Archive for September, 2008

Last bits of summer: plum honey wine.

plumhoneywine.jpgI made a lovely drink on the spur of the moment the other day when it was really hot out.

I took an overripe plum and squished it up in the bottom of a wine glass, then added some of our homemade honey wine and a few crushed mint leaves. It tasted like summer.

Honey wine is incredibly easy to make. Just mix 1 part honey with 3 parts water and let it sit out in a crock for a few days, stirring often. (A towel over the top keeps the critters out.) After it starts to bubble and foam, put it in a jug with an airlock and wait.

You can start tasting it after a month or so. For the first few months, it will still be quite sweet — in the style of T’ej, Ethiopian honey wine. (Honey’s complex sugars take a long time to ferment.) After six months or a year, it will be much dryer, more like a northern European mead.

I like to taste ours as often as possible — the flavors change almost every day. This last batch tasted like everything from apples to chocolate over the course of its fermentation.

(As always, if you’ve never made wine or beer before, it’s good to read up. I suggest Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.)

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Eat your herbs: nettle salt.

Nettle seeds are amazing for people who are seriously exhausted and drained of energy (tired to the bone, dry skin, brittle nails and hair). I love to preach the gospel of nettle seeds, but people sometimes complain that they’re too gritty and “strange” to chew.

Enter nettle salt. It tastes green and salty, and it’s not gritty. You can sprinkle it on all kinds of food (I really like it on bread and butter), or just eat a bit now and then. (Quite a few people who need nettle seeds also need salt — think low blood pressure, generalized dryness.)

Just take some nettle seeds and grind them up with some good-quality salt (unrefined gray sea salt or another high mineral salt). You can play with the proportions until you get a taste you like. I generally use somewhere in the range of one part coarse salt to four or five parts nettle seed (by volume).

Grind them until they’re nice and powdery — I use a little electric coffee grinder that I save for herbs and spices — and sprinkle them wherever you like!

If you want to learn more about the many virtues of nettle seeds, there’s an exhaustive discussion between herbalists on the herbwifery forum.

UPDATE: Fall is the time to harvest nettle seeds. Pick them when they’re fully ripe, and dry them in a well-ventilated place out of direct sun.

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Pippin season: hunting wild apples.

wild apples

A pip is a seed, and a pippin is an apple tree grown from a seed.

What’s so special about an apple tree grown from a seed? Well, for one thing, every time an apple seed sprouts and grows a tree, it makes a new apple variety that’s never existed before.* Really. All those Granny Smiths (or Yellow Transparents or Wolf Rivers, etc.) are clones of one original tree, grown from cuttings grafted onto different rootstocks.

So every fall, the boy and I go traipsing around old fields, tasting all the pippins we can find. It’s quite an apple education — every sort of texture and flavor you can imagine. This year, we found an especially good one in the high pasture behind our house. It’s a little green apple with a really bright flavor. To my taste, it was perfect for eating right at the end of August — crisp and tart and just sweet enough (I like my apples on the acid side). This week it’s a lot sweeter, but a little less crisp — it would be perfect for cider. (Now if we can just hunt up a cider press to borrow…)

Good places for pippin hunting:

Old pastures
Old hedgerows
Old housesites
Old farm roads

If you find a pippin you really like, you can take home a cutting and graft it onto another tree. (Call your local apple grower to help, or go to a “fruit school” like this one, held in Asheville last spring.)

* Remember Johnny Appleseed? All those pippins he planted? Most of them wouldn’t have been any good for eating. He was planting them for cider — for hard cider. They left that bit out of the girl scout song!

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Storing herbs: my old canning jar addiction.

jars.jpg

If I try to buy any more old canning jars, the boy is going to have a stroke.

But the thing is, there’s nothing better for storing herbs and dry beans and grains and such. The blue tint keeps some sunlight out, which keeps things fresher for longer (you still don’t want to store them in direct sun), and they’re just so pretty!

Try yard sales or flea markets or auctions in areas where canning hasn’t completely died out. (Southern Appalachia is a paradise for this sort of thing. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.)

(I don’t use the old jars for canning so much because they’re more likely to break, and they often have little chips on their “lips” that would interfere with sealing.)

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