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finding beverages in your garden
Are you ready to take your garden to an amazing level of productivity? Ready to use more of what you grow and fill your larder with joy? Ready to taste fruits and vegetables, herbs and flowers as you never have before? Ready for something new, something unusual in the kitchen?
Then come along and join us as we explore a world of homegrown beverages that's waiting just outside your door, a world of delicious, nutritious drinks to enjoy fresh or to put up by canning or fermenting or freezing so you can savor them all year long.
We'll show you how to capture your garden's bounty at its peak and eliminate the waste that sometimes accompanies extra-big crops. We'll give you tips on planning and planting your garden with drinkable crops, everything from wildflowers to watermelons, and carrots to crab apples. And we'll help you extend the harvest season no matter where you live.
As with any other cookbook, this volume is a starting point for your own experimentation. There's no limit to what you can do with beverages.
the joys of juice (and other drinks)
Imagine starting your day with a breakfast that includes a serving of jewel-colored berry juice. For lunch or an afternoon snack, add a dose of good health with a glass of spiced apple cider. Cocktail hour might feature a Bloody Mary (or nonalcoholic Virgin Mary) made with vegetables from the backyard, or a homemade rice wine flavored with fresh organic citrus. Serve rich honey-toned mead or well-aged grape wine with dinner, then settle in for the evening with a cup of herbal tea.
You can "grow" all these drinks and many more, plus intriguing flavored syrups to add to other beverages. Most can come from a single garden, once you learn to spot the beverage potential of familiar plants and understand how even a few new plant selections will greatly expand your beverage choices.
Don't worry, though. You don't need a big yard with lots of fruit trees, row upon row of berry bushes or grape vines, dozens of tomato plants, and other summer vegetables. And we know that not everyone has access to endless herbs, rose bushes galore, and unusual specimens like prickly pear cactus and lemons.
Even we don't have all those goodies in our gardens, although we do grow enough of them to have tasted and experimented with them while creating the recipes in this book. Like so many others who love to cook and eat fresh food, we supplement our homegrown produce with bulk quantities from local farmers' markets. And like gardeners everywhere, we have gardening friends who like to share their best, most prolific crops while these foods are at the peak of ripeness.
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares and pick-your-own farms can also round out the supply side. It's perfectly all right to stock up on picked-this-morning ingredients to use in crafting your own close-to-homegrown beverages. The freshness factor is nearly the same, and so are the flavor and nutrition.
If your growing conditions are not ideal, you can make the best of what you do have. Maybe you can grow a few potted plants; fresh basil and Meyer lemons are well suited for syrups or wine. If you have a small yard with one or two old-yet-productive fruit trees and not much else, that's fine, too. It may well happen that your limited selection of plants will make terrific beverages; plum wine and pear cider are just two examples that might fit the bill. Perhaps your yard is wooded and damp; if so, it's perfect for growing wildflowers, such as nettles and bee balm, that make flavorful and beneficial teas.
where's the juice?
No matter what's already growing in your garden, this book suggests ways to use as much as you can pick, pluck, snip, or dig. You'll notice that we talk a lot about actual cooking, not just about dropping ingredients in a blender and flipping the switch (although there are a few recipes like that) and not just about plopping fruits or herbs into alcohol to create instant bar drinks (although there is one recipe like that). We talk about processing fruits, vegetables, herbs, wildflowers, and even tree sap in different ways and then using these products for further processing and long-term storage. This book describes several methods in detail.
Extraction is a way to harvest the liquid that is bound up in fresh fruits such as peaches, pears, apples, and grapes, and in more unusual fare like prickly pear cactus fruits and service-berries. Separating the juice from fibrous solids is the necessary first step for making shelf-stable nonalcoholic beverages and syrups as well as wine, mead, and hard cider.
We recommend two main methods, according to the quantity of fruit you have and the equipment on hand: (1) heat extraction by cooking whole or chopped fruit in filtered water, then straining it, and (2) cold-processing by pressing chunks of fruit in a screw-driven press.
Some of our recipes call for two methods to eliminate waste in fruit processing. For instance, after you've finished pressing grapes, pears, or apples in a heavy-duty fruit press to make cider, you can make lighter juices by boiling the leftover pulp and straining that juice.
Cooking down liquids on the stovetop is an easy way to turn homemade juices into scrumptious syrups that can be used for anything from topping pancakes to flavoring cocktails. We have created unusual but tasty combinations of fruits, herbs, and spices that will tickle your taste buds while using some of the bits and pieces from the garden that you may not have used before. Watermelon syrup, anyone?
Winemaking and other fermentation methods can work magic with fruit, of course, but also with vegetables, herbs, and even flowers. Practically everyone has heard of dandelion wine, but you can make wine from potatoes or parsley, too. We provide easy recipes that will let you try stretching the yield of almost anything from the garden. In addition to wine, we've included recipes for mead (much like wine, but made with honey instead of sugar), hard ciders from various fruits, and an Italian-style lemon liqueur.
Fermentation follows a few basic principles and is just as easy as making bread; equipment needn't be complicated or expensive, and the fermentation requires almost no added energy and few extra ingredients. These methods take time more than effort, and can give a long-term focus to your future garden endeavors.
Canning fresh fruits and vegetables is like capturing summer in a jar. After a long growing season, it's gratifying in so many ways to stock the pantry with jars of brightly colored, delicious food and drink. This method is safe, easy, and economical, although it can be hot work.
Canning (i.e., vacuum-sealing food or beverages in tempered glass jars) lets you save lots and lots of your harvest for a year or more, and there's no chance that a power failure will ruin your hard work, as can happen with freezing. A few generations ago cooks commonly included canning in their kitchen repertoire, but the practice waned with the advent of refrigeration and the spread of grocery stores. We love how canning is making a comeback, and we'll provide lots of information about doing it yourself.
Plant material can be dried quickly with an electric or, in arid and sunny climates, a solar, dehydrator. Herbs, flowers, and black and green teas all lend themselves to dehydrating, since the results retain their flavor and store well. By drying some of your garden harvest at the peak of freshness, often in spring, you can preserve it immediately for use a year or more later.
In this book you'll find many recipes for wines, meads, and teas that call for herbs. Dehydration can be a convenient way to stretch the seasons. Dry the herbs now and make the wine later, when some of the other ingredients are ripe.
Freezing is a quick, easy way to preserve beverages, and it works especially well for small batches. Sometimes it is the best method to use as an intermediate step: freeze some juice or even the unprocessed fruit, and then thaw it later to make further recipes. Berries, for instance, come ripe in small batches. You can freeze enough berries over a few weeks to eventually make juice, mead, or syrup.
you have the skills
If you can do a little bit of weeding in the garden every day that weather permits, and if you can take a pair of kitchen scissors and a harvest basket along, you already have the skills to produce homegrown beverages. It's that easy!
If you can boil water and turn on a dishwasher, and if you can set a timer and use measuring cups, you already have the skills to produce homegrown beverages. It's that easy!
Throw in the willingness to dedicate time to processing crops as they reach optimum conditions, and you're almost there. One key to making the kind of homegrown beverages that win state fair ribbons and cost just pennies per serving is follow-through: when grapes or berries are ripe, they are ripe for only a short time, so pick and process them without delay. We'll talk a little bit about garden management shortly, but first let's turn to the kitchen side of the equation.
If you have never canned anything or never made wine, you're definitely not alone. We've outlined the steps as plainly as we can and have been as accurate as possible about total processing time. A number of our recipes call for liquids to stand overnight for best results; knowing that will help your planning and reduce stress. In other words, the cooking itself may not take long, but preparation and waiting can add to the overall time considerably. It's nice to know just how many hours to block out of your busy week.
You may be wondering what kind of kitchen layout you need. We know cooks who have designed large kitchens especially for their canning and brewing activities, with double sinks, double dishwashers, extra-big ranges, and miles of shelving. We also know accomplished cooks and winemakers with tiny kitchens, no dishwasher, a midsize stove, and only an undercounter fridge with a freezer the size of an egg carton. Some cooks in hot regions rig up seasonal open-air kitchens to help beat the heat; these often rudimentary kitchens can be highly functional. All the recipes in this book can work in any size kitchen as long as you organize countertop space efficiently and keep washing and putting away utensils as you work.
What matters most in making and preserving beverages at home is sanitation: clean surfaces and tools and vessels, plus carefully washed fruit and vegetables. Juice extraction, canning, and fermentation really are easy, but your safety and drinking pleasure depend on encouraging the good kind of chemical reactions and discouraging the bad. Be prepared to use a lot of scalding hot water as you try the recipes in this book. It's a must, so take precautions with appropriate clothing and safety equipment to avoid burns.
your garden's already perfect
Your garden is perfect because it is full of potential, the potential for growth and change. It might not seem perfect today, but tomorrow all you have to do is make one improvement, take one little step toward more beverage production. And the next day, one more step. It could be deadheading herbs so they grow thicker, or pruning suckers from around fruit trees so the yield improves, or pulling up spent vegetable plants for the compost pile. It could be mulching tomatoes or planting fennel seeds in peat pots for transplant later in the season.
The point is not to feel overwhelmed. The reality of creating and putting up beverages is that if you try to do it all at once, making every recipe you possibly can, using every bit of homegrown and other locally grown produce available, it will overwhelm you.
Your garden may even include a stretch of otherwise abandoned roadside or an untended lot that holds some culinary treasure within its gritty, weedy, trash-bedecked swale. In the search for free edible produce, we always keep an eye on that unexpected treasure of a specimen until it is ripe and ready to pick. This occasional hunter-gatherer approach has served us well with such useful crops as pear, quince, apple and crab apple, mint, prickly pear, serviceberry, and blackberry, to name just a few. These plants may grow wild in your area, or you may have neighbors with an abundance to share.
make it work for you
As you begin to nurture a homegrown beverage garden and make wonderful drinks from the harvest, you may find, as we have, that it's so much fun, so interesting and rewarding, that you want to expand your efforts. Start by evaluating your available space in terms of production value, that is, how many quarts of fruit juice or vegetable juice, how many bottles of wine or mead, how many gallons of cider or pints of syrup each square foot might yield at maturity and in the best growing conditions.
Two ways to help make choices in plant selection and placement are to consider the scale of the operations you envision and to estimate the time required to maintain a garden of that size, harvest the crops, and process everything. For planning the scale, chapter 2 gives more detail about the plants that go into making beverages and their most favorable growing conditions, but the following are the general categories:
Herbs. Snip and use within just a few minutes of planting (if you buy them already grown in pots) or a few weeks (if you buy seeds or seedlings). Depending on the herb, you can count on months or years of steady production.
Vegetables. Yields can begin in just a few months and, depending on the plant, continue for weeks on end through the growing cycle, whether spring, summer, or fall. Some exceptional specimens, including many greens, can grow and produce much of the year.
Fruiting vines and berry bushes. Depending on the size, number of plants, and age, berries can provide a great yield, with lots of flavor. Yield increases as the plants age; it may be three years or so before full production is available.
Orchard fruits. Here's the potential for big yields and volume production, but with the possibility, too, of waiting five years or more before that happens.
Trees and shrubs. Investments in the future, trees and shrubs can help anchor a productive garden. Handsome trees like maple and birch yield sap that can be processed into delicious beverages, and indeed we include a recipe for birch sap wine (using, it's true, a jar of store-bought "birch water"). Currant, gooseberry, serviceberry, blackberry, huckleberry, even blueberry bushes have landscape value, as do some dwarf citrus.
If you are just starting out with gardening and food production, you will have to gain experience in growing plants of all kinds. If you have been gardening for years, you may be eager to grow new varieties of old favorites or add a new category. Whatever your choices, remember that nurturing, harvesting, and processing fresh garden ingredients can go on practically throughout the year, no matter where you live. Different fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs start producing at different rates, so it may take several years to fully develop a beverage garden and reap a satisfactory harvest of mature ingredients.
Finally, scale refers not just to the size of your garden but also to your work space and, at least as important, your storage space. You'll need room for all those big bowls, for various tools, for canning jars and wine bottles, for a fruit press or an immersion blender, for dehydrating equipment, and for frozen beverages.
growing a beverage garden
We'd like to introduce you to the plants we used to create the recipes in this book, and to list some of the strengths and drawbacks of each. You may already grow some of them or wish to add others that produce exceptionally well in your locale. Read through the recipes and imagine how the crops we mention might fit into your own beverage garden to make it both more productive and more beautiful.
Here's something important we have learned: The official hardiness zone of any plant matters far less than the microclimate where you plant it, and the zones can be stretched quite a bit. We believe that most of the plants we mention here can grow successfully in most of the United States and in some parts of Canada.
Your selection of homegrown beverages will certainly change over the course of several years, expanding ever outward as more and more plants come on line. You may be surprised to find you have to thin out the garden earlier than you thought possible, in order to free up space for the strongest performers and consign lesser specimens to the giveaway list, the plant exchange, or even the compost pile.
meet our favorite plants
Although we list our favorite plants here alphabetically within categories, read carefully: some of our strongest recommendations may surprise you.
Excerpted from "Drink the Harvest"
Copyright © 2014 Nan K. Chase and DeNeice C. Guest.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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