Thursday, September 07, 2017

Vive la Stinking Rose

Vive la Stinking Rose
Marci Tsohonis
from the Sept/Oct '16 issue of The Essential Herbal
Garlic (Allium sativum) has a long history of controversy. 
 You’ll find yourself in good company whether you love it or hate it.  It was shunned in proper medieval society, along with aromatic relatives, including chives, onions, leeks and shallots.  Other periods and cultures embraced it as both food and medicine, reaching back to the Egyptian Dynasties.  
I have been surprised to encounter a few holdouts in my own circle of acquaintances that still choose to buy garlic powdered, granulated or already peeled (possibly floating in a jar of inferior oil) from the grocery store.  Multitudes of online recipe or cooking apps, and fresh garlic at every farmer’s market today have probably narrowed that gap a bit.  Inquiry usually reveals that their Mom just used powdered garlic, or no garlic, or they didn’t know how much to use, or how to peel it, or they hoped to save time.   I hope to clarify some of those issues in this article.  
We plant over two hundred cloves of garlic every October.  I confess I am something of a foodie, and I never want to be without it.  It sounds like a lot, maybe more than you would want.  But when you consider that much garlic only makes about 24 braids, it puts it in perspective.  I use fresh garlic to enhance soups, stews, grains, vegetables, meats and some bread recipes in addition to making herbal remedies like Fire Cider and Garlic Honey for cold care. We gift garlic braids to friends and neighbors, and keep at least a dozen out of every harvest for ourselves for use in cooking and seed garlic. 
Fresh garlic adds an earthy complexity of flavor that truly has no substitute in good cooking. 
Powdered and granulated garlic are about 5x as strongly flavored as the fresh, but they are bitter by comparison, and the flavor is not at all the same as fresh garlic.  I stock them for use in an emergency.  In my opinion, their highest and best use in cooking is in Chex Party Mix.  Just sayin’.

Peeling garlic:
Some garlic peels easier than others, but most of it is easily removed once the garlic has cured.  There are two inexpensive, indispensible tools I have found that make peeling garlic quick and painless.      The green tube is an official garlic peeler that I wish I’d invented! 

 It sells for under $7 and is the best tool, ever.  You just place a clove in the tube and roll it a couple times on the counter, and the skin will pop off any garlic.  The blue rubber circle is actually a freebie, flat rubber jar opener that is placed on the lid of a jar to give you extra twist leverage.  I tried it on garlic one time when I couldn’t locate the green tube, and it was a great hack.   Try one or the other if peeling lots of cloves of garlic at once. 
Finding the seed cloves:
Are you considering planting some garlic this fall?  It is easy to find excellent garlic in areas with good garden or kitchen shops.  In Portland and Seattle, stores offer it in bins separated by variety, priced by the pound, with tongs and paper bags to place the cloves in for weighing.   Some farmer’s markets boast garlic vendors, too.   I always peel a clove if I’m buying local garlic, and bite it in half.  It should be pure creamy white, with no green spot in the center, and crisply hard and juicy.  If the garlic is still green, it was harvested too early.  Good vendors won’t mind if you check for that.   
The garlic in your local super-market, though fine for eating, may have been grown in another country.  It may not be suitable for your climate or growing zone, and your first garlic growing adventure could be disappointing.   Ask around, talk to local gardeners.  If you can’t find a local, knowledgeable supplier of garlic, you will find many online sources that offer organic, non-GMO seed garlic.  Seed catalogs are another source.  All will assist you to purchase quality garlic for your specific climate or growing zone.
Buy enough garlic so you can set-aside seed cloves for the next years crop from the current years harvest.   Most heads of garlic have 7-8 cloves in them.   Designate whole braids as seed garlic so you don’t forget to save some for seed!  We did that once.  
 My favorite garlic is the hard-necked, red-skinned Spanish Roja.  It has been wildly popular in the Pacific Northwest since it first showed up in Portland, OR around 1901, and has been on the increase, gardener to gardener, ever since.   It is not yet available in most grocery stores, even in Portland.  Roja is spicy, somewhat sweet and easier to peel than some varieties.   It grows well in the NW because of the long cool season and cooler nights.  It would probably grow poorly in the southern climates.  Climate definitely matters.  With just a little research you will find your own garlic superstar and live happily ever after.  

Soil Requirements:
If you are familiar with good gardening practices, you are likely aware that crop rotation is just about the most important organic method to reduce disease and pest issues and insure a healthy supply of nutrients.   In a small garden it can be tough to find enough room to plant in a different area of fresh soil every year.  Some people get around that issue by just making sure no specific plant is grown for more than one year in the same spot.  So, if you just have a small garden, take heart.  Do what you can, and your garlic will reward you.  It is very hardy.
The garlic in your local super-market, though fine for eating, may have been grown in another country.  It may not be suitable for your climate or growing zone, and your first garlic growing adventure could be disappointing.   Ask around, talk to local gardeners.  If you can’t find a local, knowledgeable supplier of garlic, you will find many online sources that offer organic, non-GMO seed garlic.  Seed catalogs are another source.  All will assist you to purchase quality garlic for your specific climate or growing zone.  
 Planting:  (mid-to-late October, in our area)
Break open the heads of garlic that you want to plant.  Plant each clove about 2 inches deep, in dry soil, with the skin still attached and the pointy side up. There is no need to soak them or peel them first, despite info to the contrary online.   Gently cover cloves with soil and tamp down the soil, but do not pack it down too hard.   Water thoroughly.  Now, let the cold winds blow and ignore it till spring!
In the spring, garlic is always the first green growing thing we see.  We get heavy snow in our area, but once the snow melts it is obvious that 3-inch tall, slimy, pale green garlic stems were growing underneath the blanket of snow.   If you discover that, do not worry about the garlic.  The garlic stems will be a healthy green color within a couple of weeks.
How to know your garlic is ready to harvest:
Hard necked garlic grows curly garlic Scapes, alerting you that it is almost time to harvest and giving you a flavor teaser. 
Scapes can be diced and used exactly like garlic in recipes.  Soft necked garlic varieties do not grow scapes.  A major clue that garlic is ready to harvest is when the lower leaves above ground are turning brown.  The surest way to know it is ready is to simply harvest a garlic plant, and cut open a clove.   Grasp firmly with your hand at the base of the plant, and kind of twist, jiggle and pull.  They usually break loose fairly easily.  Peel a clove and cut it in half.  If there is any green visible in the center of the clove, it is still “green”, and needs another week (or two) in the ground.
Braiding it:
The most beautiful garlic braids are made from soft-necked garlic varieties.   All garlic can be braided, and, I think, should be, even if they aren’t real pretty.  Braids of 10-12 heads of garlic will hang in a barn or basement nicely, allowing a slow, cool cure with good air circulation.  If you pre-soak just the stems of the garlic for an hour, right after pulling them out of the ground, (and braid them right away) it will make braiding them much more manageable.  So, split your harvest into segments spaced over a few days, based on what you can manage, time-wise.   We sometimes hose off our garlic heads because our climate is so dry we don’t have mold issues.  A safer, more universal method is to simply use a soft bristled toothbrush to brush off soil that clings to the garlic heads and whiskers.  Don’t trim off the garlic whiskers till it is cured.  

Start with a 3-strand braid, and add a 4th (French braid style), holding and adding two stems as if they were one, then another, until all heads have been added.  When you are done adding garlic heads, wrap/loop wire or twine over the skinny part of the braid, every inch, all the way to the tip with a light gauge reinforcing wire or twine.  Also wrap horizontally between each head, ascending.  If you are feeling particularly crafty, create a loop with the top, skinny part of the braid, and secure it at the back of the braid on the opposite side.  The arched part of the braid then becomes the hanging loop.  Your braid will stay pretty as it dries and will make a wonderful gift.  
We planted soft-necked Inchelium garlic last fall, in addition to Roja, as I wanted to be able to have a stunning garlic braid photo for this article.   Unfortunately, even soaking the Inchelium garlic stems didn’t soften them.  They were as stiff as tree trunks!  On the plus side, the Inchelium garlic is hot, spicy and tasty.  None of our braids look great this year, but they work.  There are many sites online that will take you through every detail of braiding garlic when you are ready to harvest next summer.
I want to share a couple tasty recipes you can use your fresh garlic in, so you’ll get hooked on growing it. 
Roasted garlic:  This will bring anyone to their knees, I promise.  Spread on warm French bread or add to meats, veggies, pizza or gravies.  The flavor is nutty goodness that is out of this world!
Cut a piece of heavy foil large enough to fold in half and line a small pan.  Preheat oven to 350/375 degrees.  Cut just the tips (1/4 inch) off the pointy end of a head of garlic.  Do not separate the cloves.  Place in the middle of the lower piece of foil.  Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the tops of the garlic heads.   Seal with foil ad place in the pan.  Heat about 35-40 minutes.  Garlic should be a golden color, and soft.  Remove from oven and squeeze the heads at the bottom to pop out the delicious garlic cloves! 
Dipping oil for warm French bread:  (instead of garlic butter)
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
¼-1/3 cup Extra Virgin olive oil
¼-1/2 tsp. salt
Dash of Balsamic vinegar (optional)
On low heat, simmer chopped garlic with salt in olive oil for about 10 minutes.  Stir in vinegar, if using.  Serve in small bowls at table to dip French bread in.
Happy autumn!  Marci

Monday, August 28, 2017

Salt Blends from Your Garden (or Produce Section)

There are so many great ways to preserve culinary herbs for later use, and salt blends is one of them.  This is just one - but you can try all kinds of things!
We make them in very small batches.  For us, 1/2 cup is more than enough until the next season rolls around, but you might want to make them for gifts.

Give them a try.  You'll be glad you did.

We chose rosemary, lemon zest, and pink Himalayan salt for this batch.
This ran in the magazine a few issues back.

We don't grind it until it is uniform, but you can.
We really enjoy tiny bits of the ingredients, popping up here and there.  The lemon and rosemary really shine on poultry or fish, and all kinds of pastas and veggies.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Another Day...

We have a pretty good time around here.  I think that has a lot to do with all of the ways that we get to express our creativity.
This summer has been pretty wild, with a lot of planned and unplanned twists and turns.  We also changed the deadline schedule for the magazine, and that still has me floundering a little bit.  The last issue just got out there, and now we are looking at a deadline in a week.  I was used to a month to catch my breath (and help catch up with the soap!) but that vanished.  We'll get used to it, but it's still a bit odd.
Blocks of Blackberry Sage, Merlot, Patchouli, Apricot Freesia, Green Tea, and Apple Snap.
This week, we've been putting in lots of time on orders with my sister's soap company.  Her business only handles wholesale orders.  Essential Herbal carries her products as retail. 
All summer long, every time we think the shelves look full and "healthy," the phone rings a couple of times and they look scary again.  We've been trying to make 6 batches 45 bars each) every day for a while. 
I'm home for lunch right now, so I thought I'd share a few pics.
One of the things I love to do is make molded soaps with the leftover soap batter.  As the holidays approach, these "oddball" soaps are fun to slip into order boxes up at the EH shipping area.  
The rectangles are dragons, and we've got a great idea for the tea festival!
 Daylight is just over the horizon.  Or a pile of orders will come in.  One or the other :-)
We needed a few hundred sniffing jars for the current orders.
These smell up the whole joint.
  And a bunch of bathing herbs.
This is a pleasant chore.  We can sit and talk while we make them.
Everything is pretty orderly.
Starting to get a grip.  Many tables make for an easier time.
Just a bunch of lotion bars to go...
And still there's time for the plants.
These greet me at the front door.  I love them.
Guess I'll be heading down to finish up - and help get tonight's 6 batches laid out.  First though, I'll send out renewal notices. 
The weather is so gorgeous.  I want to squeeze in the time to weed the saffron patch!  It won't be too long before those bright purple crocuses start popping up.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sept/Oct '17 Essential Herbal Issue (#95)

Another great issue is on the way.  It should be hitting mailboxes any day now. Not a subscriber?  We can fix that.  Sign up on OUR WEBSITE
Be sure to check out the multi-year discount.
Here's the table of contents:
Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams
Bits and pieces of life on the hill, and what’s new with the magazine.
Give Beets a Chance, Rita Richardson
Lots of reasons to bring delicious beets into the kitchen, how to prepare them, and 3 recipes.
Echinacea, Tina Sams
I accidentally started a chapter on Echinacea for Healing Herbs, and it’s been hanging around in the files waiting for a chance to be in the magazine.
Seasonal Oil Change, Maryanne Schwartz
As temperature and humidity change, so will our requirements for skin soothing oils.
New Book Excerpt, The Herbalist’s Kitchen by Brittany Wood Nickerson
An excerpt from a gorgeous new cookbook/herbal. Look for a review on the blog soon.
List Article, Your Favorite Winter Medicinal Herbal Preparation?
We gathered answers together from the Yahoo! group, the facebook page, and email, to share our favorites. Be sure to look on page 30 for the next topic, and join in!
Helen De Conway Little Medal of Honor Winner, Tina Sams & Maryanne Schwartz
We honor and congratulate our friend (and frequent contributor) Sarah Liberta on winning this prestigious award.
Gardening with Kathy, Using Herbs in the Landscape, Kathy Musser
Tons of great ideas and fun, useful plants that you may not have considered before—or maybe just didn’t think about quite this way.
Flexible Quiche, Marci Tsohonis
With just the ingredients that you probably have in the kitchen, and some herbs from the garden, you can put a luscious quiche on the table for the family, or let guests think you worked all day on dinner.
Rosemary, Miranda Hoodenpyl
Beautiful, fragrant, delicious, and medicinal—rosemary can wear a lot of hats. Well studied and documented, bring this plant and the essential oil (or hydrosol) inside.
Self Heal, Sandy Michelsen
This unassuming, little, flowering lawn weed is an important medicinal. Good information, and how to make a self heal salve.
Pecan Date Surprises, Sarah Liberta
“Beneath the lightly crispy shell of this confection is a rich, gooey center of moist dates and pecans laced with citrus.”
Natural Calendula Soap, Marci Tsohonis
With dry winter months coming, this is the soap to make and have on hand. If you haven’t taken that plunge yet, do it now. Use this recipe. Calendula soap is made for winter.
The Value of Vitex, Kristine Brown
The how’s and why’s of vitex. Learn all about it, as well as how to make a vinegar, oil, and poultice!
The Shakespeare Garden, Jackie Johnson
The herb group maintaining the Green Bay Botanical Gardens went all in for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, using the herbs mentioned in his works.

Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August PDF sale

For the rest of the month, get your books and magazine back issues (pdf format only) at an amazing 40% discount!  Use the code AUGUST READS at checkout.

Book PDF's

Magazine PDFs

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Garden Seed Saving Guide

The Garden Seed Saving Guide - Third Edition
Easy Heirloom Seeds for the Home Gardener
by Jill Henderson

 The time is now, seasonally and agriculturally, to make the effort to properly save viable seeds.
Now personally, I've always been pretty lackadaisical about it.  Pick a few flower heads here, some dried beans from the vine there, and several pods from that plant over there.  It has generally been good enough.  As I've mentioned many times, I can't throw a rock without hitting a roadside stand selling wholesome produce in the summer.  However, I've known that there were better ways to keep seeds.

This book is a treasure chest of information.  She covers a lot of relatively dry subjects with an easy and engaging style.  What's a biennial?  Why do we care about the Latin names?  Why do we want to remove the gelatinous membrane from tomato seeds, and how?  How long do seeds last, and how can we prolong their viability.  What is genetic diversity within a species, and why is it important to preserve?
Most of these are things that I had managed to skirt (while still having enough success with sowing veggies and flowers), but knew that they were important. 
Beginners will return to these pages again and again, while those who have been gardening for decades will find plenty of new and interesting information too.

You'll be amazed at how much is covered.

ISBN 978-1-57067-346-7
$9.95 ~ 64 pages
Book Publishing Company -

Thursday, August 03, 2017

To vend, or not to vend...

There are a couple of books sitting here to review, so that's coming up in the next week, but in the meantime there's something we've been mulling over for the last year or so.  We've been hesitant to bring it up but just in case you visit a festival and don't see us there...

Vending at herb festivals has really changed over the years, and except for one or two that we love, it's probably over for us.  We've tried a lot of things, from the massive state farm show, to the Phila wholesale trade show, to all sizes of herb festivals and craft fairs, to the (defunct) local farmers market. We'd love to hear what others think about this in your area, especially if you've been at it for a decade or more.
Our first festival was about 25 years ago.
It was an evening and a day, with the evening being by invitation only.  $30 was our fee, and there were about a dozen vendors.  We were well fed at the reception, and there was May wine, too.  The next day, the director of the venue came around to be sure that we didn't need anything.  Did we have enough change?  For those of you who vend, we can only say that, yes, this really did happen.  We made about 25X our booth fee.  Of course now that fees are closer to $200 for a weekend show, that is not, nor will it ever be, the same for us.

Our next venture was the local renaissance festival.  There, we worked very hard for very little - but we had a lot of fun.  The fun kept us coming back, but around the third year we realized that the (then) owner found a way every year to snatch whatever we'd made, so we left.
 We continued vending at herb festivals and enjoying them.  We've always loved meeting the people we write for, or who love the soap.  As time went by, instead of one or two a year within easy driving distance, there were several each weekend during the spring.  There are only so many herbal enthusiasts, and they only have so many dollars (and hours).  Shows started changing their names from "herb fair" to "herb and garden fair" because not many tiny herb businesses can afford the kind of rent they're charging so it became necessary to broaden the field.  Just a fact.
 Our sales diminished, and then we hit an earning plateau.  Nothing we did or created made a difference.  Each year the shows became more and more expensive to sign up for, yet our sales remained the same.  Instead of 25X our booth fee, there are some shows where we started making only 2X.  We used to think that the exposure made it worthwhile, but 2 days away, leaving the work space in a shambles, and then taking a week to catch up and recover?  Considering all of the true costs, including paying for the products and materials, getting help, credit card fees (and on and on and on), it might just be a negative balance.  If it rains, the loss can be immense.

There are only a couple places that are fun, relaxed, and worth that.

 It often feels like the smaller the crowd, the better the sales.  Also, 12 vendors versus 150 is much better for the vendors.

And you can never tell.  We've traveled to herb conferences that were shockingly good, and then there was one that barely paid for the gas, let alone any hotels or food along the way.

So... part of it is that the partners in crime have either split for the coast or retired from shows, and a large part of it is that it just isn't fun anymore.  Is anyone making any money?  Certainly not like at one time, before everything was available at the touch of a computer key and people waited all year for that one, big herb festival.  It would be great to stop hauling around tables and boxes and displays.  We've had a blast, but maybe it's time to let them go.

Again, we'd love to read your thoughts and comments on this subject.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Incense for a Swap

I can't believe it's been almost a month since we blogged!  Last month at this time, Molly had decided to go across the country with her cousin to see what the west coast had to offer.  She took care of a big festival for us, finished off her daytime job, tearfully said goodbye to her internship (and beloved mentor Susanna) at The Rosemary House, and set about packing and saying goodbye to her friends.
 Maryanne and I took time out after finishing the Sept/Oct issue to attend the Sage Apothecarian Gathering in Syracuse NY last weekend.  There was a swap, and I signed up for it, deciding to make incense.  Thought I'd share it here, since I absolutely love it.  I should note that the sandalwood has been around here for at least a decade (or more) and we grew the white sage. 
Giant chunk of pinon with a little white sage, and tiny test cones.
Here's the recipe and instructions:
Pinon and White Sage incense tiles
5 parts Makko pwd
5 parts Yellow Sandalwood pwd (red Santal works great, or sub any wood powder)
1 part White Sage pwd
1 part Pinon resin
1/2 part Salt Petre
1/2 part Gum Tragacanth
water to moisten - I used White Sage hydrosol

blended powders, ready to mix with liquid
Combine all ingredients to form a paste, adding more water if it doesn't come together (like play dough) or more of one of the powders if it is too wet.

We rolled the dough out between 2 sheets of freezer paper and scored it, transferring it onto the screen to dry. One could also make cones.
Tiles cut and laid out on a screen to dry.  Turned after a day, and dried another 2.
To burn incense tiles, fill small fireproof dish with sand, gravel, or something similar. Stand the tile in the sand, and light.
Making incense is fun and relatively simple.  We have many of the harder to find ingredients on our site.  CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Debra's Icicle Pickles

(Fall) Memories of Country Pickles
Debra Sturdevant
From the Sept/Oct 16 issue of The Essential Herbal
Illustration also by Debra Sturdevant - The Country Artist
The seasons come, the seasons go. My family is long gone now but memories are well seated. I still live here on my beloved country hill where I spent my youth exploring fields and forests, catching fireflies in mom's Mason jars under the summer stars and sitting with Mom and Dad on the old country porch listening to stories I would carry on.  I still reside here on the hill and prepare for the long northern winter in the same manner my folks did. Dad was the gardener and my mother was the herbalist and  kitchen coordinator pairing their handed down skills to make this old house a home.
In September when I was back in school down in the valley I always wondered what my Mom was creating in her country kitchen as I watched the clock on the classroom wall waiting anxiously for the bus ride home. After what seemed like an eternity of travel on the old dusty roads and endless stops I would arrive at my own long driveway.
The fondest of all my Fall memories is the scent that greeted me emanating through the screen door of sweet and spicy Icicle pickles. I always tried to steal a chunk or two from the old black canner before she packed them  into a lined up army of steaming mason jars. I don't think any other garden harvest can compare to this sweet piece of heaven especially when old man winter arrives. Many folks like to hurry recipes in this hectic day and age but nothing can surpass the flavor rewarded from an old fashioned crock cured pickle that is removed daily to have spices and sugar added then heated sending the most lovely scent of cloves and spices throughout the house. Each Fall I bring a piece of my childhood back through the scent and taste of mom's wonderful pickles I now share with you...

Icicle Pickles
(crisp,spicy, and sweet)

About 24 pickling cucumbers (2gal)
Split, quartered, remove seeds if large.
1. Dissolve 1 pint canning salt in one gallon boiling water and pour over cukes in large enamel pan or crock. Cover and let stand three days
2. Drain and cover with fresh boiling water without salt let stand 24 hours
3. Drain and cover with fresh boiling water with alum the size of an egg. Let stand 24 hours
4. Drain
5. In separate pot mix:
    2 1/2 qts apple cider vinegar
    16 cups sugar
     2 tablespoons pickling spice
     1 teaspoon of whole cloves
     2 sticks of cinnamon
6. Bring liquid to a boil and pour over cucumbers and let stand 24 hours
7. Each of the next four days drain off the liquid, bring to a boil and pour over the pickles. On the fourth day can.
Mom added on the bottom of the yellowed recipe card in her own penciled handwriting "Yum!" and "Yum" they are.


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