Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Homestead Eating: Woodland-made sauce

"Carrot Pancake" with lingonberry sauce,
 sour cream, and gruit ale.
I hope and intend that this is only the first of many versions of 'woodland-made' sauce that you will see and I will eat.  Lingonberries, though better known as a Scandinavian specialty, are as common in the woods on this this side of sub-artic circumpolar north as they are over there.  I hear tell you can find them in the northeast (Vermont and such places) though I've no personal knowledge of that.  Every autumn, I gather quarts and quarts of lingonberries.  I generally make a lingonberry sauce at Thanksgiving and look forward to when it entirely replaces ocean spray tm on the table. I am much more regular about, and invested in, this harvest than that of the blueberries that the typical Alaskan is known for.  (Living uphill now from great blueberry flats may see that personal trend change.)
Also growing in the woodlands I gather these ruby berries in are such plants as labrador tea and spruce and birch trees.  There are others of course, but these tend to be prolific and perhaps more importantly, to figure intimately into the profile of this 'woodland-made' sauce.  The last time I was heating up a lingonberry sauce (coincidentally for this same meal on a different day - its a fave), I was not as assiduous as usual in picking out the stray leaves of labrador tea and spruce needles that had wound up frozen with the berries.  The next day I was eating the left over berries (with a spoon, out of the pot; that's how much I adore these tart ruby baubles) - and I noticed little pockets of intense flavor where spruce or labrador tea had mingled with the berry flavor.  It was unexpected and took me aback, but on second thought I rather liked it.
So this time, in preparing the sauce, I intentionally left the leaves and needles in and let the sauce simmer for longer than usual in an attempt to infuse.  It sorta worked.  I'm looking forward to trying again and actually ADDING some of both flavorings, picked in the woods on purpose.  I mean, the flavor was a leeetle bit there, but certainly not enough to hold its own in the meal.  To further the whole woodland sauce concept, I sweetened the sauce with a splash of birch syrup instead of the spoonful of sugar I usually use.

As for the meal as a whole it is (mostly) out of "Sundays at Moosewood," Moosewood Restaurant's ethnic cookbook.  It is definately a favorite kitchen tool and inspiration of mine, as evidenced by the way it beginning to fall apart and the number of bookmarks and notes stuck into it.  It has sections on the ethnic/regional food of various areas : Morroco,  Northern Britain, India, Japan, Southeast US, Northeast US, Hebrew, Bulgarian or Yugoslav, etc etc.  One of my recent favorites is the section on Finland.  I don't know why the idea didn't strike me earlier in my life here in Alaska, but it makes so much sense to look to Scandinavian cultures for traditional food-ways that are compatible with life here in the far north: the climate, the growing season, some of the wild species, the need for winter storage, etc are all so very similar.  It only makes sense their food would resonate here too.  This is an adaptation of traditional carrot pancakes that I gather are usually prepared more like latkes.  Here they're baked in cast iron.  I don't follow the recipe anymore, I've made it so many times, and such things are relative... but I'll tell you how I do it.  For a precise recipe to follow, I cannot recommend "Sundays at Moosewood" enough!

Saute a diced onion in oil or fat (I like to use bacon grease when I have it) in a cast iron pan.
Shred about 5 carrots into a bowl.
Crumble a half cup or more of bread crumbs into the bowl.  If you don't have dried stale bread, dice a slice of whole wheat or sourdough bread.
In another bowl whisk together 5ish eggs and some milk.  Maybe almost a cup?
Whisk in thyme and nutmeg (1/2 -1 teaspoon ish?) and salt and pepper to taste.
Whisk in a half cup of flour.  I use whole wheat.  You could use rye or white or buckwheat.

Mix thoroughly the bread crumbs, carrots and onions in the first bowl.  Then add the egg mixture and toss or mix till thoroughly coated.  Scoop it all back into the cast iron pan (it should be all greasy from sauteing the onions), and bake at 350 ish for about half an hour.  When its done, it'll be a little puffy and golden on the top.  If you take it out too soon and its still goopy when you cut into it, just put it back in for a bit.  I sometimes overcook it, which just means there's a too-brown crust on the cast iron that is sometimes a pain to scrub out, but that the dog likes to eat.

Serve with lingonberry sauce and cultured sour cream (yoghurt would probably be good too).  The eggs and the sour cream are enough protein, but if you really want a winter-warmer style meal, it would be good with bacon, divine with sausage, and would hold up to left over roast or chicken. Wine, beer, and water are all good accompaniments.   Tea too, I'd imagine. Or apple juice.  I look forward to a lifetime of serving this meal to my family on a regular basis, I anticipate it being a weekly meal that my kids will know intimately.  Its healthy (and lingonberries are Vitamin C powerhouses!), easy, quick, AND best of all, can be made almost entirely from ingredients that I anticipate making or growing on this here homestead of ours.  Carrots and onions? Yessirree! They store well for winter too!  Bacon grease or butter? you bet!  Egss. Milk.  Bread.  Granted the wheat flour for both the pancake and the bread will likely be from off-homestead.   And there's always spices.  I will always import spices.

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