Harvesting Native Pennycress Seeds to Impart Old World Flavor

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Lithuanian Skilandis With Kolytos (Pennycress Seeds)

Native Field Pennycress

Native Field Pennycress

Step 1: Preparing the Seeds

Pennycress seeds are about the size of flax seeds, but despite their tiny size, they pack a wallop of flavor. If you haven’t tasted pennycress seeds, imagine the bold garlicky spices in salami and you should get a close concept of this flavor.

My ancestors from rural Lithuania used pennycress seeds to make skilandis, a dried pork sausage. After immigrating to America, they were pleased to discover their beloved “kolytos” growing here, too.

I found my grandmother’s skilandis recipe recently and decided to return to nature to harvest my own seeds for this traditional Lithuanian dried sausage.

Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, pennycress seeds are ripe for harvesting in mid-July. While it may seem a tedious task, it really was not and was actually fun.

Armed with a clean plastic grocery bag, my mother and I explored the borders of corn and hay fields until we found the silvery seed pods of pennycress. We carefully snapped their dried stems and filled our bag with these seed pod laden stems.

First Screening of Pennycress Seed Pods

First Screening of Pennycress Seed Pods

Back in our kitchen, we discovered a simple method for extracting seeds from their pods. Each of us had two bowls — one for collecting seeds and one for debris. We used light-colored bowls in order to see everything clearly. We each placed a fine mesh strainer on our collection bowl and filled it with seed pods that we pulled from the stems in our plastic bag.

We rubbed the seed pods together with our hands to dislodge the seeds. We did this repeatedly until all seeds from the stems in our bag were dislodged and our strainers were full of seeds and empty silvery pods.

Then, we lifted the strainers above our collection bowls and gently agitated them until the seeds fell into our bowls. Each time, we removed the tiny stems and seed pod fragments that collected in our strainers. We repeated this process until the seeds looked fairly clean and contained no large debris fragments.

Next, we poured our seeds into an extra fine strainer and agitated it repeatedly. Our purpose here was to extract dust and debris that was smaller than the seeds. This worked remarkably well since there was quite a bit of dust mixed in with our seeds.

Extra Fine Screening of Pennycress Seeds

Extra Fine Screening of Pennycress Seeds

Finally, when we were sure that our seeds were free of all foreign materials, we placed them in an airtight jar. In one hour’s time, our project yielded a half cup of pennycress seeds — plenty for several batches of skilandis!

Step 2: Preparing the Skilandis

Lithuanian Skilandis

From the Kitchen of
Emilija Gvazdaitytė Naujalienė, 1886 – 1966

  • 2 lbs. ground pork
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • ½ tsp pennycress seed
  • ½ tsp mustard seed
  • ½ tsp marjoram
  • ¼ tsp msg
  • ½ tsp nitrate of potash (saltpeter)
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • pork casings
Air-Drying Skilandis

Air-Drying Skilandis

Combine pork and crushed garlic being careful to distribute the garlic evenly throughout the pork. In a small bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Sprinkle this dry blend over the pork mixture and combine thoroughly.

Stuff this mixture into casings. Remove any air pockets by forcing them to the open end of the sausage before knotting it shut. Hang the sausage in a warm area (55 to 60°F) with good air circulation to dry for one week. You can drape mesh over the sausage to keep stray insects from reaching it. Drying time will vary with humidity levels and air circulation.

After the sausage feels dry to the touch, it is ready to prepare. Simply bring water to a boil in a Cuisinart MultiClad Pro stockpot, add the skilandis, and then simmer for one hour.

Gero apetito!

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Only Two Ways To Make String Beans!

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Pennsylvania Dutch String Beans

Yellow Wax Beans

Yellow Wax Beans

My garden is flourishing and this year’s crop of Cherokee wax beans has been bountiful. The pods are large, blemish-free, and absolutely delicious. Miraculously, the rabbit family that inhabits my garden hasn’t spotted them yet (or they think carrot tops and red beet greens are tastier)!

I know in the South, they call wax beans “string beans,” but I am from the North and my PA Dutch ancestors called them string beans. My great grandparents had a “truck patch” and always grew enough yellow string beans to supply several households for the year. My grandmother and great grandmother used to prepare them for winter by blanching half of them for the freezer and drying the other half for storing in two-gallon mason jars.

String beans were only served two ways: as fresh string beans and potatoes or as dried string beans and ham. There were no other recipes for them. Reflecting back, I understand why. These were hearty, satisfying dishes that were rich in flavor and simple to prepare.

Pennsylvania Dutch String Beans and Potatoes

Pennsylvania Dutch String Beans and Potatoes

Pennsylvania Dutch
String Beans and Potatoes

  • 8 medium red potatoes
  • 8 cups fresh yellow wax beans
  • 12 oz evaporated milk
  • 1 stick butter
  • cold water
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into large one-inch cubes. Place the potatoes in the bottom of a stockpot and cover about three-quarters of the potatoes with cold water. Clean the yellow wax beans by removing their stems and then place them on top of the potatoes in the stockpot. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

(Do not stir — allow the string beans to steam as they rest on top of the potatoes.) Heat on high until the water boils; then reduce heat to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat when potatoes are done. Do not drain.

Add the evaporated milk and butter to the pot of vegetables. Return the pot to the warm burner until the butter melts. Gently stir to combine the ingredients. Ladle into large bowls and serve. This Pennsylvania Dutch string beans and potatoes recipe serves 4-6 as a main course.

Pennsylvania Dutch Smoked Ham with Dried String Beans

Dried Yellow Wax Beans

Dried Yellow Wax Beans

  • 1 smoked ham
  • 4 cups dried string beans*
  • 8 medium red potatoes
  • water
  • black pepper

Place smoked ham in large roasting pan. Add dried string beans and enough water to cover the string beans. Season with black pepper. Cover the roasting pan and bake at 325°; 20 minutes for every pound of ham. Baste the ham periodically with the broth from the pan. (You may need to add water if you see that the beans are not covered with broth.)

When one hour of baking time remains, peel and cut the potatoes into one-inch cubes. Add them to the roasting pan, cover, and continue baking until done. Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Ladle string beans, potatoes, and broth into large bowls. Top each bowl with a slice of ham and serve. This
ham and string beans recipe serves six as a main course.

Ham Baked With Dried String Beans and Potatoes

Ham Baked With Dried String Beans
and Potatoes

*Dried string beans are available at specialty markets. We dry our own on an old drier that we fill with water and heat over a portable double-burner. It takes many hours and lots and lots of string beans, since they reduce to about one-eighth their original volume.

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