There's something very rewarding about foraging for wild fruit and bringing it home to make something delicious with it in the kitchen. When I was a kid growing up in Washington state we foraged for wild huckleberries. We made huckleberry pie, jam, ice cream - anything and everything we could make out of them. My brothers and I would head up into the mountains with our dad in search of the tasty and tart berries. Our dad would carry a rifle strapped to his back because where there are wild huckleberries there are sure to be wild bears as well. We would fill a bucket full of the fruit and then head back home to process them into tasty treats.
Here in Texas the wild mustang grape and dewberry are very similar. The great thing about these wild fruits is that they are abundant and you don't have to hike up a mountainside to compete with bears to find them. If you have property here in the Brazos Valley you have probably encountered wild mustang grapes or dewberries at some point.
The wild mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis) is native to the Southern United States and its range includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. The fruit is very tart and the skin is very thick, but when you extract the juice and add sugar the flavor of the grape really shines through and makes for a delicious jelly.
To begin, harvest 3 lbs of wild mustang grapes from the vine. *Note - when foraging for wild plants you should be absolutely sure you have correctly identified the plant. There are berries that look very similar that can be toxic. Once you have your grapes harvested it's time to wash them and remove the stems.
Once the grapes are rinsed, place them in a large pot with 2 cups of water over high heat. Bring the grapes to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and use a potato masher to mash the grapes into a pulp to remove all of the juice. Carefully strain the pulp and juice through a fine mesh strainer into a heat proof bowl. To expedite the process use the back of a spoon to extract all of the juice through the strainer.
When you have all of the juice strained the next step is to get your canning equipment all setup and ready. This recipe will make approximately 8 half-pint jars. Wash and sterilize your jars and lids and get a pot of water boiling to process the jars in. You can buy canning kits that come with all of the equipment necessary to complete the next few steps.
You will need the following equipment for this project:
8 half pint jars
8 lids and rings
Head space measuring tool
Jar tongs for placing and removing jars from boiling water
Large processing pot
You can buy kits on Amazon that include a lot of these essential tools together.
When your jars are sterilized and your processing pot is boiling, pour your grape juice back into a pot and bring to a boil. Add one package of pectin to the liquid and stir. Add all of the sugar at once and stir to incorporate. Bring the liquid back to a rolling boil and let it boil for another minute.
Remove the jelly mixture from the heat and quickly ladle the liquid through a funnel into the canning jars leaving 1/4" of head space on top of each jar. Wipe the rim of the jars to make sure there is not any jelly liquid on the rim as this can prevent the jars from sealing properly. Place a lid and a ring on each jar and tighten them. Lower the jars into your processing pot using tongs. To safely process the jelly be sure you have an inch of boiling water over the top of the jars and prevent the jars from touching each other during the process. Process the jars for 10 minutes in the boiling water.
Carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and place them on the counter on a towel to cool. You will hear a "popping" sound as the jars begin to seal properly. If any of your jars don't seal properly you can place those jars straight into the fridge or freezer to be used first.
I recently made fresh paprika powder using a food dehydrator and a spice grinder, so I quickly put the fresh powder to use to capture all of the amazing flavors at their peak. If you didn't read my blog post about making fresh pepper powder you can read it here.
Chicken paprikash is a delicious recipe that highlights the sweet and slightly spicy flavors of the hot Hungarian paprika pepper. This recipe is Hungarian in origin and is typically served with egg noodles or grains. The dish is comforting and will have you licking your plate when you are done!
To start, it is best to prep all of your ingredients first. For this recipe I purchased about 2 lbs of "bone-in" pasture raised chicken thighs from the Brazos Valley Farmers Market. You can use boneless chicken here if you prefer - breasts or thighs. I prefer dark meat chicken and I like the bone in because of the flavor the bones impart on the chicken. Season your chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. The vegetables should be prepared by cutting them into a fine dice - I used a small white onion, a large red bell pepper from the farm, four small farm tomatoes, and two cloves of garlic.
Once you have all of your ingredients prepped, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Now it's time to start cooking your aromatics in a thick oven-proof pan. I love cooking with cast iron so I used a cast iron pan for this recipe. Cast iron pans are very affordable these days and they provide even heat that is perfect for searing and braising.
Heat one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Make sure you use oil with a high smoke point such as vegetable or canola oil. Once the oil is nice and hot, sear off the chicken (in batches if necessary) in the pan. Be sure not to crowd the pan, because you want to get a nice sear on each piece of chicken. Start with the chicken skin side down and then flip to the other side after 5 minutes, or when you have developed a nice golden brown crust. Continue cooking the chicken on the other side for another 5 minutes and then remove the chicken to a plate to rest.
Without draining the fat, next sauté the onions for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic and peppers and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Add 1.5 tablespoons of paprika powder (homemade or store bought) and stir the vegetable mixture so the paprika begins to fry in the oil to release its flavor. Add two tablespoons of flour to the mixture and stir again to combine. Cook for 4 minutes.
Add the diced tomatoes to the pan along with 3/4 cup of broth - gently stir. Situate the chicken back into the pan with the skin side facing up. Place the pan into the oven and cook until the chicken reaches the correct temperature and the sauce has thickened.
While you wait for the chicken to cook in the oven, bring a medium pot of water to a boil on the stove. Cook 8 ounces of egg noodles in the water until they are al dente - about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the noodles and add one tablespoon of butter to them and mix to combine. I used Mrs. Millers old fashioned egg noodles. They have a great texture and are a better quality than the cheaper egg noodles.
Once the chicken reaches the correct temperature, carefully remove the pan from the oven using an oven mitt or towel. Remove the chicken to a plate and then add 1/2 cup of sour cream to the sauce and gently stir to combine.
To assemble the dish, divide the noodles evenly to four plates or coupe bowls. Place one chicken portion onto each plate on top of the noodles. Ladle the sauce evenly over the top of all four plates. Enjoy!
This season I have had really good luck growing the Leutschauer Paprika Pepper from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. This pepper is a slightly spicy Hungarian paprika that makes for an excellent dried spice that will bring a burst of flavor to your sauces or spice rubs.
To make dried peppers I recommend using a food dehydrator rather than an oven. Ovens don't typically get lower than 170 degrees, which is a little too hot for dehydrating. I was tempted to try the oven method, but the thought of running the oven with the door slightly cracked for several hours didn't seem appealing to me. I decided it was time to own a food dehydrator because there are endless things coming off the farm that I can dehydrate.
After searching online and reading many reviews, I decided to purchase the Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro. I have used this dehydrator in the past and love the amount of space it has, as well as the adjustable thermostat for a more accurate dehydration process depending on what product you are dehydrating. The other great thing about this dehydrator is the price, which is less than $60 with free shipping if you have Amazon Prime.
This method can be used for any pepper you have on hand - I just happened to have some nice paprika peppers so I started with those. To begin, you will want to work with fresh peppers that are firm and don't have any brown spots or soft tissue. Wash your peppers thoroughly and pat dry. If you are working with larger peppers like paprika, jalapeno, or poblano, it is best to cut your peppers into thin strips so they dehydrate better. If you have small peppers like cayenne or Tabasco you can leave them whole.
Once your peppers are cut into thin strips you can arrange them on the dehydrator trays making sure they aren't touching or overlapping so they dehydrate better. The Nesco dehydrator recommends dehydrating vegetables at 135 degrees. My peppers took about 12 hours to dry at this temperature. You will want them to be be nice and crisp, rather than leathery, when you go to grind them so they grind into a nice powder.
The final step is to use a spice grinder to grind the dried peppers into a powder. I purchased a Shardor spice/coffee grinder and I am very pleased with the results. It comes with two grinding bowls, one for spices and one for coffee. If you want your peppers to be the consistency of red pepper flakes pulse the peppers a few times and check for the desired size of flakes - repeat if necessary. If you would prefer a pepper powder I recommend grinding for about 30 seconds.
That's all there is to it! It's best to keep your pepper powder in a air tight jar in a dark and cool place in the cupboard. Pepper powder should last about 6 months before it starts to lose it's freshness and flavor. Once you taste how amazing fresh pepper powder is, you won't have a hard time finding some delicious recipes to use it well before 6 months has passed.
Written by Corey Wahl
I would like to share with you one of my favorite summertime drinks that you can make utilizing the large and seedy cucumbers that would otherwise be unpleasant to eat. If you are a gardener who has grown cucumbers you know that it is very easy to miss the harvest for a few days only to come back to your plants to find massive cucumbers that are full of seeds. Instead of hanging your head low at the sight of all of the overgrown cukes, you can now celebrate - it's time to make some agua fresca!
Aguas frescas, which literally translates to "fresh water", is a popular street drink in Mexico and the U.S. My personal favorite flavors are jamaica (hibiscus) and pepino (cucumber). Cucumbers are perfect for making agua fresca because they consist mainly of water anyway, so a good portion of the liquid in this recipe comes from the cucumber to impart an amazing fresh flavor in the drink.
The secret to a well extracted agua fresca is to use a quality high-powered blender. I own a 1200-watt Ninja Intelli-sense blender that I absolutely love and use at least once a week for smoothies, soups, drinks, salsas, sauces, and much more. The Ninja is a nice affordable option if a Vitamix is a little too costly for you, but the Vitamix 5200 is also a great choice if you want maximum blending power.
Amazon has a great deal on the 1500 watt Ninja system right now, which comes with smoothie cups, a food processor, and the tall blender:
Equipped with a nice blender you are ready to make one of the most refreshing summer drinks in just a matter of minutes. The first step to this is to harvest (or purchase) cucumbers. Any cucumber will work for this, but I choose to use the large seedy cucumbers that were left on the vine a little too long. You will want to peel and chop the cucumber into small pieces and fill the blender up with about 8 or 9 cups. Add about 4 cups of water to the cucumber to fill the pitcher up the the "max liquid" line. Top it off with a 1/4 cup of lime juice and blend until nice and smooth.
Once you have blended the cucumber, water, and lime together you now have a decision to make. You can leave the pulp in the water and proceed to the next step as is, or you can strain the water for a pulp-free drink. I always strain mine and compost the pulp, but this is completely up to you. If you want a smooth and strained agua fresca then the next step is to pour the mixture from the blender into a pitcher or bowl through a fine mesh strainer. Use the back of a spoon to press the juice through the pulp and strainer, being sure to extract as much liquid as possible!
Whether strained or un-strained, the next step is to sweeten the delicious cucumber water to your liking. Cucumber and lime water is delicious by itself, but there is something magical that happens when a little bit of sweetness is added to balance out the acidity. To sweeten the water you can use honey, agave syrup, or sugar. If you are using sugar it is best to make a simple syrup first in order for it to blend into the liquid smoothly. Don't worry, simple syrup is very simple to make!
Once you have your simple syrup it is now up to you to add as much sweetness as you want to your cucumber and lime agua fresca. Personally I like to add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of simple syrup, but you can add 1/4 cup at a time and test for sweetness until you find your perfect amount. When you are happy with the sweetness it is time to chill the agua fresca, or put it over ice if you want to enjoy the deliciousness right away! Garnish with a lime wedge and a mint sprig and you are ready to kick back and enjoy the summer.
Hint: This can also be served with some bubbly to make a cucumber mimosa. Alternatively you could add gin or vodka to make a refreshing summer cocktail.
Written by Corey Wahl
Recommended products for this recipe:
There's something special about this time of year - the holidays are coming to an end, we have consumed more calories than we care to admit, and somewhere deep inside us a restlessness brews for what the new year has in store. Personally I am extremely excited for the new growing season. I have spent the past year building the farm and putting all the necessary pieces into place. Now it's time to focus on building the soil and producing even more amazing food for Ronin restaurant.
This year I decided to partake in a healthy New Years Eve celebration. I figured it would be a little more productive to set goals, and dream big dreams, while completely sober with a nice farm fresh meal as my inspiration. So I traded in the booze for some Topo Chico instead and I headed out to the farm to harvest some fresh veggies for dinner. I knew I had plenty of daikon at the farm so I decided to go with an Asian recipe. I gathered some daikon and carrots and then headed to the herb garden. A quick glance around and I knew exactly what I wanted to make. I grabbed some Japanese green onions, Japanese wild parsley, and some cilantro and I headed to the kitchen.
First off, I would like to preface this recipe by saying that even though I am obsessed with Vietnamese food right now I actually don't know a lot about it. Thai food used to be my go-to style when it came to Asian food, but lately Vietnamese food has won my heart. I will admit that this recipe is probably not 100% authentic. I guess you could also call it a fusion recipe since I am using soba noodles (soba is actually the Japanese word for buckwheat). I found it to be delicious nonetheless and I hope you enjoy it.
Corey Wahl - director of farm operations at Ronin Farm - Bryan, TX.