Libations

Savor Southwestern Iced Tea

Jacqueline here in this last week of a sweltering May, with a look ahead to next month. June is “National Iced Tea Month,” so time to think about some iced teas to help you Savor the Southwest.

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Language purists will remind us that true tea comes from Camellia sinensis, grown in the tropics, and any “herbal tea” is in fact a “tisane,” but the English language is subject to change over time, thus I am using the term “tea” to mean any herb infused into a beverage.

Speaking of infusing – teas should be prepared as an infusion. Infusions are made by adding water to fresh or dried herbs and allowing them time to infuse the water with their oils and flavors. The water can be hot or cold, depending on how strong a flavor you desire and how quickly. Avoid decoctions, where the plants are placed in boiling water and held over heat. This will extract plant compounds better left in the plant.

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Mint tea garnished with fresh mint and a slice of orange.

Traditional iced tea is often served with lemon. That is a nice way to blend flavors and engage your palate with both the bitterness of the tea and the sourness of the lemon at the same time. With this in mind, I like to put together more than one herb at a time for a richer gustatory experience.

Mint tea can be garnished with a fresh sprig of mint, and a slice of orange. I find the sweet orange helps highlight the tang of the mint in a pleasant way.

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Calendula grows well in winter in the Southwest.

Calendula tea from the petals I dried all winter is made tangy with a slice of lemon and a fresh bay leaf – delightful! I tried calendula with mint and didn’t like the way the flavors worked together.

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Calendula tea with bay and lemon.

Thyme is tasty indeed, and I find it freshens the palate. Rather than cucumber water at your next soiree, try some thyme.

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Thyme tisane.

I have tried all sorts of blends over thyme – I mean time – and tea with mint, sage, and a sprig of fennel was unique. The licoricy fennel blended nicely with the earthy notes of sage. The fennel plants are gone for the year, but next year I’m going to leave the mint out.

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Tea from mint, sage, and fennel. Some blends work better than others.

Run out of lemons? Don’t forget the lemony and luscious barrel cactus I wrote about in November 2014. The fruits add a wonderful citrus-like tang to teas and can be used in place of lemon. This is also good if you are trying to only eat things in season – the barrel fruit from last autumns blush of bloom is ripening nicely now.

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Barrel cactus fruit can be dried for use like lemon peel.

I hope you will celebrate Iced Tea Month by savoring some new teas. Please do let us know if you find a blend we should share! We welcome your ideas.

 

JAS avatarWant to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

 

 

Categories: edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, herbs, Kino herb, Libations | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marvelous Mints

Mint is one of those plants that want to spread everywhere in the garden, and that can be a good thing if you use a lot of mint – like I like to.  Mint is useful for all manner of beverages, from mint tea to mint julep to crème de menthe, or you can use it to make jelly, various sauces, make tabouli, throw some in salad, in wine,,,, the list goes on, but you get the idea.  Oh, and mints are used medicinally and for bath and beauty products too.

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Mint gets a bad rap because it can spread in the garden and crowd out other, less aggressive, plants.  The solution is to grow your mint in pots – and make sure those pots are up off the ground so the mint can’t creep out the drainage hole.  I put my pots of mint up on bricks.

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There are over 100 species of mint, plus many hybrids, and more being bred all the time – to offer new flavors – like “berries and cream mint” I spotted the other day in Rillito Nursery in Tucson. Since we are here to savor the Southwest, today I will talk about using mint for culinary purposes.

Mint and Sweets

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Mint is an herb that offers a tangy counterpoint to foods, especially sweets. A slice of luscious chocolate torte offered with sprigs of mint is one good example. Several bites of rich creamy torte followed by a nibble of mint offers a refresher for your palate, allowing you to savor the chocolaty flavor all over again when you bite back into it.

 

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Mints work well with all manner of sweet things. Lime juice and chopped mint leaves combine to make a tangy and refreshing frosting on orange flavored cupcakes.

Mint and Fruit

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Mint pairs well with many fruits. Like savoring the torte, a few bites of strawberry followed with a nibble of mint offers a refreshing and more flavorful experience.

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Don’t limit your mint use to dessert, wake up your morning yogurt and granola with a sprig or two of mint. Mint is said to aid digestion.

Mint and Drinks

Summer is coming – perk up your lemon-aid and make it even more refreshing with some sprigs of mint.

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And last but not least, plan ahead for Kentucky Derby Day, and make some mint syrup to make mint julep with. Here is the recipe I got several decades ago from my friend Karen from Kentucky. Sorry that I don’t recall her last name, but I remember her sweet nature every year as we watch the Derby and sip minty drinks.

Mint syrup. In a mason jar, put one cup sugar, one cup compressed fresh mint leaves, and add one cup boiling water. Stir as needed to help dissolve the sugar. When cooled, store in the back of the fridge for up to a month. Mint syrup can be used for mint juleps but it’s also a dandy way to sweeten iced tea.

Mint julep. In a glass add 2 ounces of bourbon, ½ ounce mint syrup, sprigs of mint, and stir, bruising the mint leaves. Fill the glass with finely crushed ice. Optionally garnish with fresh mint. Sip and enjoy!

 

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article is copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos are courtesy of Pixabay and may not be used.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, fruit, herbs, Kino herb, Libations, medicinal plant | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

A Cordial Tribute to Time Itself–Valentine’s Dessert Toasts

Time–to be exact, good timing, plus duration and patience–are necessary ingredients in making most good dishes.  All of these are enlisted in creating festive cordials. Here, a native fan palm cordial made with tiny wild dates (in bowl), harvested & put up in the fall…after months later… produced a luscious cordial for a sweet Valentine surprise.  Time to celebrate! (MABurgess photo)

Let’s tip a toast to Father Time who allows magic to be wrought upon our local desert fruits.  The joyous results of his temporal magic can be festive and delightful cordials.  With a little industry, when our desert fruits are ripe in late summer or fall, there can be heartwarming dessert drinks to help celebrate chilly winter evenings–and especially fine for your favorite Valentine.

Tia Marta here, with an additional toast, this one to the father of Slow Knowledge, agricultural philosopher/author Wendell Berry.  His “slow knowledge”–yea wisdom–comes with growing one’s own food (or wild-harvesting), watching the near-imperceptable progress played by Nature and Father Time on leafing, flowering, fruiting, fermentation, decay of individual plants, small or tall, in garden, farm, wild desert, forest.  Being present is a key to “slow knowledge,” something sorely missed if one is always absorbed in a device.  Lack of slow knowledge may lead to atrophy of human brain neurons. There is evidence that practicing slow knowledge, being out in Nature, in fact enhances brain function and development, broadens associative thinking, deductive and inductive reasoning, adds serenity, promotes compassion….Hey what’s not to like about it?

We had left our Meyer lemons on the tree past the holidays to fully sweeten up. When frost was predicted, we quick-harvested 52 giant juicy fruits from one little tree! (MABurgess photo)

Meyer lemon does well in a low desert garden. It’s juice is so sweet and even its thin rind is edible!  All parts of Meyer lemon are used in creating limoncello.  Juice and thinly sliced rind all go into the mix to mull. (MABurgess photo)

Time and tequila produced the finest limoncello ever with Meyer lemon!  (MABurgess photo)

I’d like to share four of my favorite ways–four cordials– to celebrate time, with fruits that our Southwest gardens, orchards, and even prickly desert can supply in plenty:  1) Native fan palm “Desert Oasis Cordial” depicted above made with the seedy dates of our ubiquitous Washingtonia filifera (Read more by searching Jan.20, 2015’s post in this blog archive), 2) special Meyer Limoncello, 3) Prickly Pear Cordial, and 4) Colorado Cherry Cordial.  They are really so easy to make with speedy prep-time– a good investment in one’s spare minutes when there is a bumper crop of fruits shouting for attention.

General Cordial Instructions:  In order for all four cordials to “make,” i.e. to sit and mull, you will need a sanitized sealable crock or large canning jar.  Wash and cut your fruits (no need to cut the teensy native palm dates), measure equal quantities of:

a) fruit,

b) spirits (I use good 100% agave tequila or mescal, but vodka also works fine), and

c) a natural sweetener (I use agave nectar but my mother used sugar successfully).

Pack fruit into jars, add sweetener, cover with spirits, seal, and set aside in a cool, dark place for as many weeks or months as possible, checking periodically for progress or problems.

After mulling for months in tequila, the halved prickly pear tunas have lost their bright purple color but have lost none of their great flavor! Mash to free up their juices.

Decant by filtering prickly pear fruit&juice mix, separating fruit, seed, and remaining spines using a masher and coffee filter set in a funnel over a bowl or measuring cup to capture the precious cordial.

Several folded layers of cheesecloth set in a funnel can be used in decanting the prickly pear cordial.

Essentially, with the help of Time, you are making a sweet herbal tincture. Decanting is the next step.  Remember those gorgeous rosey red prickly pear tunas gathered carefully in August?  (Yes, planning ahead is paramount.  Put it on your calendar now for next August.)  At harvest, I washed and removed as many spines as possible, cut them in half, and set them in the canning jar, seeds and all, with the other ingredients.  Now at decanting time I must make sure to filter out all solid parts to clarify the cordial.  Coffee filters or layered cheesecloth resting in a funnel over your catcher-cup or bottle will work perfectly.  After filtering, store your cordial in glass indefinitely–to enjoy on special occasions.

Prickly Pear Cordial sits next to its drought-stressed provider, Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) the winter after a grand August harvest. What gifts these plants provide!  Given rain, they bounce back to give more next year.  (MABurgess)

Colorado Cherry Cordial with delicious “marinated” cherries to be used for topping on ice cream. (MABurgess photo)

You can view native fan palms on the University of Arizona campus, lemon trees at the Tucson Botanical Garden, and Engelmann’s prickly pear close up at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and at Tucson’s Mission Garden.  Find more traditional foods at http://www.flordemayoarts.com and http://www.nativeseeds.org.  And watch for upcoming City of Gastronomy tours in Tucson beginning in March at Tucson’s Presidio Museum–Stay tuned at http://www.tucsonpresidio.com.

Now a cordial toast to you, dear Savor Blog Follower!  May you delight in these spirited fruits of the desert and delight in the time they take to bring us this cheer!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Libations, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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