June - July 2014


Mountains Inspired Ingredients


With the current drought in Southern California, decided to visit my friend's place in the mountains and gather interesting aromatic plants such as white fir, manzanita berries, pine needles, Juniper berries, etc...


This week, I made a new batch of Nocino after finding some Persian walnuts (probably planted long ago) and added some white fir, California bay and Juniper berries for flavor.


My mountain vinegar is still a bit hit so I'll continue to make more.


I'm testing some white fir, pine, Juniper and manzanita berries infused in vodka too. Will let it infuse for a couple of months before tasting.



Manzanita Berries Cider


Making manzanita berries hard cider today! Manzanita (little apples in Spanish) are found in the local mountains.


As the name indicate, they taste like sour little apples. The unripe ones are perfect to make a cider. It's a yearly tradition. Last year I also made manzanita cider vinegar which was nearly identical to homemade apple cider vinegar.







Southern California Nocino


My Southern California Nocino is ready and I love the flavors. It has this slight citrus/pine flavor from the white fir.


I think I posted the recipe earlier but here it is again:


    30 Green walnuts (Double that if you're using native black walnuts)

    2 cinnamon sticks

    5 whole cloves

    Zest of one lemon, cut into strips using a vegetable peeler

    2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Couple of small white fir branches

Around 20 California Juniper Berries

    1 liter vodka



Insects - Foraged Crickets


July is the time where crickets are super abundant. The best time to forage them is at sunset. You need to be quick to catch them but I'm experimenting with new methods to catch them such as placing a wet (clean) rag at the same location and they actually love to suck the moisture. Makes them easier to catch.


I didn't cook them in any weird way, just the regular chili, garlic powder and limes juice.


I sauteed them until they get brown, around 2-3 minutes in a hot pan. To make them more palatable to my students, I dehydrate them afterwords so they become more crunchy.


They make an excellent little snack with some homemade mugwort beer.



Lerps (insect) Sugar


This year I went a bit crazy and foraged tons of lerps sugar.


The sugar is basically 40 % starch and 60% sugar, some sort of honeydew secreted by lerps who suck the juice from local gum trees and excrete the sugar.


After foraging I dehydrate it in the sun and it becomes quite crunchy. We use it as topping on desserts such as ice creams, etc...


My main goal for foraging so much this year is to use this "sugar" to make a wild brew from scratch.  No idea if it would work to use this sugar source for fermentation but we'll see.


Took me around 5 hrs to collect what you see on the photo.



Mugwort Beer Syrup


To be used later on with game meat, sauces or even cocktails. Interesting project.


Smells delicious. Beautiful amber color too.


I didn't do anything special, just some of my mugwort beer, sugar and cooked it until I reached the temperature of 220 degrees, it ended up as a thick syrup.


Canned it afterward using the water bath method - 10 minutes in boiling water.




Local Mountains Foraging


Went to my friend's place in the local mountains to forage a little bit and explore. Came back through the desert on the way back.


I collected the following:



Aromatic native currant leaves

Pine branches

White fir branches

Manzanita berries


Good stuff to make infusion and my usual mountain vinegar.


My buddy mixologist Matthew Bianceniello also uses the white fir in this cocktails.


The yarrow will be used for my wild beers.



Elderberries Jam


We have so much elderberries this year that, in addition to make wine, I decided to make jams and syrups as well.


Last year, my jam ended up as a syrup so this year I followed a traditional recipe that I found online.


You can find it HERE




Mugwort/Yarrow White Elderberry Wine


In Southern California we get our elderberries from (mostly) Mexican elders.


The grapes are smaller than the regular elders. We also have two types of grapes, some are white and others are the usual black colors.


On the fun side, this means we can make black and white elderberry wine.  I have done it for the last 3 years and I find that the white berries have a bit less flavors than the black ones. They usually have more sugar though.


So this year, I made my traditional recipe for making elderberry wine but added a bit of mugwort and yarrow for flavors. That should make an interesting and very aromatic wine.


Fermented Unripe Elderberries Capers


I didn't invent this one, you can find the method at the following web site:





I made it last year as well and it's fantastic on fish and seafood. I have a different way of fermenting them, basically placing the unripe berries in a kimchi and fermenting them for 3-4 weeks.


After fermentation, I place them in a solution of salt and vinegar and can them using the water bath method (10 minutes). How much salt you use is really a matter of taste, regular capers are very salty.



Sourdough starter using wild yeast from local elderberries.


This was a fun project and worked beautifully.


I've try to make sourdough starting from scratch before, basically just mixing flour and water and hoping for wild yeasts to end up in it but I wasn't successful. I used plain regular flour that you buy at the regular store. I'm sure an organic flour would probably work.


So I had the idea to use elderberries. The white bloom around the berries contains a lot of yeast which makes it easier to create a sourdough starter and it worked extremely well. By the third day, my dough was bubbling nicely. Next is making sourdough bread!


Sourdough bread using wild yeast, flavored with roasted rabbit tobacco


Never made sourdough bread before and I'm so happy it worked so well. I know I still have a lot to learn and eager to do so. The end result was so satisfying!  Once I got the sourdough started, I fed it every 12 hrs of so with a ratio of 1 cup water and 1 cup regular dough. After 3-4 days I mixed the bubbling/fermenting dough with the same amount of regular dough and kneaded it for around 20 minutes. Placed the dough in the garage (quite hot in Southern California) until I was happy with the rise (around 10 hrs).


I placed the dough inside a clay tagine. Of course, I'm always interested to add some wild ingredients and flavors. One of my favorite herbs to use when roasting is Rabbit Tobacco, it really infuses interesting flavor. I placed a bunch on top of the dough and also sprinkled a bunch of cattail pollen and lerps sugar. I closed the tagine and left in the oven at 475 degrees for 30 minutes then removed the lid and left it in the oven for another 15 minutes.


The end result was a beautiful bread, it had hints of cheese (from the wild yeast) and a nice smoky flavor from the herbs.




Wild Mustard


August is the month to foraged black mustard seeds. I do a lot of mustard during the year so I foraged around 4 bags full of dry mustard branches with the seed pods.


I have a simple method to remove the seeds. Place all the branches in a paper or plastic bag, beat the crap out of it with a large stick and the seeds will collect at the bottom of the bag. Cut a hole and collect the seeds from the bottom then use a sieve to remove the shafts. You'll be amazed how many seeds you can collect!


Black mustard makes an awesome mustard, see earlier posting.



Wild Fermented Sodas


I usually used purchased champagne yeast for making sodas but this year I collected a bunch of elderberries to extract the yeast. I just placed elderberries in sugar water (1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup water) and in 5 days I had a nice fermentation.


When making my sodas, I basically just add a bit of my fermenting elderberries/sugar water to them and voila! That simple.


I guess I can keep using wild yeasts from now on by simply adding some sugar water to my original fermenting solution. We'll see how long I can do that.




Making Tiswin - A traditional native drink


I foraged a bunch of cactus pears from local nopales cactus this month and decided to make a native drink. Traditionally Tiswin is made with saguaros cactus pears but in my area I only have nopales and regular prickly pear cactus to I used what I have. It's basically juice from cactus pears and you add yeast (wild yeast from elderberries on my side).


The recipe was as follow:


4 cups cactus pear juice (seeds removed)

2 cups water

1/2 cup yeast starter (see posting above).


First you cook the juice and water for a couple of hours. Let it cool and use a strainer to remove impurities, etc... (you'll see), then cook it again for another hour, basically bring it to a boil and let it simmer. Cool it down again, add the yeast and let it ferment for 4-5 days then enjoy.


Honestly it's not my favorite drink but it isn't bad either. It will get you drunk and if you think about it, everything in it was foraged - from pears to yeast.



Making a brew out of nothing  (including sugar)


This was a project that I wanted to do for a long time, basically finding a way to make a fermented drink with just what I just found. I'm happy to say that I was quite successful at it. For the sugar source I used lerps sugar (honeydew from insects found on local gum trees). For flavors I used cactus pears, a bit of mugwort and yarrow. While foraging I also picked up a lemon from an abandoned orchard. I used 2 cups of lerps sugar for 1/2 gallon. Added 2 cactus pears, the mugwort, lemon and yarrow. Boiled everything for 20 minutes, strained it then placed into cold water to cool it. I took a handful of elderberries for the yeast and placed them in the cooled brew.


I fermented the drink until the fermentation stopped (around 2 weeks).  The end result was a sour brew which reminded me of some grapefruit a bit. It wasn't fantastic but it wasn't bad either. The fun part was to actually make something that could make you drunk with just wild ingredients.


Wild Food Tapas


Recently I've been playing with various recipes to create a tasting menu and allow people to experience some of the wild flavors of Southern California. Tapas are perfect for that, it's highly sustainable (you don't need to forage a lot), easy to make with the right ingredients and full of flavors.  Here are some examples of recipes I'm working on.  LEFT: Roasted cattail flowers with sweet clover, goat cheese, black nightshade berries (wild tomatoes) with a beurre blanc sauce.  MIDDLE: Raw goat cheese, water mint, fennel, mugwort beer syrup and preserved unripe fig sprinkled with lerps sugar. RIGHT: Oysters roasted in a sweet white clover butter and smoked with forest floor and rabbit tobacco.


August Forage


Some of the ingredients I found this morning:


Unripe figs (for canning)

Passion fruits


Lambsquarters seeds

Nightshade berries (wild tomatoes).


We use the lambsquarters seeds a lot to make fried vegan cakes.


I plan to dehydrate the nightshade berries so I can use them in the future. Dehydrate they taste like little crunchy sugary treats.


The unripe figs will be canned in syrup, it's a bit of a complex process but it allows you to forage figs before the birds and squirrels do it.