Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bay Laurel Wreaths

Foraging has been a lonely pursuit lately. My Homesteading Circle hasn't been meeting as regularly because members are traveling or moving houses and when we do get together, we've been packing boxes instead of filling canning jars. 

So this week I found a project that I could do on my own: I made a Bay Laurel wreath for my kitchen. Their leaves can be used as a spice and are similar to the bay leaves you'd buy at the grocery store, except with a much stronger taste. 
The typical culinary bay leaves sold at the store come from the Mediterranean variety of laurel, which has a milder taste. I've been told to reduce the amount used if you're cooking with California Bay Laurel, in a 1:4 or even 1:5 ratio. So for instance, if a recipe calls for two bay leaves, I would use about half of a California Bay Laurel leaf. 

Bay Laurels (Umbellularia californica) are native to this part of California and are extremely common in the area. They have elongated leaves and small white flowers.  Right now the trees are flowering, so you can include the flowers in your wreath as a bonus. They also produce shiny black fruits, which have a thin layer of avocado-like fruit covering a substantial nut, which will definitely be the focus of a future homesteading project. Apparently if you roast the nuts, they taste like a cross between dark chocolate and coffee. Who knew?

I found this particular tree in a friend's yard and asked if I could take a canvas bag of clippings. The entire project took under an hour, from collecting to making the wreath. 

Bay laurel wreath

You will need:
  • Bag of laurel branches
  • Florist's wire (but any wire will do)
  • Kitchen scissors
  • Wire snips
My branches were each about 2 ft long, so I wired several of them together, overlapping their ends, making a much longer, thicker and stronger rope of laurel.  Then I curved it in a circle to make the size wreath I had intended (small enough to hang over my spice rack). I rearranged the leaves to cover up the wire in places and used the scissors to trim any branching stems that were being unruly. I ended up using about 3-4 branches total. The branches are somewhat flexible, but can be brittle if you push them too far, so be careful. 

I'd never actually made a wreath before, and it was way easier than expected. I'm sure if I had a special base, or ribbon or something, maybe it could be fancier, but my priorities are low cost and high function. This will slowly dry on the wall of my kitchen, adding flavor to my pots leaf by leaf.