Recipes Feed

Tips for safe blackberry picking {and a recipe for blackberry jam}

Picking-blackberries. Littleecofootprints

It’s blackberry picking season here in Australia. I keep an eye out for healthy blackberry brambles all year round and return at the peak of summer to scramble through the thorny stems clutching a bucket. The scratches are a small price to pay for the delicious antioxidant and vitamin rich berries.

There are few fruit that are as fresh, ethical and local as foraged blackberries.

Blackberry-picking-tips. Littleecofootprints

Blackberries are a nice introduction to foraging because they are easy to recognise and there are no poisonous look-alikes.

Blackberries are a nice introduction to foraging because they are easy to recognise and there are no poisonous look-alikes. Littleecofootprints

A common response when I mention blackberry picking is “How do you know the plants haven’t been sprayed?” This concern is justified given that blackberry is an aggressive weed here in Australia and herbicides are used in its control.

How to reduce the risk of foraging from recently sprayed plants.

I use a few strategies to reduce the risk of foraging from recently sprayed plants.

Herbicides are unlikely to be used during rain, so after a few days of rain is an ideal time to pick. If the plants were sprayed prior to the rain there would likely be signs of browning. I forage only from healthy and actively growing blackberry bushes.

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Another strategy is to simply ask the landholder. If it’s private property, knock on the farmer’s door or if it’s public land or a road-verge, contact the local council or park manager.

Speaking of road-verges, it’s best to avoid busy urban roads as these are likely to be polluted and regularly sprayed.

I also keep an eye out for tape or signs that may have been used to identify a sprayed area. Blackberry control guidelines recommend that in public areas signs be erected warning people that blackberries have been sprayed, particularly if spraying has occurred throughout the fruiting period.

Edited to include some advice from a Carolyn, a reader who works in land management: Brush Off is a slow acting herbicide that is used for blackberry control. Its effect may not be obvious for a few weeks. It is a hormone based spray, so moves throughout the plant (including fruit) prior to killing it. Grazon/Garlon is a very potent chemical that is also used on Blackberries. It kills within in a day, but is highly toxic.

Carolyn also advises that despite many people believing that herbicide is only used with dyes in it – that is not always the case.

Thank you for sharing Carolyn. You have reinforced, for me, the importance of checking with the farmer or land-manager first before picking.

What to wear

Most of my blackberry picking is done opportunistically. Torn clothes and scratches usually result.

What to wear blackberry picking. Little eco footprints

When I’m organised, I wear sturdy boots, long thick pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. I also wear heavy-duty gloves with the fingertips cut off the right glove, so that I can move the branches with my left hand and still pick the berries with my fingertips.

Tools and tips

I use a couple of small buckets rather than one big bucket so that the fruit isn’t squashed and the risk of losing an entire haul in one fall is minimised. Recycled yogurt containers and honey pots with handles are ideal. Tying the container to your waist using a bungee cord frees both hands.

Tools of the trade that I haven’t yet tried include an umbrella (for hooking branches) and a plank (for balancing on top of the blackberry canes so that you can reach the centre of the bush). I’m keen to try these tools – as usually the biggest and ripest berries sit out of reach and tempt me from a distance.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 1st February 2014.

Blackberry Jam

My favourite way to use blackberries is in Kate's blackberry and yoghurt cake. It's absolutely delicious and it's the first thing I make when I get my hands on blackberries. 

My second favourite is Blackberry Jam. 

Blackberry-jam-recipe-littleecofootprints

Whatever volume of blackberries you managed to pick - crushed using a potato masher

An equal volume of sugar

The juice of half a lemon for every cup of crushed fruit used

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Pop a plate in the freezer and gather sufficient sterilised jars. To sterilise, boil clean jars in a big pot on the stove for 10 minutes, or wash in the dishwasher on the hottest cycle, or place in an oven at 120 degrees C for at least 20 minutes.  

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Place crushed fruit in a saucepan and bring to boil. Add sugar and lemon juice, continue to boil and skim off any foam. Start testing whether it has reached setting point after around 10 minutes. To test, place a teaspoon of jam on the chilled plate, place in the freezer for a minute, then run your finger through it. If it wrinkles and stays seperated, then the jam is ready. 

Pour into sterilised jars. 

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I always manage to over-cook my jam - so am probably not the best person to be giving advice on how to test setting point. Pop on over and read this super helpful post at Cityhippifarmgirl on jam making


Embracing the zucchini glut {and a recipe for zucchini bread and butter pickles}

Zucchini-recipes-littleecofootprints.com

Zucchini are at their best right now. This versatile and prolific vegetable is a boom and bust vegetable. Prices have dropped and those of you growing it at home are likely to be searching for new ways to use zucchini.

I’ve been exploring ways to embrace the zucchini glut – and in particular how to use the giant zucchinis that appear out of nowhere after turning your head for a moment. While travelling, we returned to my mother-in-laws garden to discover nine huge zucchinis, each bigger than my forearm. Some see these giants as a failure destined for the compost – but I saw them as an opportunity to try a few new zucchini recipes.

Zucchini pickles are my favourite zucchini recipe for the season (recipe below). They are an easy and delicious way to use and preserve giant zucchini. Their texture and taste is similar to bread and butter cucumber pickles. 

Zucchini-spaghetti-littleecofootprints.com

Next on my list of favourite zucchini recipes is zucchini spaghetti. I've been admiring the thin twirls of raw zucchini produced by Spiralisers and Spiroolis, fancy kitchen tools that turn vegetables into a raw healthy pasta alternative. But the last thing I want is another single use kitchen gadget, so I was pleased when I discovered that you can make long thin noodles of zucchini using the humble box grater.

Making-Zucchini-spaghetti-littleecofootprints.com

The trick is to put the grater on its side (with the thickest grater face up) and move the zucchini along it in long strokes in one direction. The resultant thin strips of zucchini can be eaten raw, the same way you would eat pasta.

I’ve been enjoying zucchini spaghetti with pesto and also with bolognaise sauce.

There’s also been BBQ zucchini, zucchini fritters, egg in a zucchini basket, and plenty of pea, potato & zucchini soup.

If the zucchini season continues much longer, I might even consider instigating an Australian version of National Zucchini Day which is celebrated in the US each summer and otherwise known as "Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbours’ Porch Day."

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 25th January 2014.

Zucchini Bread and Butter Pickles

Zucchini-Bread-and-Butter-Pickles-recipe-littleecofootprints.com

I love Bread and Butter Pickles. I seem to have more luck growing zucchini than I do cucumber, so I was thrilled to discover you can make Bread and Butter Pickles from zucchini. 

This recipe is particularly good for using giant zucchini that may otherwise end up in the compost. 

1 kg zucchini, ends trimmed.
2 brown onions, halved, thinly sliced
3 tbs salt
2 L cold water
1 L apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 tbs mustard seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric

Zucchini-Bread-and-Butter-Pickles-recipe-2-littleecofootprints.com

Use a vegetable peeler to cut zucchini length-ways into thin ribbons. If you are using a large zucchini, don't use the middle seedy soft bit. Place in a large bowl with the onion and sprinkle with salt. Stir in the water. Cover and set aside for an hour or so to soften.

Meanwhile...wash and sterilise your jars. I use 5 x 500ml jars. To sterilise, boil clean jars in a big pot on the stove for 10 minutes, or wash in the dishwasher on the hottest cycle, or place in an oven at 120 degrees C for at least 20 minutes.  

Tip the zucchini mix into a colander or large sieve, drain and discard the water. Rinse under cold water, drain and press out as much liquid as you can. 

Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and turmeric in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. 

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Spoon the zucchini mix into the jars. Cover the zucchini with the vinegar mixture and seal immediately. 

Cool to room temperature then store in the fridge for up to 2 months. 

Enjoy. 

What is your favourite zucchini recipe? 


Homemade Paneer Cheese

Have you been tempted to make cheese, but haven't gotten around to buying the correct cultures or equipment? Thankfully there's a range of cheeses you can easily make with what you already have.

One of my favourite is paneer cheese.

All you need is full-cream milk, lemon or lime juice (or vinegar), and some muslin cloth (or an old thin cotton pillow slip or a well loved t-shirt).

Paneer Cheese Recipe

Pour around one litre of milk into a heavy based saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally, ensuring the milk doesn't burn. Once the milk reaches boiling point gradually add around 2-3 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice (or half that if you are using vinegar) and gently stir.

The milk will instantly start curdling, with the whey seperating from the curd. Turn off the heat and leave to stand for around 20 minutes.

Making goats milk paneer cheese

Drain the whey from the curd by pouring into a strainer lined with muslin (or the old thin cotton t-shirt or pillow slip).

Keep the leftover whey - it's high in protein. I use it in smoothies, instead of milk in baking and in fermented porridge.

Wrap the curds in the muslin cloth, rinse under cold water, and squeeze well.

Goats milk paneer cheese-001

To take out the excess water, press the wrapped paneer under a heavy pan. Around an hour later you have fresh paneer.

Easy!

We enjoy paneer either sliced and pan fried or in Palak (Spinach) Paneer.

Do you know any good paneer-using recipes?


Growing herbal teas at home

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I’ve been guzzling Lemon Balm and Rosemary tea this week. I’ve had a rotten flu and apparently both Lemon Balm and Rosemary have antiviral properties.

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To make the tea I pick a few generous sprigs of Lemon Balm and a small sprig of Rosemary, add hot water, and brew for at least 10 minutes.

I love being able to step out into the garden and pick herbs for nourishing homemade tea. Besides Lemon Balm and Rosemary, the only other ‘tea friendly’ herbs I’m growing at the moment are Mint and Lemon Grass, so I’ve decided to make a ‘wish list’ of herbs I’d like to grow for tea.

Herbal teas that are easy to grow at home

  • Brahmi
  • Chamomile
  • Echinacea
  • Fennel seeds
  • Ginger
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lemon Grass
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Mint
  • Nettle
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Stevia
  • Thyme
  • Tulsi
  • Winter Tarragon

What have I missed? What’s your favourite herbal tea? Do you grow any tea herbs at home?

Edited: I've updated the list to include your suggestions. Thank you!


Two seasonal summer soup recipes to use up zucchini and tomatoes

Have you been taking advantage of the abundant tomatoes and zucchini at this time of year?

Here's two of my favourite summer seasonal soup recipes from the archives:

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Fresh tomato and basil sunshine soup.

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Pea, potato & zucchini soup

What is your favourite way to use tomatoes and zucchini?

I was over at Childhood 101 yesterday writing about active learning through messy play.