Spring Time and Weird Botanicals

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This is sort of complicated. Once, in Venice, I was served an aperitif that was made from a branch of redbud buds that had been steeped in a bottle of grappa. The bottle itself was pretty, but unhappily the contents, although a little herby, tasted mostly like like sticks. Sticks that had been sitting in moonshine. The signora beamed as we sipped our drinks and explained that it was very important to use the buds, not the open flowers. That it could only be made a few days every year, that you must have everything at the ready because you could never really know when the tree would bloom and that the drink served as a bracing, healthy tonic. (At this same bar I bought a whole bottle of grappa that had stems of rue in it. For years after, even when the next morning there were people passed out everywhere and all the other alcohol in the house was gone that bottle of grappa was always still there.) In any case, in the back of my mind I sort of intended to revisit this drink one day and perhaps improve on it a bit. Of course, I've never been ready when they bloom, this year included. Yesterday, I was asked to join friends Moreton Neal and Jean Anderson in interviewing Lynne Rossetto Kasper on D.G. Martin's Who's Talking radio show on WCHL. As I biked to the studio , I happened to spy a stand of redbuds that had not yet bloomed. They were at the entrance of a new development, probably newly planted and therefore a little behind schedule. I was a little early so I raced to the liquor store in the adjoining mall. Closed for Easter Monday! Damn. I had planned to snap off a few branches and put them in a bottle of cheap vodka to see what happened. We were supposed to have a light frost that night.The redbuds would survive, but might the flowers be scorched by the freeze? Or what if they burst into bloom the next morning? I was determined to finally complete this task. By the time we finished the show, it was getting late. I tore back to town. I would get a little vodka from work in a mason jar to submerge the flowers in. Then tomorrow I could buy enough for my experiment. Yikes, mason jars but no tops. Off to the grocery store. Back to the redbuds. It's dark now. What if the custodian catches me pruning his trees? He didn't. I guess I'll wait a week or so to taste this.

This leads me to reflect on how much foraging I do around town for stuff to serve at work. My honeysuckle gleaning is already legendary. I'll wait and hold forth on that when the time is right. I also can pick blackberries and wonderful little wild yellow plums within sight of the restaurant's back door. I checked the plum trees this week. They are covered with flowers promising a good season. I have a yard full of violets which may turn up on desserts and in salads. I once used to candy these. They are pretty done this way, but they don't last very long and they just taste like sugar. I have jewel berries in my yard as well, although this year they were badly trampled when I re-sided my house. I haven't started trapping squirrels and rabbits yet, but who knows. Israel Martinez told me that his mother used to send he and his little brother out to catch quails with their bare hands, so I have some staff know how. Just kidding folks.

A few random notes. Betsey has brought me tons of pretty kale. She's cleaning out her winter garden. With it I made a delicious, if khaki colored, soup with potatoes and leftover sausage from brunch. It reminds me of the Portuguese caldo verde. Friends farther South tell me that Mrs. Chase did indeed get Dooky Chase's open again for Holy Week. If you find yourselves in New Orleans, please check it out. Ditto Willie Mae's Scotch House which is right around the corner. And finally, I have discovered that lamb kidneys are now available at the Carrboro Farmers' Market. I probably won't put them on the menu, but I might be fixing some up for myself from time to time, most likely on Sundays, so ask if you are a fan.

posted by Bill Smith at 10:44 AM


Blogger greg said...


i'm digging the blog.

keep up the good work... i always leave hungry!

check out my dad blog when you get a moment:


March 29, 2008 7:21 AM  

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