is biennial. If you pay attention and mark the first year plants, then you can dig ‘em up in the coming fall!
I have made an herbal vinegar tincture with almost all of the root(s) and cooked the remaining with rice. Special thanks to my husband, Chuck, aka The GreenMan, for taking these pics, to Joyce for her adventuresome spirit, and to Susun Weed for reminding how much more potent wild roots are compared to domesticated ones.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Burdock root, fresh roasted

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Food as Medicine: Thinly slice and coat in olive oil. Toss with a pinch of tarragon. Spread on a preheated baking sheet and bake at 400º until tender, turning frequently. Sea salt to taste and for a nutritional boost toss with dulse flakes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fabulous Fennel Salad

While visiting with Stuart Munro, my friend and former band mate in Victoria, BC, he made us this fabulous fennel salad. Stu and The GreenMan drank dark home brewed ale, while the women drank sweet local white wine of the Gewurztraminer variety. We were on our way back from Alaska and had a blast eating, drinking and jamming with Stu and friends in Penelope's back yard. Even friends who would never consider eating raw beets have been raving about this salad. Thanks Stu!

1 fennel grated
1 apple grated
1 beet grated
fresh chopped mint (to taste)
2 cloves fresh minced garlic
chopped pecans and maple syrup - bake the pecans covered lightly with maple syrup at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until crisp.
crumbled Stilton cheese
Celtic sea salt (to taste)
toss in olive oil and balsamic vinegar