Archive for August, 2007

Preserving the harvest: elderberry wine.

elderberrywine.JPGWine-making is one of my favorite ways to preserve the harvest. And elderberry wine is a classic. It’s so tasty—a bit like sherry or port.

I’ll tell you how I make it. But if you’ve never made wine before, I’d suggest a bit of reading before you start your own. My favorite book on fermentation of all sorts (including pickles, beer, and even miso) is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. He tells you what you need to know without getting too technical.

First collect elderberries. Lots of elderberries. Several big grocery bags full, if you want to make a five-gallon batch. (I remember climbing around in the creek with my friends when I was little, picking elderberries for our parents’ winemaking.)

Clean and de-stem your elderberries. De-stemming can be tedious. Some people use a fork, but I don’t mind getting my fingers purple. If the mess bothers you, you can freeze the clusters of berries on cookie sheets. Once they’re frozen, they come off the stems more easily.

Measure your berries. How many gallons do you have? Write this down somewhere.

Now, put your berries in a large crock or bucket—something big enough to hold them, with several inches left over at the top for foam. Pour enough boiling water over the berries to barely cover them. Cover the crock with a towel and leave it to steep for a day or so.

After the berries have had time to steep, add a packet of wine yeast. (Some people use baking yeast, but I’d suggest seeking out the wine yeast at a brew shop or online. Baking yeast can give off flavors.) Stir well.

Measure out 3 pounds of sugar for every gallon of elderberries you had. (Go find your notes.) Put the sugar in a pot with about a cup of water per pound of sugar. Heat until the sugar is entirely melted into a syrup. Cool the syrup and add it to the berries. (Sandorkraut suggests leaving the berries to ferment on their own for a few days before adding the sugar.)

Ferment the wine for four or five days, or until major bubbling has subsided. Stir it every day, several times a day—as often as you remember.

When it’s ready, strain the wine into a carboy or another container that will take an airlock. Make sure to squeeze all the juice out of the berries. Put an airlock on the carboy, and put the whole thing somewhere dark and not too cold. Leave it for a couple of months.

When you’re ready, siphon it into a clean carboy, leaving the “lees” (yeast residue) behind. You can taste it at this point, but it’ll likely be a little harsh. It needs a good six months or a year to mature. Leave it in a cool closet somewhere. (Don’t forget to check the airlock every once in a while to see if the water needs to be replenished.)

Bottle your wine in time for the following winter. In our house, we often drink a little glass after dinner as a winter tonic (and because it tastes really good). You can also use it just as you’d use any other elderberry preparation. It’s one of my favorites for staying healthy during flu season, and to support recovery from colds and flu.

I love to make herbal preparations that are as delicious as they are “good for you.” So elderberry wine is high on my list. It really is worth the wait.

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Whorled yellow loosestrife: bright eyes.

brighteyes.JPGWhorled yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is sometimes called “crosswort” (for the shape the leaves make) or “liberty tea” (think Boston Tea Party). But I call it “bright eyes.” That’s because it makes your eyes bright. Really now.

If you have a few plants around (it likes open woods and scrubby thickets in East-Central US and Canada), try chewing on a bit of leaf or flower. See what happens.

You might find your eyes get wider. And you notice things you didn’t see before. Your vision might be sharper.

You also might find that it settles you down. You might feel a bit more “grounded.” You might notice that your center of gravity’s in your gut, where it should be.

I’m having fun playing with this little primrose-family weed. It’s astringent, but also relaxing. It’s calming, but also brightening. The flowers are sweet, the leaves a bit sharp. It grows where it likes—in sand or clay, in acid soils or alkaline, in sun or shade. It’s not terribly common, but not rare either. Its leaves and flowers are spread out evenly around its stalk, and I think that might be a clue to something.

Bright eyes is an herb for evenness. For settling. For paying attention.

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Eat local this September.

There are lots of reasons to eat local food.

Health. Eat food that’s better for you. (In this study, spinach lost half its nutrients after a week of refrigeration. Think about that trip from California.)

Safety. Ask your farmer how s/he does things, don’t leave it to the bureaucrats.

Ethics. Prevent some of the death and destruction caused by flinging food around the planet by truck and train and ship and jet.

Economy. Depend on your neighbors, not monstrous corporations.

Apocalypse. Build a local food system in case the global economy falls apart.

But my favorite reason to eat local food is Pleasure. Fresh food just tastes better. Some of the tastiest foods in the world don’t take to large-scale commerce—they aren’t pretty, don’t last long after harvest, or don’t transport well. (Ever had a pawpaw? A Fallawater apple? Cornbread from corn grown and ground right down the road? Fresh milk straight from the cow?)

So it’s with great pleasure that I’ll be participating in the September Eat Local Challenge. And I’m extra excited that this challenge will focus on putting food by for the winter. (My friends will tell you how absolutely giddy I can get over a well-stocked pantry.)

September, then, will be local food month in The Herbwife’s Kitchen. I’ll write about old-time pickling, growing and cooking the tastiest dried beans, the best way to cook all that zucchini, and all sorts of things I haven’t thought of yet.

If you want to join me in eating local food for the month of September, here are some resources to get you started. A group blog dedicated to all aspects of local eating. Co-host (with San Francisco’s Locavores) of the September Eat Local Challenge.

The 100-mile Diet. Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon ate only local food for a year and wrote about their experience. A helpful site with good tips for getting started.

Local Harvest. A site to help link you to farmers, markets, and stores that sell local food. More coverage in some areas than in others, but definitely a good place to start.

Happy eating!

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Blog Party: Berries!

It’s high summer, and berries all over the northern hemisphere are getting ripe. Herb bloggers have come in from their harvesting (just for a minute) to write about their favorite berries.

Angie at The Herbalist’s Path started us off with a post on Salal Berries, native to her home in the Pacific Northwest. I’m intrigued by her description of the taste—like almonds!

I wrote about Pokeberry, one of the classic Appalachian herbs.

Darcey at Gaia’s Gifts wrote about Chokecherry, and gave a lovely reminder about putting up cherries in brandy (yum).

Ananda at Plant Journeys gave us a post on Wineberries, including some luscious pictures.

And Kiva of A Medicine Woman’s Roots posted on her “berry of choice of the moment,” Wild Canyon Grape. And she promised us some recipes soon!

Next month’s party: Preserving the harvest.

What are your favorite ways to preserve the profusion of summer herbs for the winter months? Do you have interesting tips for drying, tincturing, oil-infusing, honey-extracting, or otherwise putting up herbs? Or tell us about your must-have herbs for the winter. What are you especially excited about preserving this season?

Put your post on your blog during the last week of August, and email me a link.

On September 1st, I’ll post the party here!

(As always, if you’re interested in hosting a blog party, or you have ideas for good themes, let me know!)

UPDATE (22 August): Guido at A Radicle made a post on berries yesterday.

Another UPDATE (30 August): The unstoppable Henriette of Henriette’s Herbal Blog has posted an entry on how she uses berries, with a focus on Vacciniums and urinary tract infections.

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