Todo es Medicina: Herbs, Tinctures and Liqueurs

december 2013 blog 012 When I was maybe seven, my wonderful grandmother gave me a book called The Herbalist, by Joseph Meyer. Her friend Margaret Freedman may have done the dustcover, which is a wonderful medieval woodcut of an apothecary’s garden, but I think it was a very shrewd gift on her part. Many is the afternoon nap I spent studying the discolored entries, the Latin names, the medicinal parts, the medicinal virtues, the dosages.  Many is the afternoon I spent wandering in the woods, looking for a cathartic or emetic plant to slip into the sandwich of a classroom bully. It is not difficult to imagine me as a nerdy little girl with glasses; a budding herb granny.

Yesterday I saw a sign at Walmart which reminded me why I don’t go there much. Over a bottle of pills was a sign that said “Take Medicine Not Myth.” Ok, excuse me, but that is nothing but pharmaceutical propaganda. Who thought up thalidomide? When I burned my face with an explosion of boiling hot glue, the ER nurses fed me percocet and recommended that I not apply my traditional Chinese herbal burn cream. I looked like Freddy Kruger. I threw up the percocet and used the burn cream, and the burn clinic specialist at John Hopkins the next morning was amazed at how much the inflammation had gone down. I was married a month later and the burns were completely faded and smooth.

030

Passionflower vine, center, and ground ivy, small artichoke plant  upper right.

 

Many of my women friends who are experiencing sleep difficulties because of approaching menopause come to me for my Valerian root tincture. I make it from the plants in my flower bed. It helps them to sleep. Ashwaghanda tincture gives me energy and positive attitude to blast through my chores; they call it Indian ginseng. It is tricky to grow in our climate but I usually have enough for the year. Pokeweed eases any little twinges I get in my right foot where I had a postoperative bone infection years ago. Chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm, catnip, bergamot, and passionflower leaf tea are soothing to my husband when he gets in from a long drive all full of caffeine.

passionflower

passionflower

Oregano or thyme tea eases a tricky stomach and is delicious. Mugwort saves the day when you have overindulged in fried chicken. I will say that Immodium/Loperamide is hard to beat when you have Montezuma’s Revenge or Dehli Belly, but that’s just because I’m not taking the time to search out the right herb, boil it up, and wait for it to work.

herbalism books

three books from my shelf

OK, so yes, you must know how to identify these plants. Learning to identify medicinal plants is is a passion not unlike bird watching. I have been interested in this all my life and I am still learning. I like A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guides)-James Duke rocks, but there are many wonderful field guides. It takes time to acquire the descriptive vocabulary and be able to know what you have found at what time of the year. Until you do, buy them. It is possible to make a very bad mistake. Carrot, Angelica, Osha, Parsley, and the deadly Water Hemlock are all in the same Apiaceae family. You could easily mistake Hemlock for Angelica and die horribly. Some boy scouts mistook Hemlock for some kind of wild carrot. They were saved, but it was touch and go. Penn Herbs has a large selection and is cheap. Generally you want “tea cut” herbs; not powder.

Tea is the simplest way to take an herb. Most herbs just want boiling water poured over them, like black tea. Some plants should be infused in cold water, and some need to be decocted, which means “cooked down.” Roots and barks need this. Some plants need to be concentrated, like the very bitter Boneset, after straining off the plant material.

Tinctures are a very convenient way to take herbs. Most tinctures are done with alcohol, and while there are complex formulas for tincturing dry or fresh herbs, etc., it is also easy to make a simple folk tincture which is good for home use. I came across tincturing by way of liqueurs: one day when I was making mint juleps I noticed that an hour later the remaining drips of bourbon had turned green in the glass with the sugar and crushed mint. I tasted it. Yum! A light bulb went on in my head. I immediately threw various herbs into white rum, the most successful of which were lemon verbena and peppermint. The peppermint mixed with honey or simple syrup makes a delicious creme de menthe except that it eventually goes from green to brown. I then realized that orange peels in alcohol soon became orangey, fennel seeds became anise flavored, barks and roots gave off their flavors- anything resinous works very well. The oils and resins are soluble in alcohol, and then the alcohol preserves anything watery.

december 2013 blog 015

eau de vie means “water of life.”

The French eau de vies that are so delicious are just this sort of tincture. Eau de vie, by the way, means water of life, as does uisce beatha, in gaelic, pronounced whiskey be-ata (almost seems like it could mean happy water, since beata means happy).  Aquavit comes from the Latin aqua vitae, same meaning. You take my point.

So, to make a fennel aperitif, I stuffed a pickle jar full of almost mature seed heads (fully mature ones would be losing their oils to the rain) and topped it off with vodka, waited two weeks, poured it off into another jar full of fennel seed heads, and waited another 2 weeks. This is actually called double tincturing and is also used in medicinal herbalism. The result was smooth and dark amber, with a strong licorice flavor and faint celery undertones. A shot of this with coffee is excellent after dinner, as fennel has been used for thousands of years to ease the stomach. My mother and sister, who are German, always gave the babies Fencheltee for gas and other tummy troubles. After WWII it saved many a dehydrated sick baby. But to return to happier times, most of my friends prefer it sweetened with honey and kept in the freezer next to the peppermint liqueur and the homemade triple sec.

Now, medicine. Tinctures are convenient because you can carry around 1 ounce bottles of medicine, and the dose is generally between 15 and 30 drops- half to a full dropper full. You can drink it straight, in a glass of water, or in tea. The alcohol will keep it for about 3 years. There are glycerin tinctures, but I have not gotten into that because I am not concerned about alcohol and most herbs tincture best in alcohol. Such a small amount mixed in water or tea would certainly not be a problem for a child, and if allowed to sit for a bit, perhaps the alcohol would evaporate so that an alcoholic wouldn’t taste it? But again, there is glycerin if that is an issue.

For me, Richo Cech’s Making Plant Medicine was the best introduction to tincturing. I have corresponded occasionally with Richo for years. He is a really fun and interesting person with immense energy and a gift for story-telling. His plant knowledge is vast, particularly in cultivation, which makes the catalog for Horizon Herbs, the medicinal plant seed company he and his wife and children have in Oregon, a very fine read. All of his books and catalogs are wonderfully illustrated by his daughters. Making Plant Medicine is very easy to read and full of stories, but also contains precise and clear information on how to tincture medicinal herbs. If you get heavily into it, you may want to buy a press from him.

Press what? Plant material. OK, here is a basic tincturing example. Go out to the garden and dig up some echinacea plants. I am presuming you have Echinacea purpurea, your basic purple Coneflower. If you have E. angustifolia too, the thin, droopy Coneflowers that grow better in the West, I’m impressed. Use them 60/40 as they have a synergistic effect.  The whole plant has medicine, but the roots are the strongest. I am just making it for me so I just use the roots. Those roots are tough so I’m glad I have a Vitamix. Wash and scrub them really well, and snip off what you will use with clippers. Throw them in the blender with enough vodka to make them move- generally to cover. (This is a folk tincture; Richo will tell you how to weigh them. He even has software for that.) Whizz it to a slurry and carefully get it all into a mason jar. Brown glass is best but if you keep it in the dark that is ok. Label with the ingredients and the date and let sit for 10  days, shaking when you remember. I have some small muslin bags with seams I have reinforced which fit neatly over the mouth of a mason jar. Pour the contents of the jar into the bag over a big measuring cup or something. Squeeze the bag as hard and long as you can to get out all the medicine. I have a small press but you could also weight it down with a clean rock in a colander. Richo’s press will turn your herbs into a dry cake without a drop of medicine wasted. Clean out your jar and return the medicine to it, since it is already labeled. Let it sit a day or two and then pour it off the sediment which will accumulate. The sediment can spoil the medicine. You can buy 1 ounce brown glass bottles with droppers for a little over a dollar apiece, and also ask your friends to save such bottles for you to clean and reuse. Always label and date. It will keep about three years in the dark, although eventually the rubber bulbs on the droppers begin to add a bitter taste. Herbal tinctures generally run about $10 an ounce. If you make good medicine, that is quite a savings.

Scripture says that God has given us the herbs of the field. He had His reasons. It seems to me in my travels that indigenous people knew the remedy for each disease with which they were familiar. We in the US has been pretty efficient in killing off the native people who knew the plant lore of this continent by introducing diseases with which they were not familiar. However we also brought new plants with us which have helped to reestablish some balance between man and disease, although many of those plants threw off the balance of the plant world. In South America I have studied with people who knew medicine for anything that could happen to you-diabetes, AIDS, cancer, schizophrenia,- and if they didn’t, they would ask the plants, who knew.

 

 

Cider time again- and apple cake

Homemade cider

Homemade cider

Well, looks like I’ve been at this a year. The first pictures I took were apples and chestnuts. There is so much more to cover than I thought, and if I’m doing, I’m not writing and vice versa . But here I sit with a fine glass of cider, aged one year, with a perfect head and dry crisp flavor.  Here is the link to last year when we pressed it.

Apples this year are less plentiful. The excessive rain fostered the fungus, and many apples fell before they got any size to them. The watermelons didn’t like it either- they are a peri-Kalahari fruit and after the rainy season they expect a dry season. Nonetheless we persevere. My father and I went out and got a few buckets of apples. I selected the nicest for cakes and we ran the rest through the press. We got about two gallons. This is the first year I had to remind him about Keats’s Ode to Autumn, but he did rally with a few words. My heart breaks. Do not go gentle into that good night.

The best apple cake is this one. Yes, apple pie is a showcase, and if it rains I can elaborate on pie crust technique, but right now I need simple, and this recipe pushes all the apple pie buttons in a tenth the time. You can find it in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, a fine old classic we referred to in our house as the Fatty Farmer. She has lots of grand old American farm classics, like Blackberry Flapdoodle, which is essentially a big roll of rich biscuit dough surrounding and surrounded by blackberries mashed with sugar. Baked in a casserole and basted with butter it has all the calories you need to milk cows at four in the morning. I can cut the sugar by a third and it’s still sweet. Mighty fine with ice cream though. Anyway, back to Apple Cottage Pudding. This is a basic 1-2-3-4 dough. Peel and cut into fat slices, like 8ths of an apple, about 16 apples. I never count. I just process what I have and use them somehow. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and flour a giant lasagna pan. Find another pan about coffee cake size and do that one too.

Apple Cottage Pudding

The best apple cake

Apple Cottage Pudding Recipe

Mix dry

3 c.flour (definitely throw in part whole wheat or spelt as you like- makes a nuttier flavor)

1 tsp. salt.

1 c. sugar

4 tsp baking powder

Mix wet

2 eggs, beaten

1 c. milk

2 sticks butter (1c.), melted

1 tsp. vanilla

mix all up together until smooth, dump into pans.

This is a bit tricky. The reason I say that is that you will be pressing the apple slices into the dough in rows, as tightly as possible, since this cake is better the higher the ratio of apple to cake. Over time I have developed a sense of how little cake dough I can get away with, see below. You can do a pie pan with a dough spoonful. I realize that is subjective. Anyway, I start in the middle with a line and march them out in both directions, pushing the dough as I go. Occasionally I have to take a knife and cheat a little, flicking a little dough from here to there. When you are finished:

Mix 1 c. sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 8 tbsp raisins, nuts if you like.   Hazelnuts absolutely rock. Walnuts are also a natural. I have even scattered on wineberries, which I had frozen in season, for color. Mix and sprinkle evenly, getting sugar over all the dough. I know sugar is White Death, but you have a lot of surface area, and the covering of granules creates a very nice crisp surface. Bake until brown and the raisins are puffing. That will take at least 40 minutes. Touch the apples to see if they are soft. As long as the cake doesn’t burn, especially underneath, the puffed raisins give it that bitter burnt raisin flavor which balances the sweetness of sugary apple cake.

I tend to gain weight around this time of year and I finally made the connection. This cake is so delicious and it works all day, starting with breakfast. I also make it if I am going to a potluck, or helping with a bake sale, or a church supper. You can’t beat it with a stick.

Fresh fallen firecoals

chestnuts loose

fresh fallen firecoals

Once again the chestnut trees are dropping their glossy nuts, and the squirrels and I are in a fierce but silent battle. My grandfather planted several varieties of Chinese chestnut so he would have an extended harvest. What made him think to do that? He was a lawyer, he read the Wall Street Journal and sipped his drink. Yet he was a fervent chicken-necker of crabs, picker of beans, of wineberries. Did he know we might need it? Because he read the Wall Street Journal?

The first tree that ripens is on the other side of the lane from my garden so I don’t hear it as well as the second one. The nuts are covered with a satiny down, and tend to be a little smaller than the others. Those are ripening now, and the squirrels are silently aware of each burr that opens. I have heard people say it will be a wet, cold winter. It has been a while since we have had heavy snow. Chestnuts are very nutritious; in fact in French one old name for a chestnut tree is arbre a pain: tree of bread.

Remember hearing about how the hallucinatory smut fungus called ergot on rye was the cause of people being accused of being witches? People would actually confess to flying around on broomsticks, when they were actually tripping. Many grain crops are problematic in wet climates. They tend to “lodge” or lie down due to rain and wind, where they rot. Often in rainy Europe in the old days the wheat crop would fail and peasants would go hungry.  Many people relied on chestnuts to survive. Italy and France have lots of chestnuts. They used to smoke-dry them in special chestnut smoking houses, since chestnuts will otherwise be wormy inside a week. There are many ancient chestnut based dishes which tend to be heavy and nutritious. I used to trick my grandmother into eating by reminding her of how she used to eat chestnut puree at her landlady’s house when she was in graduate school in France in the Twenties. Charmed by the memory, my anorexic granny would absently spoon down piles of the rich puree de marron I had made from the chestnuts my grandfather had planted, while we talked about Alsace and the calorie counter in my head spun happily.

chestnuts

These silky ones mature first

When gathering chestnuts, squeeze each chestnut, especially if it seems unusually dark. Fresh, firm, bright nuts are what you want. Refrigerate them if you aren’t going to process them immediately. Make one long slash through the skin and bake them until they pop open. From there you can put them in the blender for creamy soup, eat them as is, boil them and mash them or rice them, candy them, dry and grind them into flour, or throw them for the dog. They do not have a nice texture if frozen; it is sort of heavy and gummy. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter after cooking.

There are two trees on the farm that have very glossy chestnuts. These are the fresh fallen firecoals I refer to, after Gerard Manly Hopkins. ( This link will send you to last years chestnut rhapsody, in which I discuss Hopkins, which is such great stuff.) Startlingly reddish brown- chestnuts are chestnut- they are so shiny that the best way to get them gathered is by children, whose small hands reach for the beautiful things, to carry them home in a sack and caress them. Just make sure they don’t try to pick them out of the chestnut burrs, which are like small hedgehogs. Those spines stick and break off under your skin. Do wear gloves if you touch them. It generally isn’t necessary. Most ripe nuts just fall right out. Go squirrels!

chinese chestnut burrs

beware of spiky burrs

And remember to wear shoes walking under that tree next year. My dear stepdaughter was walking barefoot unawares under a chestnut tree a few years ago and let fly a few expletives, then realized that her new aunt was being baptized in the swimming pool within earshot.  I’m pretty sure the angels were guffawing all over the place.

So go pick them, slash them, and bake them. My other article is more how to.

Variegated Tomatoes ho hum

I saw somebody was trying to find the variegated tomato. It does have green and white leaves, and is kind of spiky and compact. The tomatoes are sort of square and a little less than 2 inches square. The flavor is ok. It’s a pretty plant. You can get seeds from http://www.tomatogrowers.com. They have a lot of varieties.

Got Raspberries?

Red Heritage Raspberries

Red Heritage Raspberries

I think God really hit the nail on the head when He made raspberries. How could anything be more delicious?  And they are really not hard to grow. Once you have them established it’s easy to develop a big patch and keep them forever and ever, amen.

Raspberries like the edge of the woods, so dappled sunshine is better than shade or blast heat.  I find that Purple Emperor, which has more rugose (wrinkly/ridgy ) leaves, seems more tolerant of full sun than Red Heritage, which seems to develop more yellowish leaves and less abundant fruit in those conditions.  Purple Emperor has huge purple berries that look incredible on a cake, and bears heavily in June, then no more. I like Red Heritage though, because it has a better flavor and, beyond the two flushes- summer and fall- seems to usually have a few berries on it, even in warm patches of winter. It is a kid magnet beyond compare.

Red Heritage Raspberries

My niece in the razzes

I worked up a rich, fairly well-drained bed for mine years ago and planted them not too deep, as they are subject to crown rot. I put down landscape fabric and mulched them with wood chips, again, not too deep around the canes. I pounded in heavy metal stakes at either end and strung wire at three levels, with turnbuckles to tighten them as the wire stretched. A turnbuckle is a small, inexpensive tightener which you can get at the hardware store. Loop the wire at each end and it will be easy to keep your wires taut. I use the wires to keep the raspberry canes in some kind of order and up off the grass, using quick twists.

In winter I prune the canes to 2-3 feet, weeding and removing dead canes. These canes will produce berries in June. in zone 7. As those canes peter out, new, taller canes will emerge and bloom. I am tying those up right now. After a while the first canes will turn yellow and you will be able to remove them. Notice that established bushes will produce offsets- baby plants that come up  short distance from the parent plant. You can dig these up and replant them. The best way to do this, as they are at first not well rooted, is to drive a shovel into the dirt between the parent and child plants without digging it up. This severs the runner and forces the new plant to develop a more independent root system before you dig it up. In any case, plant it in line with the other plants, approximately 2-3 feet from the next bush, and definitely keep it well watered until it is established. This takes longer than you think. You aren’t out of the woods until the fall rains come. But once established, your raspberry bushes will be there for good, barring a serious crown rot epidemic.

stem borere damage on a raspberry bush

stem borere damage on a raspberry bush

Stem borers are a nuisance, as they take out the growing tip, and Japanese beetles  eat the leaves.  I remove and burn parts of the stem with borers in them, and crush Japanese beetles with my fingers as I see them.

Pick raspberries that are darker pinkish red and pull easily off the cluster. The soft ones are still good but may have lots of little beetles in them. These can be easily blown or rinsed away if you like. If the berry is too squishy I usually toss them somewhere inhospitable. Keep bushes well picked as unpicked bushes encourage beetles and a rotten raspberry is a tragic waste.

I eat them fresh, in a bowl of milk, cream or yoghurt, with granola, scattered in a salad, crushed in a drink over ice, cooked into a jam or a sauce, or made into a syrup that can be canned and diluted into a drink. Today I poured some ginger ale my kids bought into a glass of raspberry flavored plum juice with ice cubes. Yummy.

raspberry jam

raspberry jam

Raspberry Jam, conventional

Prepare 6 jam jars and boil the lids in water for 15 minutes. Take 4 or 5 c. raspberries and crush them thoroughly with a potato masher. Measure the lovely slop. Boil without lid for 5 minutes. Measure and add an equal amount of sugar. Boil without lid 5 minutes or less if it sheets before that.  No need to skim, really. Just don’t let it boil over- big mess! I know it’s a lot of sugar but if you use less it won’t gel so well, and the raspberries are very tart, especially if you pick a few under ripe ones- not white but just a little lighter and firmer.

Don’t bother with seedless raspberry jelly unless you are dealing with a dietary condition like diverticulitis. The pectin is in the seeds, and the crunch is nice. I haven’t even tried making it. I’m guessing you would strain it after boiling 5 minutes, which would give you the pectin.

What is sheeting? My mother had a cookbook that showed a picture of sheeting. Joy of Cooking, I think. Here’s what to do. Stir the cooking jelly or jam with a wooden spoon that has a smooth shape. Scoop up a little and spin the spoon so that the liquid runs around on the spoon and cools a little but doesn’t spill. A few seconds. Then hold the spoon sideways with the edge down in front of you. Watch the drips coming down the face or back of the wooden spoon. Two drips will run down and drip into the pot, sometimes running together at the end. As the jam or jelly begins to jell, the quality of the drip will change, and eventually the two drips will run together in a sort of small sheet, rather than one running into the other. That’s it. Turn off the heat, fill the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and seal with the clean, boiled lids. Process in an open water bath for 15 minutes. Cool and label. Awesome.

A tarter jam: Now, you can also just sweeten your crushed, cooked raspberries to taste and can them. It won’t gel, but there is enough thickness that it is still useable on toast. It just sort of soaks into the bread more the less sugar you use.That is more to my husband’s taste, You can also make a syrup of raspberries and sieve out the seeds, and can that. Easy, if you know how to can. Or you can just put it in the refrigerator and eat it before mold sets in. Awesome.

What I don’t know about: I haven’t used honey because I love to eat all my honey, which has such a delicate flavor. Also sugar interferes less with the taste of the berries. I know sugar is death, but we use it so rarely, and we try to afford the raw sugar in bulk. I just want to put all my prejudices aside and show gratitude for the berries by making sure we have them all year! I haven’t tried yellow raspberries. They say they are less attractive to birds. I don’t have a bird problem so far knock on wood. My experience with pigment lacking fruits and vegetables is that they are sweeter because they lack a counterbalancing strong flavor. This isn’t all bad- white sweet potatoes are heavenly- sugar sweet and delicate, almost vanilla. White tomatoes are subacid and very sweet- highly attractive to bugs, I found. White peaches are very pretty and slightly more delicate tasting. I don’t remember if I’ve tasted a yellow raspberry, but I am suspicious that they would lack oomph. I’ll let you know when I do. But remember I am of Virginian descent, and you know how many Virginians it takes to change a lightbulb.

Easy 1-2-3-4 Old Fashioned Kosher Dill Pickles

A good trellis makes the cucumber vines more productive and keeps your cukes off the ground.
A good trellis makes the cucumber vines more productive and keeps your cukes off the ground.

These are the easiest pickles, and they are utterly delicious. I have a lot of cucumbers growing, so I try to pick every day. There are always some hiding. For pickling you want to use smaller cukes. They stay firm better. I like them 3-5 inches, no ore than 6. I only grow the pickling cukes- those are the little grayish green warty ones; the Kirby types. You can use them for salad and gazpacho, so what else do you want? There are lots of fun cukes to grow, but I like to save seeds so I mostly grow one at a time.

OK, here is where I originally got the recipe. Thanks, Glora. I added something and I also can (groans) elaborate, since I do, snort, have a degree in English…..

Wash your cukes, trim off the blossom ends by about a 16th of an inch with a paring knife (removes possible bacteria),

remove 1/16th inch of blossom end to avoid bacterial contamination
pare off blossom end of cuke

004  and soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of ice water. They will feel crisper. Get a crock or big glass jar that will accommodate your pickles. Actually, get a pickle jar. Clean it well. On the bottom, put a 1 layer of 2 fresh grape leaves, 2 sprigs of dill, and 3 big garlic cloves. Trim the bottom end off of your garlic cloves. Pack in the cucumbers, then repeat the stuff you put on the bottom on the top, finishing with the grape leaves. You can find wild grapes everywhere. This is Vinland, after all. I have heard you can use cherry leaves, but haven’t tried it.

dill, garlic, and grape leaves
dill, garlic, and grape leaves

Mix water in the following proportions: 3 c. water, 2 tbsp vinegar*, 1 tbsp kosher salt. One two three. Fill your pickle jar to the top, put on the lid, and set outside for 4 days. One two three four. Little white flakes will form on top. You can skim this off or simply wash the top grape leaf. This is the old-fashioned lactic fermentation, same as kimchee and sauerkraut. It is really magical, and very good for you as well.

*A very important thing I need to add- do only use the nasty strong white vinegar from the store to acidify. When I used my homemade vinegar it wasn’t quite strong enough and the pickles spoiled partially. The vinegar is just to preserve it long enough for the right fermentation to create enough sourness to preserve the pickles. If I ever try it again with my vinegar, I will use more than the 2 tbs. This recipe is super easy but it’s certainly not the only one around.

After 4 days I put them in the fridge to cool. They will get more sour over time and eventually you will start getting soft ones. They still taste fantastic, and you can use the brine to inoculate and speed up other batches.

The grape leaves were my addition. They help the pickles stay crisp. Who needs pickling lime!

I fill the fridge with these. I really need a cold European cellar and some barrels. They are so addictive. I am going to go make some right now!
// ]]>

Saving Lettuce, Coriander and Arugula Seed

Rocky Top seed mix from baker's creek

Nice heirloom mix from Baker Creek

You can go buy some seed in a packet and go ahead and toss your spent plants in the compost pile, but if you have the room and the patience to let your plants mature, you can save your own seed. Will it come true- will the new plants be like the old ones? Depends if you used a hybrid seed, if there are other varieties it could cross pollinate with, and if it is likely that it did.

I have a speckled romaine that comes from romaine and some red lettuce I grew that crossed, probably Red Sails. I like it. My own quasi Forellenschuss. I have just cleaned seed from a Brune D’Hiver French heirloom lettuce plant that was all by itself in the greenhouse, so probably it didn’t cross. I plan to save seed from the cool Baker Creek Rocky Top mix and see what happens. Life is too short to just grow one lettuce a year so you can save pure seed. Luckily I only have one kind of arugula. It volunteers in my garden all year long, but it is fun and easy to save.

Let your plants bloom and go to seed. This is actually good for your garden because you attract beneficial insects. I also find that the dreaded Harlequin beetles

Harlequin beetles on Kale! the worst!

Harlequin beetles on Kale! the worst!

will stay on flowering brassica crops and leave leafy crops alone, if pressure is not that high, It’s also pretty. Endives are in the chicory family so they have pretty blue flowers. Once the seedheads are dry enough for the seed to “shatter;” fall into your hand when you crush the seed head, you’re ready. Get a big clean bucket and cut the tops of the plants into it. Sometimes I just pick the tiny dandelion looking heads of the lettuce into a little bowl. If you pull up the plants it is easy to get crumbs of soil in with your seeds. This is fixable but extra work. Set the bucket somewhere  to dry if there is any flexibility in the plant material.  When you are ready to clean the seed out, crush the seed heads so the seeds fall into the bucket. Discard the stems. At this point I generally transfer the seeds and chaff to a light mixing bowl.

Arugula seeds with chaff in a bowl

Arugula seeds with chaff in a bowl

Arugula and mustards drop a lot of seedcases. The seed settles so you can actually pick most of that off the top and compost it. You should do this outdoors. Put a wide bowl on top of a sheet in a place where there is  a light breeze. Holding the other bowl about 2 feet in the air, pour it into the bowl on he sheet. You will see that the chaff falls at a different angle from the seed, and even that different colored or sized seed falls differently. You will soon get the knack of winnowing- humans have been doing this for thousands of years- and won’t need a sheet any more. Look through your seed, blow on it to remove last bits of crud, check it for dirt and insects. Light seed will tend to blow away, leaving you with the best seed. Crush a seed with your fingernail to make sure it is dry enough to store. If you put moist seeds in plastic they will mold. Let is sit out in an open bowl until you are confident that it is dry enough to store. It’s less critical if you are using a paper envelope.  Put it in an envelope, label and date it, and put it in your seed file.

With lettuce I tend to sit with my morning coffee and pick off seed heads, then crumble them into a small bowl. The fluff comes off as you rub it between your fingers. You can then go outdoors to winnow out the fluff. I just pour it into my palm, pour it into the bowl, blow on it, and play with it until I have a few teaspoons of clean seed to put away; enough to seed several hundred lettuces. Some people knit.

The next seed I will be saving is cilantro. It makes a lot of seed, and guess what- that is coriander seed! You should never have to buy that from the store. It’s too easy! I use a lot of that for Indian cooking, like this fabulicious venison curry, inspired by lamb vindaloo but not,

venison curry

venison curry

and it is so good for you! This keeps me from being too sad when the cilantro bolts. Speaking of which, it is now cool enough for me to go back out and seed some more cilantro. Later.

OK. I forgot to take pictures. I cut off the dead cilantro plants, carried to the shed, and let them sit on a rack out of the rain for a few days. Then I put them on a sheet and crumbled the seed heads to make the little round seeds come off. This left me with a lot of broken up dead plant material which went right in the compost. It rolled into a bunch on the sheet and I picked it up together. What was left I poured off the sheet into the big mixing bowl. I took a smaller bowl- no particular reason, – and went outside to winnow. I crumbled the seeds against each other to break off little stems, and rubbed them to get tiny chunks of dirt to become dust which is easy to winnow out. I poured the chaffy seeds from one bowl to another, holding the bowls up in the slight breeze. The chaff poured off to the side while the heavier seeds poured straight into the bowl. Eventually I had to resort to blowing, swirling, etc., and the dust was clinging, I wonder how hard it would be to get them dry if you washed coriander seeds. I poured them into a couple of small jam jars and labeled them.

Best Yummy Venison Curry, garam!

Delicious Venison Curry

Sorry about the photo- we ate so much of it!

Not that I was getting tired of making our deer meat into my Granny’s fabulous Chili con Carne or my mother’s velvety Hungarian Goulasch, but I just had a yen for curry- Curry Goat, Lamb Vindaloo- so why not try something like that with venison?  Having been to India twice and gotten a serious Aunty Manjula YouTube addiction I felt equal to winging it. It came out very well- looks like lamb vindaloo, with the slightly softer texture of venison, with a complex fragrance, just the right heat for us- just short of pain, and leaves a gentle warmth in your stomach, as if the ginger is helping your digestion.

In following this recipe don’t just dump the ingredients in the pot as you read them off. Do follow the traditional steps. It makes a world of difference in the flavor.

You will need:

A big heavy pot with a lid

1 quart-sized freezer bag of venison stewing chunks.

11/2 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds ( I have substituted any brassica seed)

2 tablespoons butter, coconut oil, or other healthy fat.

1 onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and chopped bite sized

3 potatoes, peeled and chopped bite sized

a knob of ginger root about the size of a walnut

4 big cloves of garlic

4 dried chilies, cayenne type (reduce if you can’t take heat)

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 inch of cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons turmeric powder

1 tomato or 4 tablespoons tomato sauce

Water to cover

salt to taste

OK, put the coriander seeds, which you can save from when your cilantro bolts, in the coffee grinder with the peppercorns, the cinnamon bark(break it up with your fingers first), the cardamon pods, and the dry chilies. If you feel the chilies are not really brittle, you should toast them briefly in your dry pot, without turning your back. (This is a nice extra step, and you should learn how fast chilies toast, because you can make your own chili powder. ) Powder your spices finely, and transfer them to your blender or small chopper. Add the garlic, ginger root, and turmeric, and whiz to a coarse paste. BTW if you don’t have dry chilies, I have added fresh ones to the garlic, ginger, etc. and it was great. Slightly different.

Put the cumin seed and mustard seed in the pot dry and toast them on a medium flame until the mustard seeds start popping.  Add the paste and 2 tablespoons butter or oil. I have used half and half coconut oil and butter. Stir over medium heat until it smells delicious- maybe 3-4 minutes. Compliments will be pouring in. Add onions and carrots and continue to stir so the mixture doesn’t burn but the onions are softened and the sugars are caramelizing a little. Add the meat and stir until the juices that come out of the meat have evaporated and the meat is brown- you won’t really be able to get it brown without burning so- well, gray is fine. Just don’t let it burn. Add a lot of water to cover, tomato, and maybe a 1/2 tsp salt to start with. Simmer covered 30-40 minutes -until the meat is tender, add the potatoes- just sort of tuck them in and submerge them well, then remove the lid and let it cook down until the broth turns into a thick gravy. Be especially careful towards the end that it doesn’t scorch on the bottom. Check the seasonings at this stage. It should be nice and spicy. See if it needs another pinch of garam masala. Many Indian recipes use garam masala at the end, and it is a nice, sweet/spicy rich flavor which adds to the complexity.

It goes well with with Basmati rice, a creamy sour element (raita), a sweet fruity element( chutney), and in our house, steamed greens. Last time I put some very thick Kefir on the table, which substituted nicely for raita. I should have taken a flashlight to the garden for cilantro but I got lazy. Fresh mango or peach or melon chutney is great, but it is winter and I didn’t have any. I think we need to try something with watermelon pickle.

And of course Kingfisher beer!

Easy 1-2-3-4 Old Fashioned Kosher Dill Pickles

A good trellis makes the cucumber vines more productive and keeps your cukes off the ground.

A good trellis makes the cucumber vines more productive and keeps your cukes off the ground.

These are the easiest pickles, and they are utterly delicious. I have a lot of cucumbers growing, so I try to pick every day. There are always some hiding. For pickling you want to use smaller cukes. They stay firm better. I like them 3-5 inches, no ore than 6. I only grow the pickling cukes- those are the little grayish green warty ones; the Kirby types. You can use them for salad and gazpacho, so what else do you want? There are lots of fun cukes to grow, but I like to save seeds so I mostly grow one at a time.

OK, here is where I originally got the recipe. Thanks, Glora. I added something and I also can (groans) elaborate, since I do, snort, have a degree in English…..

Wash your cukes, trim off the blossom ends by about a 16th of an inch with a paring knife (removes possible bacteria),

remove 1/16th inch of blossom end to avoid bacterial contamination

pare off blossom end of cuke

004  and soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of ice water.Get a crock or big glass jar that will accommodate your pickles. Actually, get a pickle jar. Clean it well. On the bottom, put a 1 layer of grape leaves, 2 sprigs of dill, and 3 big garlic cloves. Trim the bottom end off of your garlic cloves. Pack in the cukes tightly. then repeat the stuff you put on the bottom on the top, finishing with the grape leaves.

dill, garlic, and grape leaves

dill, garlic, and grape leaves

Mix water in the following proportions: 3 c. water, 2 tbsp vinegar. 1 tbsp kosher salt. One two three. Fill your pickle jar to the top, put on the lid, and set outside for 4 days. One two three four. Little white flakes will form on top. You can skim this off or simply wash the top grape leaf. This is the old-fashioned lactic fermentation, same as kimchee and sauerkraut. It is really magical, and very good for you as well.

After 4 days I put them in the fridge to cool. They will get more sour over time and eventually you will start getting soft ones. They still taste fantastic, and you can use the brine to inoculate other batches.

The grape leaves were my addition. They help the pickles stay crisp. Who needs pickling lime!

I fill the fridge with these. I really need a cold European cellar and some barrels. They are so addictive. I am going to go make some right now!

Stuffing the Wild Grape Leaves

Fox grapes and lunaria

Fox grapes and lunaria

Euell Gibbons I’m not, but I am really pleased about this one. When I saw the tender shining wild fox grape leaves in the hedgerow  they looked so nice I thought I’d try stuffing them. Turns out it’s not hard. Here’s how to do it.

First, go pick 50-60 grape leaves. You want to do this when they are in active growth, like May around here. Get leaves about the size of the palm of your hand or bigger, but not too mature. Look for a vine tip and go back 2-3 nodes to a larger size, but a leaf that is still lighter in color than further towards the root. If you get some that are too dark colored or otherwise unsuitable you can still use them for lining the pan.

Prepare your leaves by cutting off the stem and any thickish veins. I didn’t see any veins worth worrying over. Lay them in a stack.

Bring a medium sized pan of water to a boil, cut it off, and plunge your leaves into it. Cover and let it sit 5-7 minutes. Interestingly the smell is somewhat grapey. I actually use the infused water for tea, and it is delicious; rather like regular chinese black tea. It makes great ice tea. Grape leaves are a delicious green and a wonderful liver tonic but also a good poultice for bug bites.

Drain, roll, and set where it can’t dry out. Pick your filling.

dolmades filling

dolmades filling

You can wrap all kinds of stuff in grape leaves for what Greeks call dolmadakia. You can even wrap several leaves around grilling foods like fish. You can freeze the leaves, dry them, or pickle them in brine.  But here we are talking about the cute little rolls sold n salad bars. You can wrap them around a traditional rice based filling, and here is the recipe I like best, adapted from Caroline Cummins on www.culinate.com:

olive oil

1 onion

3-4 garlic cloves

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1 1/2 c. rice

2 1/2 c chicken or veg stock

1 organic lemon juiced and zested (grate off the skin)

3 handfuls of herbs such as fennel, dill, mint, and parsley, chopped

Fry the onions and garlic in 3 tbs olive oil, 5-7 minutes.  Add the walnuts and rice and stir until rice is lightly toasted. Add stock and simmer on low about 15 minutes until absorbed. It will not be quite enough water. Add the lemon zest, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Let cool so you can handle it.

Get a pot about 12 inches across the bottom, fairly sturdy and thick bottomed. Put a few skewers or chopsticks across the bottom to prevent stickage and then put 2-3 layers of grape leaves across the bottom. Now start rolling dolmadakia.

Rolling dolmadakia

Rolling dolmadakia

Lay a leaf out flat, and put about a teaspoon sized blob of filling just above where you sliced off the stem. More if you can fit it.  Fold in the bottom side points towards the center,

Rolling dolmadakia

in some leaves there are 5 points

then the top side points,Rolling dolmadakia and then roll the whole thing up into a neat little roll. Rolling dolmadakiaThe tip of the leaf sort of seals the envelope. Lay it in the pot. Rolling dolmadakiaRepeat until the pot has 2-3 layers, then cover the dolmadakia with another layer of leaves. Add the lemon juice and another cup of water to the pot, cover, bring to a boil and then lower heat. Simmer about 20 minutes. Watch it doesn’t boil dry as the rice is supposed to soak up the water, which is now wonderfully infused with grape leaf flavor. Let cool and arrange  on a plate with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and pretty rounds of lemon. Rolling dolmadakiaThis is called a meze in Greek- something to have on the table. (Interesting- mez is table in Hindi) We took some out on the river one night, anyway. Delicious!