Monday, September 14, 2009


I've been telling myself that this year is all about the storage vegetables--roots, squash, cabbage, dry beans and corn--mainly because I've been less than attentive to much of the rest of the garden, the more insistent parts... Mom's kept up with with picking, storing and freezing everything (i.e., peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes), with some help from Dad. I think I've put in about half as much time this summer as last, or maybe just half as much care, if there's a difference... By this time last year I had a freezer full of soups, sauces and sauteed greens, with loads of herbs (both cultivated and wild) in tinctures or dried for tea and cooking. This year I have diddly squat. It's a different season, I know--only my second in full--so I'm trying to cut myself some slack for slacking. Anyway. Finally got some work done last weekend, and have a few new things brewing...

Monday: Calendula Tincture - We've got Orange Zinger and yellow Resina Calendula growing in the front and back gardens (and by the way they look great together--simply stunning with bachelor's buttons...) and both were still blooming brightly as of a week or so ago. My hope was that the plants would reseed themselves into a magnificent patch on the back of the turtle garden, but I think it might help things along to gather and plant seeds for a few seasons (and the ones in back have to move, in any case). So Monday afternoon I harvested seed, a good bagful from a particularly vigorous patch of second generation Orange Zinger and a lesser amount of Resina (which matured a just bit later and has rather smaller blooms and seeds, although the plants are quite hearty and full of flowers). Should be plenty more to come. After that I snipped the sticky blossoms, enough to fill the bottom of a paper grocery bag about two inches deep with pure happiness. (Incidentally the entire plant--stem, leaves, blossoms--is covered with resin, which accounts for much of its potency as an herbal remedy. Calendula is a powerful but gentle herbal healer, used primarily for treating cuts, scrapes, burns and other minor injuries to the skin, among its other talents...) I harvested a small number of flowers last summer and dried them for tea, but sadly they fell prey to those goddamned moths that took over our cupboard a few years ago. This time I decided to tincture the blossoms, quickly, by packing them into a pint jar and covering them with that white brandy that Mom thought to have Dad pick up. Good idea. Take that, you little fuckers.

Tuesday: Mint Liqueur - The little spearmint plant I bought from Mother Earth Gardens back in June has grown into a powerhouse about 4 feet square, with beautiful unblemished deep green leaves on vigorous upright stems (by contrast, the mint I planted last year languished through the summer and did not return this spring, although to my great surprise the one I tried the year before made a meager comeback. go figure). So I picked about a third of a paper grocery bag full, intending to dry it for tea, but then got to thinking about the likelihood of my actually drinking all that spearmint tea, since peppermint is rather more potent and useful, and I decided to make a liqueur instead, in support of my continued good health. Basically it's just a crapload of fresh mint leaves stuffed in a quart jar and covered with vodka. I used Absolut Citron. Shaken, not stirred, daily for a couple of weeks, then strain and add sugar syrup (and food coloring, if it makes you feel better). Then what, I don't know.

Wednesday: Sage Mead - with a few ounces of fresh sage from the garden, started a dry mead using white sage honey and champagne yeast. Hell of a time with this one, spilling it on the floor, pushing the (too small) stopper into the neck of the (6.5 not 6 gallon) carboy and after trying chopstick and pliers and drywall screw to get it back out dropped it all the way in, followed shortly after by a bamboo skewer, which was I guess one too many pieces of flotsam for my liking so at 1:30 in the morning I racked another batch of beer so I could transfer the mead, spilling again sticky honey water on legs and sandals and kitchen... Finally got it settled by 2:30, the silver lining being that the unnecessary transfer prompted me to strain out all but a few sprigs of sage, so as not to overpower the delicate flavor of the honey. I may sample when the fermentation slows, and if necessary do a bit of "dry-hopping" with a little more sage. I've had good luck with sage beer in the past, but result was a just bit sweet for my tastes. Hoping this will have a nice dry finish and make a heady sparkling mead.

Thursday & Friday: Chokecherry Melomel -
Near the back garden stands a fine chokecherry tree which grew from an old rockpile, planted by some birds of great ingenuity. In recent years it has been heavy with fruit of highest quality (in spite of their name, these little plum cousins are quite sweet and delicately flavored, with just a bit of that sticky sort of mouth-feel that I can't think of the word for) and the tree was loaded again this summer, drooping with fruit. Last Sunday I passed a few hours picking cherries in the late afternoon sun, all pink skinned and red-hatted, in purple fingered bliss... (Cosmic Monkey filled a bucket and left me to the rest.) The plumpest, blackest ones were up high, so I shouldered that heavy wood ladder and found my footing. I circled the tree and finally came to a place just out of reach, when from across the yard a brown thrasher came and perched on a branch just a few feet in front of me, took a cherry in its mouth. Another one followed a moment after and landed even closer, but I scared it off, I think, when I whispered "my God". Three full ice cream buckets, in all.

I have to tell you that picking over three buckets full of tiny fruits one by one is a painstaking task which I hope not to undertake again. The first bucket contained many crushed cherries, some of them molding, and required a great deal of attention--it must have consumed well over two hours, maybe three, if you can imagine that. I know you probably can't. I was tired, is all I can say. The next night I had help from my sister and we spent one and a half hours between the two of us, albeit gabbing, to go through a bucket half as bad or better than the one I'd done myself the night before. The last I finished alone, in a little less time. I don't mean here to bore you with details, only to emphasize that, should you try this at home, you will be far better off picking your fruit with tremendous care to begin with, and promptly refrigerating or even freezing them, rather than picking pretty well at first and then doing it a second time. I ended up casting off a little less than half a bucket of fruit, leaving me with somewhere around 18 lbs, I'd guess, just two short of the 20 lbs called for by the recipe I happened across, compliments of The Beverage People, for "To The Bitter End" chokecherry mead. I warmed 12 lbs of Ames honey with a couple handfuls of last year's cinnamon basil thrown in for good measure (this ended up sitting out for 24 hours or so, since the cherries took two nights). Filtered out the basil before adding the honey to the crushed berries, in my new giant bucket, with a couple packets of Lavlin EC-1118 (Champagne) yeast. Looking good so far.

Red Currant Wine, Chokecherry Wine, Chokecherry Dessert Wine - bottled (see Saturday past)

Sunday: Sweet Lilac Mead - two blissful cases of it, bottled and ready to age to perfection (damn close as it is).

Next up: cider?

No comments: