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Currant Jelly

Ruby glowing tart currant jelly is one of my favorites. This year we had enough berries to make a bit of this luscious treat.

How are your bushes this year? Have you had any issue with disease or bugs? What did you do about it?

Currants

Cook berries over low heat, mashing to extract juice.

Done

Put berry mash on a tea towel suspended over a bowl and let juice drip through for at least 8 hours. Resist the temptation to squeeze the bag as this will cloud the jelly.

Measure the juice then put the liquid and an equal amount of sugar in a pot and cook until it thickens. It’s important to stir constantly or it will quickly burn.

Cook the liquid until it reaches jell point. Here’s how to know when you’re there.

Pour into jars. Jelly will set as it cools.

Lavender Sachets

Opening up a drawer and smelling lavender always brings me back to visits to my aunt and uncle’s Montana ranch.   Making these sachets is quick and easy and they last for months.
All you need is dried lavender and squares of pretty fabric.  If you want a sachet with a stronger smell then you can add a few drops of essential oil but this isn’t necessary.

Strip dried flower buds from stalks.

Strip dried flower buds from stalks.

Cut fabric to size of sachet desired then turn over edges and sew with the right sides together.

Cut fabric to size of sachet desired then turn over edges and sew with the right sides together.

Turn right side out, fill with dried lavender then stitch or tie the open side.

Turn right side out, fill with dried lavender then stitch or tie the open side.

All set!

 

 

Focus on Rhubarb

A rhubarb plant in its fourth year.

A rhubarb plant in its fourth year.

From being a humble plant that outlasts everything else planted in a garden, rhubarb has become fashionable; it now takes a center role in zingy cocktails, is partnered with various fruits in jams and is a favorite for desserts.

Happily it still is very easy to grow.  Find a spot in your yard that gets some good sun and won’t be disturbed then buy a plant at the nursery or get one from a neighbor dividing their abundant crop.  Be careful to get a plant that has nice ruby red stalks as some types have pale green stems that taste ok but don’t look very appetizing.  These plants do last forever and can grow really large so make sure the spot you pick has plenty of room for growth.

Don’t harvest any stalks the first year and if it looks kind of peaked then hold off for the second year as well.  By the third year you should be all set to harvest a good amount of tart stems.  When you are ready to harvest, grasp the stalk firmly and pull and twist so it breaks off at or near the crown.  Trim off the large leaf and the inch at the base.

Here are some tasty things to do with rhubarb:

Rhubarb Soda

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Bubbly rhubarb soda.

To make a sparkling, spicy soda take several stalks of rhubarb and slice them up.  Put them in a pot with sugar and water and cook the mixture on low heat for 30 minutes.  The mixture should taste quite sweet.  Strain the liquid and let it cool.  Put the liquid in a bottle and add about 1/2 cup of ginger bug starter.   Let sit for three days or until desired balance of bubbles and sweetness is achieved; the longer it sits the less sweet it will become.  Refrigerate your brew at this point to slow down the fermentation.

If you want an instant soda then you can add seltzer water to the rhubarb syrup.

Rhubarb Jam

There are lots of jams you can make using rhubarb.  You can use it straight up, add ginger, mix with early strawberries or even blend it with raspberries.  Here’s a good recipe for freezer jam and here’s one to can up.

Crisp!

Crisp!

Rhubarb Crisp

This is my absolute favorite way to use rhubarb.  The crunchy sweet topping combined with the tangy fruit and a bit of whipped cream is really good.  Here’s how to make it!

Tangy Cocktails

Want to try rhubarb in a cocktail?  Here’s a recipe for a strawberry-rhubarb margarita that is refreshing and new.

What do you like to use rhubarb for?  Share your favorite recipe!

 

Making Rose Petal Beads

Have you ever wondered where the name rosary comes from? Originally the beads were made from rose petals!

Here’s how you can make your own scented beads.

Pick lots of petals. They don’t need to be fresh but a strong scent will result in more perfumed beads.

It’s ok to collect petals over a few days.

Put petals in a blender with water and blend until they are a fine purée. The smoother the blend the smoother the final beads.

Next step is to evaporate off enough water to make a moldable clay. I used a crockpot but you can also use the oven on a very low heat. High heat destroys the odor.

Ready clay pulls away from the side and is easy to shape.

Beads will shrink to half their size. I used a nail to make the hole for stringing.

Drying beads. Turn them each day or dry them on a screen. Some got moldy on the side touching the mat.


Finished necklace! The beads smell wonderful and body heat releases more perfume. Beads may stain clothing so do be careful what you wear them with.

Focus on Arugula

This week I think my arugula plants have grown about three inches.  This spicy plant can be eaten in salads with an oil and vinegar dressing or used as a zesty garnish.  We really like to top a just baked pizza with this richly flavored plant.

Yum

Yum

Arugula likes cool weather and a nitrogen rich soil.  You can plant it when soil temperatures are between 45 and 60 degrees.  Scatter the seed then cover with 1/4 inch of soil.  It likes to be moist but not soggy.  Because this plant grows so quickly I like to plant some about every two weeks to keep a good supply on hand.

A zesty arugula plant.

A zesty arugula plant.

Here’s a tasty recipe for a quick summer dish:

Arugula with Pasta and Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 4

One package of pasta, (I like to use whole wheat)
About 8-10 cups arugula
Olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved, (you can also use dried tomatoes that have been soaked for 20 minutes in boiling water to soften them up)
2-3 ounces goat or feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta and drain it.  Chop the arugula if the leaves are big. Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat and add a little olive oil. When it is hot, cook the arugula, letting the first few handfuls wilt completely, and leaving the last few just barely cooked.

Add the basil, tomatoes, cheese, and pasta with the last handful of arugula. Turn the heat to high and cook for another minute or two – until everything is hot. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Lemon Balm tea

Lemon Balm tea

Do you have lemon balm, (Melissa officinalis) coming out your ears this time of year?  Mine is ready to take over the entire perennial bed.  In addition to tasting great it’s also supposed to decrease stress and increase mental function so it’s time to get cooking!

Here are some of my favorite ways to use this abundant herb.

Iced Lemon Balm Tea

Ingredients for one glass:

  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup balm (fresh lemon, leaves)
  • 1/4 cup sugar or to taste
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • ice
  • 1 lemon balm sprig for decoration

Directions:

Put leaves in boiling water, add sugar and let steep until desired concentration is reached.  Squeeze in juice from one lemon, adjust sugar, add ice and sprig – enjoy!

Hot Lemon Balm Tea 

Ingredients for one teapot full of tea:

  • 1/2 cup lemon balm
  • 1 tsp lemon zest (grated)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 cups boiling water

Directions:

Put leaves and zest in pot, add boiling water.  Let steep about 5 minutes, add honey to taste.

German Erdbeer – This is a summer wine often imbibed at picnics

  • 1 pounds of fresh strawberries
  • 2 cups lemon balm leaves
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 bottle white wine

Directions:

  1. Halve the berries, then place them in the bottom of large punch bowl or glass pitcher.
  2. Sprinkle the powdered sugar over them.
  3. Add the lemon balm leaves to the berries.
  4. Pour wine over the berry mixture, cover, and cool in the fridge.
  5. Garnish with a sprig of lemon balm
Lemon Balm happily growing

Lemon Balm happily growing

Lemon Balm Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh lemon balm leaves loosely packed

Directions:

  1. Stir together all 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Remove from heat, and let stand 30 minutes.
  3. Pour liquid through a wire-mesh strainer into an airtight container, removing lemon balm leaves.
  4. Cover and chill 4 hours.

Syrup may be stored in refrigerator up to 1 month or kept frozen for up to one year.

Fancy Fruit Cup

This one is so simple I hate to even call it a recipe.  Cut up your favorite fruit into equal size pieces.  Add chopped lemon balm and drizzle with honey.

Dried Lavender Bunches

About the simplest thing you can do to preserve your lavender is to cut it, tie it in bunches then hang it to dry.

Bunched lavender tied tightly with string.

Bunched lavender tied tightly with string.

Be sure the bunches aren’t too thick or they might rot in the middle.  Tie the string very tight or use a rubber band as it will shrink as it dries and all the stems will fall out.

Once you have your cut and tied lavender hang it upside down in a dark place with good air circulation to dry; I tie a string between the rafters in our basement for this purpose.

Drying lavender in the basement.

Drying lavender in the basement.

Once the lavender is dried put it in a basket, cover it with a cloth to keep dust off and store in a dark place.

I toss these dried bunches into gift boxes and baskets to fill empty spaces and bring the smells of summer days.

 

Lavender Wands

Lavender

Lavender

I love lavender!  I use it in cooking, sachets and many other ways.  The flowers on my bushes are just beginning to bud out now; over the coming weeks I will share some of my favorite ways to use this versatile herb.

Here is how to make lavender wands.  These make great gifts and can be hung in closets to scent clothes and perhaps repel a few moths.

First gather a bunch of lavender with long stems and tie the bunch together right below the flowers.

Bunched lavender

Bunched lavender

Bend the long ends over the flowers to cover them and make a little cage for them.

Almost done!

Almost done!

Now tie the ends with ribbon and trim any loose ends.

Ready to hang in a closet or place in a drawer.

Ready to hang in a closet or place in a drawer.

For more of a wand shape cut the stems longer.

Et voila!

Longer stems

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhubarb Crisp

The rhubarb is exploding out of the ground – it’s time to make a crisp!  There are many ways to eat this tangy plant but my favorite way is in a crunchy, nutty, sweet and sour dessert.

Fresh rhubarb

Fresh rhubarb

Ingredients:

  • Fresh rhubarb stems
  • 1/4 cup tapioca or flour for thickening the juices
  • 2 cups sugar
  • One cup flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • One cup nuts
Cut rhubarb with tapioca and sugar sprinkled.

Cut rhubarb with tapioca and sugar sprinkled.

Here’s how to make this tasty dish:

  • Harvest rhubarb stems by pulling them firmly up and out of the base of the plant.  Trim the leaves and the ends off so you are left with the ruby stems.
  • Wash off the garden dust and cut into pieces about 1/2 inch wide.
  • Put the cut pieces into a baking dish, set the oven to 375 degrees
  • Sprinkle the tapioca or the flour and depending on the amount of rhubarb and the degree of your sweet tooth, one cup sugar over the cut rhubarb

Streusel topping

  • Mix the melted butter, oats, remaining sugar, nut and flour together so it is a crumbly mixture.
  • Sprinkle this over the cut rhubarb
  • Dust with cinnamon
Making the streusel.

Making the streusel.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the dish is bubbling, the top is brown and the rhubarb is soft.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Let cool a bit then serve as is or with ice cream or milk.

 

Elder Flower Syrup

Sambucus Cerulea or Blue Elderberry

Sambucus Cerulea or Blue Elderberry

Elderberries are in bloom now in the lower elevations of Puget Sound.  The Blue or the Black Elderberry is the one to use instead of the Red Elderberry.

Freshly picked Elder Flowers

Freshly picked Elder Flowers

These fragrant white to pink flowers can be gathered, steeped, then the liquid sugared to make a delicious syrup.  If you have the patience to wait, the dark blue berries can be gathered in the late summer to make into a dye, syrup or wine.

Here is a recipe for making a quart of syrup:

Ingredients:

  • 30 elderflower heads
  • 1 quart water
  • 4 cups  sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons or limes
  • zest of 2 lemons or limes
  • 2 tablespoons citric acid
  1. Zest the lemons or limes and put in a large bowl, then the citric acid and lemon or lime juice.
  2. Remove the flowers from the stalk and add to the bowl
Flowers, citric acid, zest and lime juice

Flowers, citric acid, zest and lime juice

  1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve.
  2. Pour the syrup into the bowl and stir to combine.
Flowers, acids and sugar syrup

Flowers, acids and sugar syrup

  1. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it sit for 2-4 days.
  2. Strain the mixture through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean jar. Store in the fridge for up to six weeks.
Here is what it looks like after steeping for a couple of days.

Here is what it looks like after steeping for a couple of days.

Here is the strained syrup.

Here is the strained syrup.

This syrup has a very delicate flavor and scent.  It tastes good mixed with seltzer water or even better with some champagne or vodka.

A tiny Elder Flower

A tiny Elder Flower