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We live on the top of a fairly high ridge in West Seattle, which is surmounted by a line of huge bigleaf maples, each one hundreds of feet tall. They’re striking, and creak in the wind, and generally fantastic to have so close by– majesty of nature, etc. Every year, around this time, they are covered with what must be hundreds of thousands of cute little yellow-green flowers:
I remembered having read somewhere that these blossoms are edible, and quite delicious; however, to find enough for more than just a little taste, one typically has to stumble across them fallen from the tree (or have access to the local ladder engine). This year, however, to my delight, one of the maple branches wast juuusst low enough to allow me to stand on a step-stool and pluck a solid few handfuls of the blossoms.
They fell away quite loosely, and were already sweet to the taste. I just popped the entire cluster off of the end of the branch. Each cluster of blossoms had about thirty tiny flowers covered in yellow pollen. A good few also had soft, underdeveloped leaves that would soon grow into the six-inch wide monsters that give the tree its name.
The entire cluster is edible, and if I’d had enough, I would have put some aside to use on a salad. The flavor is somewhat like honeysuckle crossed with the tiny inner leaves of the artichoke (which makes sense; the artichoke is also an undeveloped flower). They have a slight astringency– almost a “gaminess”– that adds depth to the taste.
I had about a cup and a half of blossoms. Since they’re so naturally sweet, I didn’t want to pickle them in straight white vinegar– I wanted to retain the sweet undertones. I used the following recipe, and the results were fantastic:
- 1 and 1/2 cup maple blossoms – stems and young leaves can be included
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp white sugar
1. Separate the blossoms from the stems and leaves. Retain all parts tender enough to eat.
2. Pack the blossoms/parts into a small (1/4 pint) jar or container. Since this is a quick-pickle that won’t be perserved (unless you can manage to find enough blossoms to make it worthwhile), the jar needs only be clean– no need to boil it or anything.
3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and sugar to a simmer.
4. Pour the hot brine into the jar. Lid, and refrigerate.
That’s all there is to it! They should stay good for two weeks or so.
I’ve been enjoying these on salads, over rice, in stir-fry– a little go a long way. They’re the very definition of piquant, and if I had more, I’d try them on hot dogs instead of relish, or as a topping for a light and flaky pastry of some kind. Ah well; the window for harvesting these guys is pretty short, so now we’ll have to wait until next year.
Plus, as an added bonus this fall, when I’m out in the cold raking the hundreds and hundreds of enormous brown, wet leaves out of our yard, I can raise my fists towards the towering maples above and shout, “I HAVE EATEN YOUR YOUNG!”
Every now and again the old tum informs me that it’s time to go on a gustatory safari, as it were. With such an incredibly variety of edible sensations which are available to the average human palate, it seems perfectly reasonable to occasionally venture into the land of the Unknown, the mysterious border between the edible and inedible, that shady area wherein half of the population’s eyes glimmer and mouths water and the other half retches in horror. My rules when trying new kinds of food are simple, and three-fold:
1. I will not eat dog or ape (I love dogs too much, and I have a terrible suspicion that apes are humans).
2. I will do my best to avoid dining on something procured cruelly (I’m really watching the factory-farmed stuff).
2. Otherwise, if at least one culture somewhere considers it food, I’ll give it a go.
Sometimes, one has great success and makes fascinating discoveries. Lamb tongue salad, for instance, or the delicate and buttery wing of the skate, or even the earthy and simply unfamiliar tang of black sausage, might make the typical American, not used to such delights, pale and turn away. Even though about eight-five to ninety percent of the humans who have ever lived have indulged in entomophagy, most people have a difficult time wrapping the taste-center of the brain around the nutty, almost potato-like flavor of the deep-fried bamboo caterpillar. I’ve tried it, and though it won’t ever likely be a staple, I’m glad I did– it tasted good.
Given that this is the case, I have decided to feature the occasional review for the “Armchair Culinaut,” the individual who likes the idea of eating exotic stuff but can’t bring him/herself to actually pop open a bag of roasted crickets and dig in.
A person’s limited by geography, of course, and the best, most accesible bet for most American culinauts is the local sushi joint. Now, generally people stick to your typical tuna or salmon, which, while delicious and slightly adventerous for the corn-fed set, are familiar and texturally innocuous. The more daring of the new-to-sushi might go for some unagi, the delicious broiled eel (funny, as eel was a staple-fish for thousands of years in Europe) or even the more rubbery “deep sea” sushi (octopus and squid). This is all well and good, and as all sushi is heavenly, count me in on all of it. Let me tell you, people, I don’t care what you order when you go out for sushi. I am one hundred percent pro-sushi. (Personal fave: Saba or Mackerel, the quality of which is always indicative of the overall quality of the sushi joint in particular).
Nonetheless, there are two beasties often found in sushi restaraunts that are typically reserved only for the most curious of palate, namely the humble sea urchin and the obscene in every way geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”). I have now tried both, and can honestly offer some thoughts on both of these so-called delicacies. Here is the main thought:
DO NOT EAT EITHER OF THEM EVER!
There are very few things I don’t like when it comes to food. At the top of my list of gustatory terror is the sea urchin. I have almost never tasted something so repulsive. Imagine, if you will, the spiky critter familiar from sea floors everywhere:
Now imagine turning it upside-down, scooping out its gonads, dumping them into a ring of seaweed, sculpting them into the shape of a brain, and eating them raw. To imagine the experience, simply take some condensed milk or thick cream, mix in a cup of salt water, a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter, and the indescribable flavor of Abstract Awfulness, and eat. Yuck. Do not eat sea urchin.
The geoduck (again, it’s “gooey-duck”), on the other hand, doesn’t have a terribly offensive flavor. No, the horror of this critter is almost entirely in the fact that… well, see for yourself:
As you can see, it’s basically a clam shaped like a giant penis. Like many things unfit for human consumption, some cultures (*i’m looking at you japan*) consider this monstrosity a great delicacy. It’s harvested primarily in the Pacific Northwest, just north of Seattle, and these things sell overseas for ridiculous amounts. For those as of yet unconvinced that the Creator God is at best completely bonkers, there is an overseas black market for these. When “stimulated,” they shoot sea water from the end of that giant muscle, and it’s this sea water that imparts the flavor to the meat.
Remember, as I said, this beastie doesn’t *taste* terrible. It’s not delicious, but it’s not awful for your average fan of seafood. It basically tastes like a mouthfull of wharf and seagulls screaming over barnacle encrusted pier. However, *everything else about the geoduck is disgusting and terrible*. We’ve covered how it looks, but even more unsettling is the fact that it’s *crunchy*. Not like fried crunchy, but like raw squash crunchy. Which is fine in a late-summer zucchini with some ranch dressing, but not fine at all in a slimy penis clam that tastes like King Neptune’s bathwater.
So there you have it: two dishes that I have tried so you don’t have to. Again, for some reason some people love these things. If you are one of them, I will try to look past your obviously nutty sense of what qualifies as “food,” and invite you to post why you like these in the comments.