Lavender Tea Milk Punch: A Libation to Toast the Returning Light

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It’s that magical time of the year—halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox—when we start to consider the returning light and warmer, softer days. The seeds in the earth are stirring and in some parts of the world (like ours) snowdrops are up and daffodils are already starting to peep through the soil. For my ancient ancestors, February was a time of great anticipation for the coming growing season. To ensure bountiful crops, productive livestock and healthy mothers and babes, they practiced fertility and purification rites—many of them featuring milk. Why, the Gaelic festival of Imbolc/Imbolg (Feb 1-4) has milk right in its name.

In light of the academic controversy that ultimately surrounds the term for this festival, the distinguished linguist Eric Hamp has conclusively proven that the second syllable for Imbolg can be traced to the Old Irish words for “milk” and “milking” which, in turn, was derived from the Proto-Indo-European root-word *Hmelǵ– signifying “purification”…Rekindling the Rites of Imbolg, W. MacMorrighan

Milk played an important role in these rites. It symbolized new life and so was considered sacred and pure. I imagine it was also dear. It seems unlikely to me that ancient peoples actually drank much milk. It would have been difficult to store and milk production was tied to the seasons. I reckon they made butter, cheese, yogurt, etc and possibly saved the milk drinking for ceremonies or for offerings to goddesses—particularly fertility goddesses.  Brighid, the mother/sun goddess associated with Imbolc, has a close association with milk. Legend has it that she was nourished exclusively on milk from an Otherworldly red heifer. Even post-sainthood, St. Brigid was considered a protector of herds and a producer of milky miracles. Pre-Christian and Christian worshippers of Brighid/St Brigid relied on the goddess/saint to bless and protect the milk supplies of their herds and the new mothers in their communities. Of course there’s a whole lot more to Brighid/Brigid than an affinity for dairy—like fire, poetry, herbs, healing…for starters.

In Scotland, dairymaids made libations of milk to the Gruagach, a female spectre of the class of brownies and a protector of herds. It was a practice that may have originated with ancient mother goddess worship and continued as recently as 1770, with an account of dairymaids on the Island of Trodda leaving daily offerings for milk on hollow stone. (source)

And so with a nod to milk-loving faeriefolk, fertility goddesses the world over and for my own ancestors who would have so revered dairy this time of year, I’m once again making this rich “milk punch” for my own midwinter feast. Danielle and I served this last year at our Midwinter Festival of Lights workshop and I’m so looking forward to lifting a cup or two (or three) again this weekend.

The recipe is pretty simple—it’s really just a heavenly mix of whole milk, cream, honey, tea and herbs & vanilla. Heat-loving herbs for a celebration to welcome the sun, makes sense to me. And so I went with lavender for it’s calming, healing and purification properties. You could experiment with other herbs and flavours. I’ve made this with rose and cardamom for a winter solstice party and it was delicious. Rosemary, another Brighid/Imbolc herb, might be interesting…Oh, and bourbon, brandy or any other favourite spirits make this ceremonial libation all the more magical! I serve this in a milk glass (of course) punch bowl with an ice ring (water & flowers frozen overnight in a bundt pan) and a sprinkling of lavender buds. You could also serve this with boozy whipped cream as you would with egg nog. For those avoiding dairy, I imagine you could do something quite spectacular with almond milk or coconut milk and coconut cream…

Recipe: Lavender Cream Libation

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Lavender Cream Libation by candlelight…and cake.

Ingredients 
1/2 cup + 1 1/2 cups whole milk (the most delicious you can find, grass-fed, organic, fresh,etc)
2 cups of good heavy cream (again, the good stuff, sans artificial thickeners)
4 teaspoons honey (more or less to taste – I use lavender-infused herbal honey)
1/2 a vanilla bean, split & scraped
2 cups of strong brewed lavender tea (use store-bought tea bags or make a tisane with fresh or dried lavender. I used a commercial chamomile & lavender tea. black lavender tea is also lovely. brew extra for blending to taste)
brandy (optional)
lavender buds for garnish (optional)

Instructions
Brew a pot of lavender herbal tea. You can make your own with dried/fresh lavender or buy herbal tea bags from the shop. I use multiple teabags and allow it to steep overnight or at least for a few hours to really get that nice herbal flavour. Remember you’re going to blend this with a whole lot of milk and cream, so your tea needs to be able to hold her own.

Once your tea is how you want it and cooled to room temperature, slowly heat a 1/2 cup of milk over low heat with the honey and vanilla. Stir to dissolve the honey and break up the vanilla bean seeds. Allow the sweetened milk to cool and chill.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk and cream in a large bowl. Add 2 cups of tea and remaining sweetened milk. Mix and tinker to taste! Add brandy if you like. Sprinkle with lavender buds or grate some nutmeg on top. Serve very cold or on ice. And if you have a bit to spare, go pour a bit in your garden to bless your own fields or leave a draught or two for the faeries. Happy almost-spring!

 

 

Infused Wassail Cider: A Recipe For Blessing The Earth (and Ourselves)

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Yes, the sun has begun her official return. But as I write this, frost shimmers, the ground is frozen and every footstep crunches. And it’s easy to understand why our ancestors, as the pantry grew lean, wanted to give mother nature just a little loving nudge in waking up. So to me, in the barren starkness of winter, the old traditions of wassailing, of pouring libations upon the earth, just makes perfect sense.  So in honour of this old seasonal magic, I decided to infuse a sparkly apple cider with the warming energy of sunshiney herbs and flowers!

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The word wassail is derived from both Old English (wases hael) and Old Norse (vest heil), and literally means “be healthy” “be you hale”, and it refers both to a mulled cider poured on the roots of apple trees to bless and nourish the orchards, and an actual toast drunk to ensure good health and good harvest.

Customs differed regionally, but wassailing generally occurred on the Twelfth Night of Yule (January 17th). Celebrants would gather round the trees to make a racket to raise the Sleeping Tree Spirits (and scare away any evil spirits which might bedevil the future harvest). They also placed toast (sops) soaked in cider in the branches for the Robins, who were the guardians of the spirit of the apple trees. Then a Wassail bowl or cup was presented, and all drunk from it with the toast Wassail (be healthy)!

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I love these ‘old ways’ of creating blessings for ourselves and the planet. Sourced in the understanding of our symbiotic relationship with mother nature, they symbolically express our gratitude for the fruits of the earth and our role in the physical and spiritual care of the land.

While no is quite sure when wassailing began, Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud , authors of A Dictionary of English Folklore believe it is sourced in the older “field-visiting custom” or “field remedy ritual” believed to fertilize the earth and ensure abundance. They write “Amongst all the calendar customs which popular folklore enthusiasts have claimed as remnants of luck-bringing rituals, wassailing is the only one that has a relatively clean and undisputed claim to this lineage.”

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The author Henry David Thoreau believed wassailing was a relic of the “heathen sacrifice” to Pomona, Roman Goddess of fruit trees, gardens and orchards. I think he’s probably right. The blessings of trees through the pouring of libations (oils, milk, mead and liquid honey) far predate Christianity.  The apple tree is one of our oldest spiritual symbols, and from the Romans, Greeks, Celts, Balts, Norse, Teutons, and Slavs, it was understood to be an embodiment of the goddess.

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Going clockwise: Indunn by Howard David Johnson, Pomona by Nicolas Fouché, Pomona Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones and John Henry Dearle.

Apples were also the sacred fruit of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love, beauty and fertility. And from Ishtar, Astarte, Hera, Indunn, and Freya, the apple was the Fruit of immortality, Fruit of the Gods, Fruit of the Underworld, the Silver Branch, The Silver Bough, The Tree of Love.

In fact the apple has so long been associated with the goddess and magic, it’s a wonder it took the Church so long to crack down. But finally it did, and according to the Cambridge Library Collection blog, ” In 1577 there was an edict against wassailing – superstitious practices believed to encourage good apple crop in the following year were banned: though in spite of this and later Puritan objections the custom was maintained in the traditional apple-growing areas.”

Today the tradition of wassailing is having a popular resurgence with celebrations popping up everywhere in private, community and commercial orchards. And in the past two years I attended local wassails that I’m sure rivalled any of their past counterparts in merriment.

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Top image is from The Guardian

But this year I decided to wassail the bounteous crab apple tree I’d harvested from late summer to fall. Standing not in an orchard, but in a mixed field of trees on an abandoned lot, I wanted to send her a little extra love and say thanks for all the sweet, tart goodness she brought to my life.

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The traditional English wassail recipes call for cloves, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and peppercorns tied in cheesecloth. This spice bag (along with the cider, apples, brown sugar, brandy) were put in a large pot over gentle heat. Eggs were beaten and added to make a frothy creation. (see sample recipe here).

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Traditional Wassail, Image from the Nourished Kitchen

But I wanted something less heavy, more effervescent (and less effort!) and so I decided to go with a sparkly cider made with Salt Spring wild apples. (Please note, whatever sparkly cider you use, and there are oodles of local craft ciders to choose from, you’ll need a re-sealable bottle with swing cap for this recipe.)

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Then, in the spirit of sympathetic magic that is wassail, I decided empower the cider with the aromatic enlivening herbs of the sun, rosemary and bay. To this I added yarrow and just a touch of motherwort, for their nurturing feminine influence. And finally, in honour of the goddesses of love, fertility and beauty, I added a liberal dose of the petals of their most sacred flower, the rose.

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Of course you can use whatever herbs and spices you feel so inclined to. Magic is a personal business. But fennel seeds and lemon balm also make wonderful aromatic additions, and plants with yellow flowers (calendula, St. John’s Wort, dandelion) that turn towards the sun can be used. And you don’t need much, it’s the intention that’s important here, plus too much plant material will just clog up the bottle!

The wassail of old was decidedly alcoholic, but if you want to go spirit free, an apple cider juice will still do the trick. There are plenty of recipes online, and most feature orange or cranberry juice as well. Here’s one for herbal tea and juice wassail.

Of course this recipe is far simpler, as it’s done right in the bottle. That said, you’ll find keeping the bubbles in when you poke down your herbs and petals, is a bit of a challenge! Because, as I discovered, it fizzes like crazy!

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So to make this infused cider, you’re going to need to be fast. Get a chopstick or skewer ready before uncapping the bottle, then push the herbs and petals down through the bottleneck as quickly as you can without losing the fizz! Quickly recap, and let sit for a day or two. And don’t forget to pay it some energizing attention (and intention) now and then.

On January 17th, as dusk closes, take your bottle to a place in nature that could use some nourishing libations. Decant and strain your wassail, then lift a toast to the health of all. Here’s a popular one from days past: “Here we come a-wassailing, among the leaves so green; Here we come a-wassailing, So fair to be seen. Love and joy come to you, And to your wassail too.” And don’t forget a splash or two for the earth!

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Sparkly Wassail Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 750 ml. bottle of sparkling apple cider (one with a resealable swing cap)
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • pinch of dried yarrow and mugwort
  • few crushed cardamom seeds
  • 1 handful of dried wild or garden rose petals
  • (and if you want to add a touch of sweetness – a dollop of honey)

Directions

  • Gather your plant material close at hand.
  • Uncap your bottle, and moving quickly, push down a few herbs or petals at a time using a skewer, chopstick or thin knife. It will fizz but keep going as fast as you can to get your plant material in. Pour in your honey (if you are using).
  • Then quickly recap. Turn the bottle and gently shake a few times to make sure your herb material is well soaked.
  • Let sit to infuse for a minimum of 12 hours, periodically re-shaking the bottle.
  • When ready to wassail, decant, strain and pour into glasses or mugs. Garnish with dried rose petals, rosemary and orange slices.
  • Wassail!

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Wildcrafting the Shrub: Osoberry Delight

Ripening now in the Pacific Northwest – the Osoberry. Like a cross between cherry, cantaloupe and cucumber, its flavour is unique. Here is a recipe for Osoberry” shrub,” a kind of vinegary cordial popular with the cocktail set. I ended up using it more like a syrupy balsamic vinegar in salads, marinades and glazes. Not to be missed!

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This year our warm and early summer not only brought us an abundance of Osoberry but unusually luscious ones. Trailing branches over every roadside, every forest path, and every park trail, were hung so fat with plump blue-black clusters that they practically begged to be picked. But the big question – how to preserve the bounty?

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I had sampled but never harvested the “Oso” before. I knew there wasn’t a lot of meat on the pit, but I also knew that at the height of ripeness popping one into your mouth, still warm from the sun, well it’s a little piece of heaven. Living up to its species name (meaning “cherry like”) it fills the mouth with dark cerise intensity before settling at the back of the tongue with the sultry velvet of melon. And it’s all permeated by a fresh crisp cucumber flavour. So how could I best highlight…

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The Perfect Yuletide Tipple: Emily Han’s Douglas-fir Liqueur

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photo credits: Laure Joliet (left) | Oriana Koren (right)

Here at Gather we adore Emily Han! Equally at home in hiking boots as she is in the kitchen, her work has inspired us for years. One of the first to transform wild edibles from survival food into good cuisine, her recipes make wild foods accessible, simple to prepare—and most of all, delicious.

You can imagine how thrilled we were to be invited to feature one of the recipes from Emily’s truly stunning new book, Wild Drinks and Cocktails. From traditional pioneer cordials, to cocktails and fizzy drinks and medicinal tonics—everything is amazing and best of all, easy to make! What was difficult was choosing only one…

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After much humming and hawing and oohing and ahhing, we settled on Douglas Fir Liqueur and for some very good reasons.  First, Douglas-fir tastes amazing—intensely green, woodsy and resinous with candied orange peel top notes. We knew we definitely wanted to make our own supply for the holiday season. And because no other tree is more iconic to the Pacific Northwest (our home) than the Douglas-fir.

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Among the world’s tallest trees, these stately conifers once blanketed all of Vancouver Island. Often called the skyscrapers of the forest, Douglas-firs are a straight-trunked tree with a spire-like crown, and can grow up to 30 stories high. Their upper branches point up while the lower branches droop down, and it’s dark brown, greyish bark is considered the most gnarly of all the conifers—deeply ridged and grooved.

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The Scottish botanist David Douglas, sent by the Royal Horticultural Society to study the tree in the late 1700’s, is responsible for its name even though it isn’t actually a fir tree at all. Here on Vancouver Island we have mostly the P. menziesii var. menziesii, called the Coastal Douglas-fir, which thrives during our dry summers and wet, mild winters.

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The indigenous peoples of Vancouver Island have many stories about the Douglas-fir. One legend tells of animals fleeing before the flames of a big fire. The mice, with their short little legs, were not quick enough to outrun the fire so they asked Douglas-fir for help. The mice took shelter inside their cones and survived the terrible fire. To this day, if you examine the cones of a Douglas-fir closely, you can see the little hind feet and tails of the mice sticking out from beneath the scales of the fir cones.

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Douglas-fir cones are easy to identify with their mice like hind-legs and tails!

Today, aggressive logging practices have decimated Coastal Douglas-fir populations and only a fragment of these green giants with their unique old-growth forest systems remain. In 2006, the BC government designated it an ‘at risk species’ and many local activists are fighting to save the old-growth stands that still survive.

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Ancient Douglas-fir logged near Port Alberni, BC. Photo by TJ Watt

And so, with no small amount of reverence, we set out for the woods to harvest needles for our liqueur. Snipping small amounts of newer growth from several trees and (as Emily cautions in her book) taking care to not cut the tops of any trees (leaving them vulnerable to disease & decay), we left with gratitude, lifted spirits thanks to the aromatherapeutic qualities of the Douglas-fir and a keen desire to make some coniferous cocktail magic!

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Douglas-fir, fresh hawthorn berries & a wee bit of usnea

A couple of kitchen notes: This recipe is simple to follow. We used fresh hawthorn berries and left out the allspice berries because we really wanted the evergreen flavour to stand alone. That, and we were out of allspice. No matter, we think it turned out brilliantly. Aromatic and warming, we enjoy it chilled, neat and served in a Grand-fir sugar-rimmed glass. Yes, we mixed our firs-that-are-not-actually-firs. We’re unorthodox that way. We’ve tucked a bottle away for a solstice toast and have promised each other we won’t tipple behind the other’s back. We’ll just see how that goes…

Without further ado, here are Emily’s (blessedly) straightforward instructions—verbatim!

Douglas Fir Liqueur

Recipe  reprinted  from  Wild  Drinks  &  Cocktails by  Emily  Han,  with  permission  from  Fair  Winds  Press,  copyright  2015

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In Spring, Douglas Fir tips are bright green with a crisp lemony flavour, and as the year progresses, the needles become more and more aromatic. You can make this liqueur with Douglas fir needles at any time of year, but I usually reserve the young tips for teas and syrups, such as the Pine Syrup on page 62 [Wild Drinks & Cocktails], and use the more resinous autumn needles for an infusion that combines sweet hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna, C. laevigata) berries and warm allspice, like this one.

Pine (Pinus spp.), spruce (Picea spp.), or white fir (Abies concolor) will all work well in place of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), too. Try it with gin cocktails, such as a gimlet, to amp up the foresty feel, or pair it with whiskey or bourbon-based cocktails, like a Manhattan, to enhance its warmth.

2 large handfuls conifer tips or needles, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup (60 g) dried hawthorn berries or 1 cup (100 g) fresh
2 whole allspice berries
1 bottle (750 ml, or 31⁄4 cups) vodka
1 cup (235 ml) Simple Syrup (recipe below)

 

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Combine the chopped conifer, hawthorn berries, and allspice in a quart (1 L) jar. Pour the vodka into the jar, making sure the ingredients are completely submerged. Cap the jar tightly. Store it in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 weeks, shaking daily.  Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter or flour sack cloth. Stir in the Simple Syrup. Age for at least 1 week, then bottle and store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

YIELD: ABOUT 1 QUART (940 ML)

SIMPLE SYRUP

Made from equal parts sugar and water, this indispensable syrup may be used to
sweeten alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks including cocktails, liqueurs, teas, and
lemonades.

1 cup (235 ml) water
1 cup (100 g) sugar

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for another minute. Remove from the heat and let cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or up to 3 months with added vodka.

YIELD: ABOUT 1 CUP (235 ML)

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Cheers! (We used our Grand Fir infused sugar to rim the glass – yum!)

And if you want to learn more about the culinary and medicinal uses of Grand Fir and other evergreens click here.  Recipes for Comfort & Joy: The Healing Magic of Conifers.

 

Nature Spirits: How to Wildcraft Vermouth In Three Easy Steps

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Photo by Kelly Brown.

Recently Gather had the great pleasure of presenting a wildcrafted aperitif for Moonrise Creative’s first Eat Together Dinner. And it was such a magical occasion! Seeing the guests laughing and chatting together in the beautiful setting of field and forest—while sipping our sparkling summer elixir—nearly brought a tear to my eye. Really.

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Before Dinner. Photo by Kelly Brown.

After all, this bittersweet, herbaceous and slightly floral herbal libation was the gratifying culmination of weeks spent infusing various Vancouver Island wild botanicals and aromatic herbs in Vancouver Island spirits.

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The goal was to craft an entirely regional pre-dinner drink that would stimulate the taste buds and support digestion – while capturing the flavours and fragrances of our local ‘terroir’.

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My plan was to begin with a herbal liqueur created in the great culinary and medicinal traditions of Chartreuse, Strega and Jagermeister – each a unique blend of plants, herbs, fruits, seeds, roots and even barks, growing in their regional landscapes. This was to be sweetened with Vancouver Island honey and blended with white wine (further infused with herbs) to become a Vermouth, Gather-style.

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But there was one little problem—finding recipes to work from. The exact ingredients of many famous herbal liqueurs are shrouded in secrecy! Only one thing is certain, all are rooted in a long history of magic, alchemy and life-giving elixirs.

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In France, Chartreuse, “the liqueur of health” is a blend of over 130 medicinal plants originating in the secret recipe of a medieval alchemist “with a great knowledge of herbs”. Strega is made from a secret blend of 70 herbs and plants in Italy by the Alberti family, but legend tells the witches in the nearby woods gifted them the recipe – hence it’s name Strega, Italian for witch.

Jagermeister, from Germany, yet another secret recipe, is made of 56 herbs, flowers roots and fruits. Its logo of a reindeer framed in the rays of the sun is a sacred pagan symbol often used to represent non-ordinary awareness – which a shot or two of this potent herbal liquor is sure to bring on!

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Monks making Bénédictine. A secret blend of Angelica, Hyssop, Lemon Balm and 27 spices and herbs.

But turns out, despite all the mysterious secrecy, creating herbal liqueurs and fortified wines is really simple. In fact our ancestors have been doing it since the beginning of time. From the ancient Egyptians to medieval monks, it all boils down to three basic steps:  1) harvest the seasonal bitter, aromatic and medicinal plants growing in your region  2) infuse them in hard alcohol and/or wine (to extract their flavours and medicinal components)  3) sweeten the final brew with syrup or honey.

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So where to begin? Well, with the season of course. And for our Eat Together Aperitif that meant the glorious profusion of high summer. From fields to sea shores, I harvested the aromatic plants that grew in abundance in the August sun: frothy anise scented wild fennel, carroty Queen Anne’s Lace, resinous bitter Yarrow, savory woodsy Coastal Mugwort and magical wild Blue Vervain.

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Sun loving Wild Fennel and Queen Anne’s Lace

From the garden I picked Calendula, Lovage, Rose, Lemonbalm, Mint and a generous sprig of Wormwood (the signature bitter of Vermouth).

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These herbs and plants are renowned for their digestive system enhancing, inflammation soothing, and immunity boosting powers. Aromatics like Fennel and bitters like Wormwood support the liver and digestive organs, while others like Rose, Mint, Lemonbalm, cool and revitalize our nervous systems.  And plunged in their vodka bath, they were all, oh so beautiful to behold. 

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After tasting my results (which still needed a little work) Jennifer and I got to work on perfecting the drink that would be served on the “big night”.  The first challenge was the ‘bittersweet’ – finding just the right balance of sweet top notes (Wild Fennel, Queen Anne Lace and Spearmint) and deep bitters (Yarrow and Wormwood). 

Next came the delicate matter of layering in the supportive flavours, i.e. the herbaceous Coastal Mugwort, savoury Lovage and Lomatium seeds, the floral scents of Rose and Lavender. Too much of one could overpower the others, so we went carefully, adding and tasting, throughout the whole process.

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After two days we took the vodka blend,  strained it and swirled it all into big pot containing a bottle of warmed white wine. This we sweetened with honey (further infused in Lavender, Rose and Yarrow) and a dash of Elderberry syrup. This we dubbed “Wild Vermouth” and we served it straight up, chilled over ice, garnished with petals of Calendula, Fennel and Queen Anne’s Lace.

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And it went down pretty good judging by the reception. So busy were we kept pouring refills, that we began to worry that our supply would run out! 

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So here is the recipe for our Wild Vermouth – but as we enter autumn remember to adapt the recipe to suit the season. Flavours and medicinal properties will change as the energy and vitality of summer blossoms and leaves moves into fall berries, seeds and roots.

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Hawthorn & Rowan Berries, Licorice Fern Root

Soon the Hawthorn and Rowan berries will ripen and the Wild Fennel will be bursting with intensely aromatic seeds. Roots like Licorice Fern, Oregon Grape and Dandelion will sweeten and surge with medicinal power. Edible blossoms like Chrysanthemums (known for their digestive properties) and Sea Asters will make their appearance.  And all will offer a new panorama of seasonal flavours and healing magic to work with!

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Gather’s Wild Vermouth

Ingredients (approximate! Use your own discretion)

  • Two large sprigs each of Wormwood, Coastal Mugwort, Wild Blue Vervain
  • 1/4 cup Yarrow Blossoms and leaves
  • 1/4 cup Wild Fennel blossoms and fronds
  • 1/4 cup Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms
  • 1/3 cup Rose petals
  • 1/3 cup of Calendula flowers
  • Handful of Lavender buds
  • 2 large sprigs of Wild Mint or Spearmint
  • 1/4 cup of Elderberries or Elderberry Syrup (optional)
  • A few pinches of macerated seeds (Lovage, Lomantium and Cardamom)
  • A few rinds of Lemon peel
  • One cup of honey (infused in your choice of herbs – or not)
  • One 750 ml. bottle of vodka 
  • Two 750 ml. bottles of dry white wine

Directions

1) First “muddle” your plant material (crush and chop) and place in a large jar. Pour a bottle of hard alcohol over it all and submerge the contents. Tuck away in a cool dark place for a day. Taste. Add a little more of this or that if you wish to steep it for another day to further deepen the flavours. Or move on to step two.

2) Open the bottle of white wine and pour in a saucepan or pot. Gently warm, then add the infused booze to the wine mixture.  Slowly mix in honey and taste as you go. This is your final chance to decide if you want to add more of a certain plant(s) as the wine sits on low heat for an hour so. (Don’t boil the alcohol away!) We added a tiny sprig more of wormwood and lavender and kept tasting until we liked the final result.

3) Cool the mixture and strain with a fine muslin bag or coffee filter (cheesecloth is too loose a weave to catch all of the particulate.) The result should be clear – and absolutely delicious! Pour into pretty clean bottles, chill and serve straight up over ice.  Salut!

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Note: Herbal liqueurs can contain medicinal ingredients best avoided by pregnant or nursing mothers and those with food sensitivities. Also make sure to check for contraindications if you are taking pharmaceutical medications.

Wildcrafted Summer Libations: Herb and Blossom Infused Sake

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What can be more delicious, cool and reviving on a warm sultry evening than Herb & Blossom Infused Sake served chilled over ice? Who knew that Sake, a dry Japanese rice wine, made such a gracious host for herbal and floral infusions? Well, the Japanese of course – but more on that later.

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Wood Sorrel & Black Hawthorn Berry Infused Sake

Infused Sake is so easy and simple to make, it’s just a matter of stepping out into your landscape and harvesting a couple of handfuls of whatever aromatic plant is at hand. Then place your leaves and/or blossoms in a large jar, pour sake over it, let it sit in the sun for 5-6 hours. Strain. Chill. Serve. That’s it.

Right top to left: Yarrow and Lavender, Fennel,  Blue Vervain, Queen Anne Lace.

Right top to left: Yarrow and Lavender, Fennel, Blue Vervain, Queen Anne Lace.

The hardest part is choosing your flavour infusions. Right now our fields are awash with the sweet vanilla carroty top notes of Queen’s Anne’s Lace, the heady anise fragrance of Fennel, the bitter resins of Yarrow, and the honeyed Chamomile gentleness of Pineapple Weed.

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In the forests, the needles of Grand Fir and Spruce offer woodsy and citrusy zest, and wild berries like Salal, Oregon Grape and Black Hawthorn Berry bring dark fruity depth.

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Spicy, tangy, woodsy or flowery – however you choose to make it – the wonderful thing about Sake is that it holds its own with stronger flavours while enhancing more subtle or delicate ones.  So far I’ve infused Lavender & Oregon Grape, Rose & Raspberry & Lemon Balm, Blackberry & Fennel,  Queen’s Anne’s Lace & Salal Berry with good success.

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From pale green and yellow to bright pink, these jewel-coloured liquids are not only a joy to behold, they are a veritable health enhancing elixir. As every herbalist knows, infusing plants and herbs in wine is a well-known way to extract their medicinal properties – and these plants are bursting with nutritive antioxidants, phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, not to mention anti-inflammatory, hormone balancing, and immune system boosting agents.

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The final thing to keep in mind when creating your Sake is its tradition. Long associated with Shinto, the ancient indigenous religion of Japan, Sake was considered the sacred drink of the Kami, the gods or natural divinity that manifests in earth, water, mountains, rocks, trees, plants and animals. In Shinto ceremonial rituals Sake is shared with worshippers at shrine festivals and important agricultural celebrations in order to bring “people and the gods closer together”.

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Sake Party

Infusing Sake with herbs and flowers was part of these seasonal traditions. Each New Year a special Sake is brewed with a blend of herbs called O-tosa, this ensures family harmony and prosperity in the coming year. Peach and Cherry blossoms were infused into Sake for spring agricultural festivals called Momo no Sekku (Peach Seasonal Festival) and Hanamizake (Flower Viewing Sake). There is even a Moon Viewing Sake Tsukimizake, to be enjoyed by the full moon of fall harvest festivals.

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Cherry Blossom Sake

So in closing, I encourage you to “wildcraft” your Sake keeping these traditions in mind.  Choose your plants to reflect the vitality, beauty and meaning of the season. Be respectful and honour their Kami.

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Shinto Sake Ceremony

And when it comes to drinking Sake remember that in Japan it is traditionally shared by family members and friends and raised to toast the most important bonds in life. Thus one should never pour your own cup of sake, it must be poured by a friend and likewise. So gather those who are near and dear, Sake is meant to be shared with the people you love. Salut! 

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Drink: Wood Sorrel Gimlet-ish

Looking mojito, feeling gimlet

Looking mojito, feeling gimlet

The grounds of the co-op where we live are alive with the sound of Wood Sorrel, or more accuratelyoxalis acetosella. The lovely lemony Wood Sorrel may look like a shamrock and taste similar to sorrel, but it is neither. It’s… well, it’s a member of the Oxalidaceae family. And it’s delicious. I’ve been adding it to salads for the last couple of weeks and I’m very fond of the tartness it adds. You know what else is nice with tartness? Gin. And you know what’s even nicer with gin? Me. So I set out to make a Gimlet, kind of. I started off with a classic Gimlet recipe and replaced the lime juice with muddled Wood Sorrel.

Now, before you go all Wood Sorrel mad, there’s a couple of things you should know. Let’s start on the sunny side of the street, shall we? Wood Sorrel is very high in Vitamin C. It is also a diuretic and has cooling properties that come in handy when you or yours is running a fever. It also aids in digestion, helps stop vomiting and purportedly has blood cleansing properties. So, that’s pretty great, right? Tell me your gin and lime Gimlet does that!

HOWEVER, if you suffer from kidney or rheumatic disorders you should avoid Wood Sorrel as it contains high amounts of potassium oxalate and oxalic acid. And if you have gout, leave it out. Too much raw Wood Sorrel (and I mean, like a lot over a period of time) can also leach calcium out of your bones. Cooking Wood Sorrel is supposed to make it harmless, but I suspect you lose some of the nutrients. The good news is that my kidneys are a-okay (touch wood) and I’m fine with eating Wood Sorrel in moderation.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Wood Sorrel leaves
2 ounces of gin
1 ounce of simple syrup (I used Douglas Fir Simple Syrup)
sparkling water
ice
Wood Sorrel stems & blossom for garnish

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Muddle your Wood Sorrel leaves in a shaker. I didn’t have one, so I just used a mixing glass, which was fine because I wound up scooping the leaves into the cocktail glass like a Mojito, anyway.

If you’re using a shaker, add your ice. If you’re not, save the ice for your cocktail glass and carry on.

Add an ounce of simple syrup. I used Douglas Fir syrup I had in my fridge (as one does). To make simple syrup, just add one cup of water to two cups of sugar, bring it all to a boil and allow it to cool. For Douglas fir simple syrup, boil a cup of Douglas fir tips with the water and sugar, let it steep in the covered pot for a few hours or overnight and strain out the tips. It’s so lovely. Kind of like drinking Christmas and it also makes an AMAZING lemonade.

Add two ounces of gin and shake or stir.

Pour it into a tall glass filled with ice. You can strain out the Wood Sorrel if you want something a little more pristine looking. The Wood Sorrel give it a fresh green colour. The drink needed more tartness to suit my tastes and I quite like the taste of the leaves, so I added them.

Add sparkling water to taste.

Twist a few sorrel stems together with a sorrel blossom for a tasty and pretty garnish.

Drink, congratulate yourself, repeat.

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