Elderberry Tonic and Fire Cider

The hubby and I recently attended a class on Herbal Medicine for the Cold and Flu Season at our local Community Center.  The class was given by Kim, who is a Master Gardener and has studied herbal medicines including teas, tinctures, infusions and decoctions. It is so true that the “old ways” are sometimes best and many people can avoid costly visits to their doctor if they were to try some of these “recipes”.

I recently have been reading Jean Auel’s series of books “Clan of the Cave Bear” and have been fascinated by the descriptions of the plants and herbs used by the ancient people  depicted in these books.  I have always known that most of our modern day medicines have been derived from plants, including aspirin, digitalis and morphine.  But, being a novice at herbalism, I have no real clue which plants to use for what, why and how!  That’s why this class was so interesting, knowing that we can grow many of our own medicines in our own backyard!

Roots and Rhizomes used as medicine

Roots and rhizomes used in healthful tonics and tinctures that can be grown in your own backyard – USDA zone permitting. I can grow these in my zone as long as I protect the ginger and tumeric rhizomes from freezing.

During the class we were introduced to Elderberry syrup, which is an antiviral/antimicrobial and therefore is good for immunity, colds and cough.  It keeps well in the refrigerator for several months.  Kim uses dried elderberry, elderberry flowers, cinnamon, ginger and honey to make the syrup.  She passed around samples of the syrup, and it actually tastes very good!  We also got to take home a cute little bottle of the syrup, which is now waiting in my fridge for that first sniffle!  When we went back to our future homestead after the class, Ray spied this little plant with blue/black berries.  Is it a baby elderberry bush? Right on our own property?

Baby elderberry bush

Does anyone know if this is a baby elderberry bush?

Next we got to taste her Fire Cider, which is a decongesting tonic, supports immunity and aids digestion.  This recipe starts with apple cider vinegar (with the mother), adding horseradish, garlic, onion, ginger, tumeric, rosemary and cayenne, all deconcocting in a quart mason jar in a dark cupboard for four weeks.  The infused vinegar is then strained.  You can add a touch of honey to taste, then store the Fire Cider in a dark jar or bottle on the shelf.  Let me tell you, when she passed around the sample to taste, I can certainly see how this would be a decongestant!  Hoo-wee!  But, add a little bit of olive oil, and this would certainly make a wonderful salad dressing with a bit of a kick! After the class I went home and googled for this decongesting tonic and found that there are quite a few variations of this tonic.  Some include this and others include that, but this is the recipe that was given to me at the class:Fire Cider Tonic

The two hour class also covered herbal teas, and she gave us a recipe (and another sample to take home) of Lemon Mint tea sweetened with Stevia.  This tea is heavenly, hot or cold!  It included lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemongrass, peppermint and stevia.  The pitcher containing the sample of this tea went around the classroom several times (it was that good) and I think we drained it! :D

The last section of the class covered bath salts.  Bath salts not only smell good (aromatherapy is a very strong component of natural health remedies), but also warm the body.  Kim suggested that you soak in the tub of hot water infused with her recipe for bath salts and fresh ginger for 20-30 minutes.  Once you dry yourself off, wrap up in a warm robe or blanket for another 30 minutes.  She explained that the salts along with the ginger and hot water will bring greater circulation to the skin, giving a warmth that will probably make you sweat, which is good for the body.  Her recipe included fresh slices of ginger, along with the epsom salts that have been infused with eucalyptus oil, thyme oil, tea tree oil, and lemon oil.  The sample she gave each of us smelled out of this world heavenly!

Elderberry tonic and Fire Cider

Our three samples from class:   On the left is the heavenly Bath Salts, in the middle is the Elderberry Tonic and on the right is Lemon Mint Herbal Tea.

I know it sounds strange, but I am almost looking forward to that first sign of a cold!  I will take a hot bath with the bath salts, then afterward, while snuggled in a nice warm blanket, sip some hot, freshly brewed Lemon Mint tea!  Later, I will have a nice kale salad dressed with Fire Cider and olive oil!

Here is a picture of my Fire Cider just after I made it.  In about four weeks, I’ll let you know how it tastes! You can see the orange shreds of the tumeric and the green is the rosemary.

Fire Cider Tonic

Thanks for the class, Kim – I am looking forward to the next one!

PS:   Is the plant in the picture above an elderberry?  Leave a comment if you have an opinion, or even if you don’t! :D

 

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Trees and Plants in Pots

One of the advantages of living in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California is our balmy Mediterranean-like weather.  We can grow just about anything.  Seriously!

Just about every kind of nut or fruit tree, vegetable and herb does well here in the valley.  Especially citrus.  We have a huge naval orange tree that supplies us with hundreds of pounds of oranges every year.  In fact, one of our favorite desserts in the winter is an orange with half a bar of dark chocolate…  one bite of this, one bite of that :D

In preparation for moving up to our future homestead in the mountains where citrus trees don’t survive unless they are kept above freezing temperatures, we decided to get some dwarf citrus and plant them in large pots so that they can be moved around.  They will stay inside a pit greenhouse (sometimes called walipini) during the winter and can be brought to the front porch of our soon to be built house during the spring, summer and autumn.

Container Grown Meyer Lemons

These lemons are sizing up nicely. They should be good and juicy by November or December

I bought the lemon tree first, when I saw it on sale at our local nursery, because I loved the Meyer lemon tree that my mother has.  The Meyer lemon comes from China and is a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin orange, which makes it just a bit sweeter.  It is delicious when used in lemon bars or lemon iced tea, but is out of this world when squeezed on fresh grilled salmon.  In researching the Meyer Lemon, I found that the dwarf variety does quite nicely in containers, as long as they are given an occasional boost of a good citrus fertilizer.

Growing Citrus Trees in Pots

The mandarin tree has about 19 walnut sized mandarins on it right now, and another dozen or so pea sized ones!

Soon after, my oldest son bought a Tango Mandarin for my grand children. The kids were going through boxes of those “cuties” that are sold at the grocery store, so my son thought it would be a good idea to get their own tree. These little citrus fruits are the kind that peel very easily and have little to no seeds – perfect for small hands and mouths.  When I saw the cute little tree he had, I decided to get one for myself.  This variety of mandarin can be a bit more pricey than a regular mandarin or tangerine, because the tree was developed to have sterile flowers which don’t cross-pollinate, preventing the seeds from forming. We bought two large cement pots, one for the lemon tree and the other for the mandarin, at a Mexican pottery store in Escalon called Lopez Imports, and they were quite reasonably priced!  Both citrus trees have done well in those pots.  In fact, the mandarin just finished blooming again (second bloom of the year), and now has little pea sized fruits on it as well as the walnut sized ones from the first bloom in the spring!

Tango Mandarin in a Pot

The tree is three years old now and is producing very well. It stands about 6 feet tall. We will be pruning the tallest branches after harvest, to keep the tree a reasonable size.

The mandarins will be ripe sometime in January, although the mature fruit can be left on the tree for several months, harvesting as desired.  However, it is important to harvest all of the mandarins before the first bloom in spring opens, or the next year’s harvest will be reduced.

Next is the ginger.  I planted a piece of ginger root two months ago when I had a small piece left after making some Ginger Ale.  If you have never made your own Ginger Ale before, click HERE for directions. It’s really fun and really good!

Growing ginger in a container

The ginger has been growing slowly yet steadily and now has it’s fifth shoot starting up.

It took about two weeks, but sure enough, a small sprig came up out of the ground.  I think I probably planted it too deep, but here we are about two months later and another sprig (the fifth) is just now coming up out of the ground!  The leaves got a bit burned a few weeks ago when we had an intense heat  and wind spell, but overall I think the plant looks pretty happy. It’s nice being able to have a plant on the patio, because ginger doesn’t like direct sunlight, and prefers moist, not wet soil.

Tomatoes grown in Containers

Here is my beautiful, lush volunteer heirloom tomato. Nice plant – but where are the tomatoes?

Here is my tomato plant.  I couldn’t plant a garden this year because our real estate agent said nice lawns sell houses. We are selling our valley house so we can start building our mountain homestead. :D  So, I decided to put a couple of our volunteer tomatoes (from last year’s crop) into a large pot on our patio.

Well, here it is.

Do you see any tomatoes?  Neither do I.  Harrumph!

I don’t want to blame the tomato, however.  I think I am going to blame myself.  You see, the plant is always thirsty!  I used to think it was because the unglazed terracotta pot was letting the soil evaporate too easily.  Nope.  I figured out that it’s because there isn’t anything holding in the water – as in mulch!  If I am not able to water the tomato every single day, the poor thing withers, and it’s been withered down a lot lately.  I am going to try layering some paper on top of the soil and see if that will make a difference.  Better late than never!

Growing Pomegranate in a Pot

One of our two pomegranate trees.

We also have a couple of pomegranate trees in pots.  These are trees I got at a clearance sale because I couldn’t pass them up.  Unfortunately, the variety of pomegranate was not marked on the pots, but since the variety Wonderful is the most popular here in California, I am going to assume that is what they are.  They had several blooms this year but didn’t produce any fruit, so hopefully we will get one or two next year.  We are planning to get several more pomegranate trees that we will plant along the road frontage of our future mountain homestead, but these two make a great start in that direction. If you would like to know which variety of pomegranate my husband and I have decided to plant (along with the two Wonderful variety we already have), and how we made our decision, you can go HERE.  Hopefully we will be able to get them into the ground this next spring, but we have some clearing to do before that will happen.

Almond trees grown from seed

These are three of the volunteer almond trees we saved before we tore out our vegetable garden and rolled out lawn in it’s place.

Finally, I have three volunteer almond trees.  They all look fine – one is really tall, one is quite short and the other is the middle child.  Looking at the pots they are in, the growth rate of each tree really makes no rhyme or reason – the tallest tree being in the smallest pot!  Nonetheless, they are all surviving just fine.  They are babies of the almond tree we have in our backyard, that produces some of the most juicy, sweet almonds you will ever eat.  Hopefully these babies will produce almonds just as good – in about five years!

Here is where I need some advice

The dilemma:  I know the almond trees and pomegranate trees will be fine up on our mountain homestead, but what to do with the Meyer Lemon, the Tango Tangerine and the Ginger?  We will be living in our trailer while we build our home, and as anyone who has ever been in a travel trailer knows, there just isn’t any extra space.  None.  So, where do we put our three tropical weather loving potted plants?  We do have a small 5′ x 6′ plastic greenhouse.  I think I will put the two trees inside the greenhouse in the middle of our fruit orchard, so they will be able to get sunlight during the day.

But what happens when it freezes?

I did see one method to keep an unheated greenhouse reasonably warm.  It involves horse manure.  You see, apparently horse manure gets really hot and stays hot for a couple of weeks as it decomposes.  From what I have read, a nice sized pile of horse manure, insulated by some grass or straw, inside a box, will keep a small greenhouse frost free for two weeks.  Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad, but will it make the lemons and mandarins smell or taste a little… well… poopy?

Another method I read about was using water as an insulator.  Apparently you would line the north and east sides (at least) with jugs of water (milk jugs work), two or three rows high with boards between stabilizing them so they don’t tumble over.  The milk jugs absorb the warmth from the sun during the day and then radiate the warmth back into the greenhouse during the night.  That method sounds like it is do-able also.  But what happens when you have a few days in a row without any sunlight?

I suppose if the temperature drops below 28 degrees, which is the lowest temperature most citrus can tolerate, we could always put our little propane heater in the greenhouse – on the lowest setting of course.  But again, do we need to worry about fumes hurting the trees or even the fruit?

What do you think?  We only need a temporary solution because we plan to start building the pit greenhouse next year – hopefully before the next winter settles in.

Any suggestions?

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Chinese Plum Sauce

Canning Chinese Plum Sauce

The last of our Santa Rosa plums. It was a very good year!

Our Santa Rosa Plum tree outdid itself this year.  I have canned a batch of crockpot plum butter and we have 12 quarts of organic plum juice all put up and ready for the winter.  I love plum cobblers and we have had quite a few, but geeze louise, I shouldn’t be eating them every night!  I could, but I shouldn’t. :D

So, I searched my canning books and right there, in my handy dandy Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, was a recipe for Chinese Plum Sauce! Perfect. This is the stuff that you slather on a pork loin or ribs, and it makes that sweet, tangy, sticky crust.  MMmmm…

Then, I found a couple more recipes, almost the same, just tweaked a bit.  So, I decided to follow several recipes (the main ingredients were all the same) but tweak the spices just a bit to suit my taste.

Dearest Hubby went out and picked the last of the plums off the tree for me.

Thank God.

No really… I did thank God that the plums are finally done! This recipe takes 10 cups of pitted plums, so it was a winner when it came to using up a lot of them.

Bottling Chinese Plum Sauce

A little over 8 cups of finely chopped (in the food processor) Santa Rosa plums.

Of course, the first thing to do is wash the plums.  The recipe calls for ten cups of finely chopped pitted plums.  I ran mine through the food processor – after pitting of course!  It’s just faster this way and you don’t lose any of the juice that you might lose if you were to manually chop them up on a cutting board. Although I had much more than the ten cups of plums needed to start with, these were the last of the year and so several of them had worms inside or bird peckings, so I tossed those.  I ended up with just a little over nine cups, about 2/3 of a cup less than the recipe called for, but I went ahead with the sauce anyway!  Usually it isn’t good to change a tried and true and safe canning recipe, but I knew that with the amount of acid (1 cup of vinegar) that was added to the plums, the sauce would be more than safe.

Jarring Plum Sauce

First, all of the ingredients for the sauce, except the plums, were brought to a boil on the stove. This had a very, spicy, pungent, vinegar smell.

All of the ingredients were added to a large pot, brought to a boil, and then the plums were tossed in.  This was all allowed to boil for about 2 hours – until it was thick and syrupy.  The smell was amazing!  It was sweet and sour at the same time, but had just a little hint of a spicy, peppery scent also. While boiling down, the peppers and onions seemed to just melt into the sauce, so it became very smooth and appetizing looking. You can see in the picture below how it sticks to the side of the pot.  Well – fair warning – it sticks to the bottom of the pan, also!  For the first hour or so, stirring every 10 minutes seemed to be just fine.  But after a while, when the sauce is reducing and getting thick, you need to stir more often.  During the last 15 minutes or so, I actually stood over the pot and kept the sauce moving.  Constantly.

It was worth it.

Canning Plum Sauce

After about two hours, the sauce was thick and syrupy, and the smell was mouth-watering!

The recipe said it would make four pint jars, but I opted to use half-pint jars instead, so I ended up with eight half-pint jars.  I chose the smaller size because it seemed a bit more realistic in terms of using sauce. Especially since it’s just me and my hubby now.  The sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or so, as long as you don’t contaminate it by dipping your  basting brush back into the jar after you have based the raw pork.  So, but by using the smaller jars I figured there would be less chance of waste.

When it comes to canning the sauce, although there are onions, garlic and peppers in the recipe, there is also a good amount of vinegar (1 cup), so this recipe is fine for the waterbath canner.  Even though I used smaller jars, I went ahead and left them in the waterbath canner for the full 20 minutes, as I figured it couldn’t hurt (it’s a sauce, no worries about it becoming mushy) and I would rather be more safe than sorry.

How to bottle Chinese Plum Sauce

This recipe made eight half-pints of delicious sauce .

As usual, I couldn’t wait to try some!  We had a pork loin roast just hanging out in the freezer, minding it’s own business – so the next morning I put it in the refrigerator in a bowl swimming in a jar of the plum sauce.  As the pork loin thawed, it was marinated with the plum sauce!  That evening, I grilled the pork loin “low and slow”, adding more sauce every time the loin was turned.  After almost an hour, this is what I ended up with:

Jarring Chinese Plum Sauce

Pork Loin Roast Grilled with Chinese Plum Sauce

It is so good!  The sauce coated the juicy pork loin with a sticky, carmelized sugar glaze that was out of this world good!  This recipe is a keeper!

EDITOR”S NOTE:  Where it says you need 10 cups of finely chopped, pitted prunes – it should say pitted plums!  

Chinese Plum Sauce

Maybe next year I should make two batches of this wonderful sauce!

Now I wish I had more plums! :D

 

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Rendering Tallow

A few weeks ago I bought about 15 pounds of untrimmed tri-tip roasts.  My plan was to trim the fat off the meat and make Beef In Red Wine Sauce – which was fantastic! Now, what to do with all the fat trimmings?  Render it down into tallow!  I used to do this years ago, when I was learning a few homesteading skills.  My purpose for rendering the tallow at that time was to use it in deep fat frying. Unfortunately, that’s when we started hearing more and more about how bad it was to fry food in animal fats, so I stopped doing it. What a shame. Of course, the trend is sliding the other way, and now it apparently isn’t so bad after all! :) However, I hear that tallow also makes a wonderful soap, and since I have always wanted to learn how to make soap from scratch, my first step into soap making will be to render a nice batch of tallow!

Here we go!

How to render tallowI started out with a big bowl of fat that I had kept cold in the refrigerator, which makes it easier to work with. The first step is to cut most of the meat off the fat.  You don’t have to get every single piece, but I understand that too much meat left on the fat will give your tallow just a tad bit of an odor. If you are cooking with your tallow, this isn’t such a big deal, but since I want to make soap from this tallow, it was essential that I get most of the meat off.  Of course, I guess if I wanted meat scented soap…

Don’t laugh!  I hear bacon scented anything is the rage now! ;)

Once the fat is clean of the last bits of meat,How to render tallow to make soap you can either cut it up with a knife into small chunks, or use your food processor to get smaller chunks, or do as I did and grind the fat in a meat grinder.  For me, this was the easiest and quickest way.  Whichever method you choose to get small pieces of fat – keep your fat cold or even frozen!  If the fat gets warm, it is really hard to work with, as I’m sure you can imagine. Besides, the smaller your pieces of fat are, the faster it is rendered, which means the less energy you will use to render it!

 

As you can see, I started with 3 pounds, 5-3/4 ounces of ground beef fat.tallow for soap making Warning:  rendering tallow or lard can be a stinky enterprise!  If you want a sweet smelling house, render outside! :)  I love canning and cooking outside, so rendering the fat outside is fun for me anyway. How to render tallowPlace the pot over medium low heat – not too hot, but warm enough to melt the fat.  You also don’t want it bubbling so rapidly that it will make a terrible mess.  Trust me.  Keep it down to a happy simmer.  Once you start to see some fat separating, give it a good stir, then stir it about every 5 minutes or so. How to render beef fat The whole process takes about 30-40 minutes, depending on how big (or small) your fat pieces were to begin with and how much fat you are rendering.  What you want to see is that the pieces in the pot are starting to look crispy when you lift them out with a spoon, and the fat in the pot is an amber color. Pull the pan off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes while you prepare your jars.  I like to wash my jars out, fill them with water and pop them in the microwave for a few minutes.  I then take out the very hot jars (careful), pour out the boiling hot water and dry them quickly.  Not only does this sterilize the jars, but now I have hot jars to pour a hot liquid into!  Never pour a hot liquid into a cold jar or, worse, cold liquid into a hot jar!How to get pure beef fat Next, just pour the melted fat through a strainer into your jar or bowl.  Be very careful while doing this, because we are talking about molten lava  very hot melted fat at this point!how to render beef fat  Not a time to have kids and dogs running through the kitchen!  You can see that I got almost exactly one quart (four cups) of beef tallow.  Since I am going to use this tallow in soapmaking, I wanted to get out as many impurities as I could.  When you look at the bottom of your bowl or jar, you may see a thin layer of “sludge” at the bottom.  Since I didn’t want any sludge impurities in my soap, I poured about a cup of hot water into the hot fat, stirred it a bit, then let it set.  Since fat floats, and the impurities fall to the bottom due to gravity, once the fat solidifies all you have to do is lift it off the water and pour the water and impurities down the drain.  rendering beef fatWipe off the bottom of the now creamy white solidified pure tallow with a paper towel to get the water off, pop into a freezer bag, and throw it into your freezer.

Done! Getting pure beef tallow from fat

Perfect for soapmaking!

Now I need to find a good recipe to make soap.  Hmmm…. I’m thinking one with goat’s milk and/or olive oil would be fun to start with!  Do you have any good, easy (remember, I’m a first timer) soapmaking recipes you think I should start with?

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