June 29: Peach Palm (Pejibayes)

2016/06/29 deej 0

peach palm with fruitThe peach palm or pejibaye (Bactris gasipeas) is native to the lowland tropics of South and Central America. It was domesticated during the pre-Columbian era by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and both the fruit and seeds have been used as food since then.

 

The texture of the fruit, raw or cooked, has been compared to a firm sweet potato, and the flavour is similar to squash, buttery potato, or roasted chestnut. Undamaged, raw fruits will keep well, gradually dehydrating, in a low humidity environment with good airflow. Bruised or damaged fruits, however, will ferment in only a few days. Cooked fruit will keep for 5 – 6 days. The fruit can be dried and ground as meal or flour, which can be used as a replacement for cornmeal, or stored as dried chips. It can also be pressed to produce an edible oil.

 

peach palm fruitRaw peach palm fruit contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can be irritating to the mouth and digestive system, so the fruit should be cooked before being consumed. Traditionally, the fruit is often slow cooked for three to five hours in salted water before being eaten, but half an hour or slightly less in a pressure cooker, oven or microwave will dissolve the calcium oxalate crystals, making the fruit safe to eat.

 

Cooked fruit may be deep-fried or roasted and eaten as a snack, or may be used as a stuffing for poultry. It can also be mixed with cornmeal or flour, milk and eggs, and fried to form griddle cakes or pancakes.

 


 

Peach Palm Fritters

 

*Note, as I don’t (yet) have access to any peach palm fruit, I haven’t tested this recipe. I’d love to hear what people think of it, though!

 

¼ cup wholemeal flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

300 – 400g peach palm fruit, cooked, skinned and de-seeded

1 cup milk

2 eggs

(optional) chopped onion, corn kernels, chopped bacon, chopped herbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Instructions

  • Mash the peach palm fruit to a fine puree.
  • Combine all ingredients. Mix to form a loose batter.
  • Add olive oil or butter to a pan and set over medium heat. Drop teaspoonsful of batter into the hot pan and cook until golden brown on both sides.

 


 

Images sourced form Wikimedia Commons:

June 25: Less is More 2016 (hosting a beehive)

2016/06/25 deej 0

Today I presented at the 2016 Less is More festival, on hosting a beehive in your back yard. Here are some of the points I covered, just in case you couldn’t make it to the talk, or need a little reminder of the content. 🙂

 

Why host a beehive? Well, it’s more a case of why wouldn’t you, really. It’s easy and safe, the bees will pollinate all your vegetables and your fruit trees, and produce honey as well. Plus, honeybees are under a lot of pressure from climate change, pollution, disease and the use of damaging pesticides such as neonicotinoids – so hosting a hive will help make sure there are healthy honeybee populations around.

 

All you need a little space – as little as 2 to 4 sqm that don’t get walked through every day, in a corner of the garden or even on your roof or the roof of your garden shed – and a bird bath or pond to provide water for the bees. You do need to provide water, otherwise the thirsty bees will go for the nearest water source, which might be your (or your neighbour’s) swimming pool, or your dog’s water dish. That’s when bees become a nuisance. You can reduce the possibility of your bees being a problem for people by putting a person-height barrier (a shade cloth screen, for example, or a hedge) in front of the hive so that the bees have to fly over it to leave; they will then tend to stay at that height until they get to the flowers they are heading for.

 

You should also check on your local council’s rules – most councils allow beehives, but some have rules about how far from the street your hive must be, or how many hives you can have. You also need to register with the state government for a ‘hive brand’, and pay a registration fee, so that you can legally keep bees. The hive brand is a symbol or combination of letters and numbers which must be visibly marked on your hives.

 

You should open your hive up to check on the bees at least four times a year (once per season), to make sure they’re healthy and don’t have parasites or diseases. Open the hive in the morning, ideally on a sunny day – never in the rain or late in the evening. Bees become defensive and angry if disturbed at night. Smoke your bees gently before opening the hive, using a bee smoker. You can also harvest honey when you open the hive up – we’d suggest doing an intro to beekeeping course to see how it’s done before trying it yourself. Always listen to your hive – you can hear their mood in the tone of the buzzing. Beekeeping equipment for maintaining your hive and harvesting honey is available from several suppliers, who can also advise on where to buy bees – try Perth Bee Supplies or Guilefoyles, or you can buy the equipment online from multiple sellers. Your first beekeeping supplies, other than a hive, should include a bee brush, a smoker, an implement called a hive tool, and protective gear (bee suit, gloves, veil).

 

Once you have the honey, you still have to use it. Honey tastes sweeter than sugar, so you need less of it in most recipes. Use approx. ½ to ¾ cup of honey per cup of sugar replaced – and be aware that some recipes won’t turn out the same, especially confectionary, because honey contains different types of sugars to regular sugar (fructose and glucose, rather than sucrose). Honey also adds liquid to a recipe, so you need to reduce the liquid content of the recipe from other sources. Reduce the liquid content of a recipe (from water, milk, etc.) by about ¼ cup for every cup of honey you add to the recipe. Honey is great to bake with, and works really well in jams too.

 


 

Easy Honey and Olive Oil Cupcakes

 

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup of plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup olive oil (or other vegetable oil)

½ cup honey

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup milk (you can use rice milk, nut milk, or water if you prefer)

 

  • Combine all ingredients.
  • Spoon into cupcake cases or muffin pans.
  • Bake at 180 degrees C for about 10 minutes, or until golden on top and cooked all the way through.

June 24: mesquite – the forbidden legume

2016/06/24 deej 0

Prosopis albaAlthough mesquite (Prosopis species) are prohibited in Australia (mesquite is a declared weed in all states), because they can form thorny thickets which could pose problems for livestock farmers and because their thorns can puncture tyres, they do provide an excellent food source. Mequite meal, made by grinding up the pods and seeds, contains 10 – 17% protein, and is high in lysine.

 

Prosopis pubescens flowerMost mesquite species (there are around 40 of them) are small trees or large shrubs, native to desert and xeric regions of north and central America. They may have one or multiple trunks, and the leaves are light green to blue-ish green. Some are evergreen, while others are deciduous. Many species are thorny, although not all. Spikes of small greenish, cream or yellow flowers form in spring and summer. Extended flowering may occur August-December, with pod formation October-March. The pod is flat and 5-20cm long, compressed, straight to curved, smooth or with slight restrictions between the seeds. Ripe pods are yellow, purple, or yellow with purple streaks and patches. The flat seeds are oval or elliptical 2.5-7mm long by 2-3mm wide, each enclosed in a flattened fibrous case, and surrounded by sweet pulp.

Prosopis glandulosa seed podOnce the pod is dry the whole pod is edible and can be ground into flour and made into bread. Mesquite pods were widely used in the past by the indigenous peoples of North and Central America where mesquite trees grow, and are still used as a staple food by many people in Mexico. Mesquite meal or mesquite flour can be used to make bread, or it can be added to soups and stews, casseroles, and sauces. It can also be used in pie crusts, used in vegetable and meat dishes, or sprinkled over fruit desserts, puddings or ice-cream.

 

Prosopis glandulosa bark

Like carob and wattleseed, mesquite has no gluten (or gluten-like components), so in baked goods it gives crumbly rather than chewy texture. It is also strongly flavoured, so is best used in combination with a milder flavoured flour (such as wheat, millet, or rice flour, ground almonds, or cornmeal) or as a flavouring accent. Recipes calling for mesquite can use wattleseed instead, and vice versa.

 


 

Mesquite Teacake

Based on recipe from Desert USA, by Martha Darancou: http://www.desertusa.com/lil/mesquite.html

 

¾ cup mesquite meal, finely ground

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar or honey

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup mashed or stewed fruit, e.g. banana, cooked pear, cooked plums *

½ cup milk

2 eggs

(optional) ¼ cup chopped nuts

 

* Avoid very watery fruits, such as melon, passionfruit, or prickly pear. For 1 cup of mashed fruit, use about 2 large bananas, 3 pears, 4 – 6 plums, ..

 

Instructions

  • Combine the mesquite meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Separately, mix the sugar or honey, fruit, oil, milk and eggs.
  • Combine the fruit mixture and the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly.
  • Stir in the nuts.
  • Pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake at 180 degrees C for about an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  • Cool for ten minutes before removing from the loaf pan.

 


Prosopis glandulosa foliage

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

June 23: Making Mead

2016/06/23 deej 0

On Saturday I’ll be presenting at the 2016 Less is More festival in Peppermint Grove. I gave a presentation last year, on urban livestock, and I really enjoyed the experience. I’ve signed up to present again this year, this time on beekeeping.

 

I’m no expert bee-keeper, but I do have bees and I love them. They’re fascinating, and very low maintenance, and they produce amazing honey from the flowers around here. My first introduction to bees as anything other than a flying insect in my garden was in Melbourne a few years ago. I did a one day “intro to beekeeping” course at Ceres, which is Melbourne’s equivalent to City Farm. I’ve always loved honey, and after that course I was hooked on the idea that I could keep bees for myself, to produce honey and to help the environment.

 

One of the best things about having bees around is the honey the produce (although the pollination services they provide are also very important!), and the things you can do with it. Honey isn’t just for eating on scones or toast – you can bake with it, replace sugar with it when making jam, trickle it over carrots or pumpkin before roasting, add it to your tea, and you can make mead with it.

 

Mead is an alcoholic drink, similar to beer or wine, made with honey. A spiced mead is called a metheglin, and a mead made with fruit juice as well as honey and water is called melomel. The recipe below is for a simple apple and honey melomel.

 

750 ml water

250 ml raw, unprocessed honey

250 ml apple juice (cloudy apple juice is best, but clear juice is ok too)

1 teaspoon freeze-dried bread yeast

 

  • Start by making sure all your equipment is clean and sterilised. Miltons tablets (available from chemists) are sold for sterilising baby bottles, and are great for sterilising gear without using heat.

 

  • Combine the honey and water in a saucepan, and heat until the mixture is just boiling (about 80 – 90°C). Cover and leave to cool to room temperature.

 

  • Gently warm the apple juice to about 30°C (the temperature that it feels just warm if you dip a clean finger in). Stir in the yeast, and leave it to stand for 5 – 10 minutes, until foamy.

 

  • Stir the apple juice and yeast into the honey-water, and pour the mixture into a 1.5 litre bottle, then add a fermentation lock. (This is a device that allows carbon dioxide form the fermentation process to escape, but does not allow bacteria or moulds to get into the bottle)

 

  • Somewhere between an hour and twenty-four hours later the mead will start to bubble, as the yeast turns the sugars into alcohol. In summer in Perth you can have a sweet, fizzy mead after fermenting overnight; if you want a drier drink or the weather is colder, leave it longer.

June 22: wattleseed pancakes

2016/06/22 deej 0

Of the many species of wattle native to Australia, several produce seeds which are suitable for use as human food. Edible wattleseed has rich nutty, chocolate and roasted coffee flavours, and is well suited to both sweet and savoury uses.

 

Australian aboriginal peoples ground dried wattle seeds to form a flour, which was then baked into damper (traditional campfire bread). The green seeds of some wattle species were also eaten, cooked and consumed as a green vegetable like peas or fresh beans. Wattle seeds have also been used as food in some areas in West Africa, where the wattle trees were introduced to provide a fast growing tree for firewood and windbreaks.

 

Laboratory testing and human dietary trials have shown that wattle seeds are highly nutritious and safe to eat as a base or staple foodstuff. Nutritional analysis shows an average protein content of approximately 26%, an average available carbohydrate content of 26%, and a fibre content of around 32%. Wattle seeds also have a low glycaemic index, as their starch content is digested and absorbed slowly, although their energy content is high (approx. 1480 kJ per 100g). The seeds can be stored for up to a year, or sometimes longer, before being ground, with no perceptible deterioration in flavour or food quality.

 

The main species used are Mulga wattle (Acacia aneura), Elegant Wattle (Acacia victoriae), Silver Wattle (Acacia retinodes), Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia var. sophorae), and the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha). Coles Wattle (Acacia colei) is widely used in West Africa. Coastal Wattle is described as having a rich, nutty flavour, while the Elegant Wattle has a darker, more coffee and chocolate flavour. All of these species grow happily across a range of Australian dryland environments, and will thrive on 400 – 800 mm rainfall per year, in well drained soils. The Coastal Wattle and Elegant Wattle tend towards a shrub form, growing 3 – 5 m tall and branching lower towards the ground; Mulga may do the same, or may grow as a tree, depending on the environment. The otehr species grow as small trees, 6 – 10 m in height.

 

Wattleseed is often used as a flavouring agent for bread, ice-creams, pastries, cream, pancakes, biscuits, or cakes. Adding up to 1 tablespoon of ground wattleseed to baking, or 1 – 2 teaspoons to ice-cream or cream gives an elegantly aromatic effect. Ground wattle seed can, however, also be used in place of ground sorghum, millet flour, or other gluten free flours in baking; this will give a richer wattleseed flavour to the end product.

 


 

Gluten Free Wattleseed Pancakes

 

2 cups finely ground wattleseed (or 1 cup ground wattleseed and 1 cup millet flour)

1 – 2 cups lukewarm water

¼ cup milk

(optional) 1 egg

1 – 2 teaspoons honey (or to taste)

pinch of salt

oil for frying

 

Instructions

  • Combine the milk and warm water. If using egg, beat the egg in with the water and milk.
  • Sift the ground wattleseed into a bowl and gradually pour in the warm water, mixing well as you do so, to form a smooth batter. If the ground wattleseed is not fine enough to sift, you may wish to grind it more finely with a mortar and pestle – otherwise thepancakes come out with a gritty texture instead of a smooth crisp finish.
  • Set aside and rest the batter in a cool place for 1 – 4 hours.
  • Beat the batter with a wooden spoon (do not whisk), while heating a pan or skillet.
  • Pour or ladle batter into the pan to make a saucer-sized pancake (or several smaller pancakes) and cook until crisp. You can turn it once if desired, but it is not essential. The pan or skillet should be quite hot; the batter will stick if the pan is not hot enough.
  • Serve with honey, jam, or fruit chutney. These pancakes are reminiscent of dark, nutty rye bread.

 

NOTE: For a vegan version of these pancakes, omit the egg and replace the milk with orange juice.

 

 


 

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

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