Making a Lemony, Minty Iced Tea

apple mint
This is a pretty and beautifully aromatic mint.

This spring, I bought some apple-mint plants at Ecogardens in Northfield. This is one of the prettiest mints I’ve grown and the flavor adds so much zest to beverages. Much of this summer I have been “mojito-ing” my iced teas, by muddling the apple-mint with sugar and then adding some lime juice. It’s an instant pickup in the middle of the day.

Sunday, I decided to try something different, making a minty iced tea with hints of passionflower and ginger. It’s incredibly easy to do and provides a great excuse to drink iced tea out of a mason jar.

lemon mint passion tea
The color is wonderful, but it tastes even better.

For the tea, I put three bags of Tazo passion tea (a passionflower herbal blend) and two bags of Tazo green-ginger tea in a big glass pitcher filled with water. (It holds about 10 cups of water.) I set this aside overnight to let the flavors seep into the water. I’ve been doing cold-brews of iced tea since I had a batch that got a bit too bitter from a hot brew. (Apparently hot water can scorch the leaves, especially the herbals.)

Then, I made a light simple syrup mixture of 1/4 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water. Mix the water and sugar and bring it to a boil. Then into the syrup, I added the zest of two small, organic lemons and about 6 mint leaves. Let this marinate for at least 20 minutes. Drain out the leaves and add the syrup to the tea along with the juice of the two small lemons. Delicious! This is a refreshing herbal tea and not too sweet.

If you like your tea sweeter, go to a 1-to-1 simple syrup mixture (1/2 cup sugar to 1/2 cup water).

What’s your favorite herb beverage?

A New Take on Strawberry Jam

strawberry mango jam
Definitely spoon-worthy.

It’s strawberry season here, and that means hauling out the canning kettle and making some jam. My usual strawberry jam is the recipe in the pectin package, which is marvelous if your berries are absolutely fresh.

I made that recipe on Sunday when I picked up a flat of berries at Lorence’s outside of Northfield. With lots of berries still on hand, I decided to try something different — sweet, but with a hint of something else. After searching around, I found this recipe from a blog called Jammed In. I liked the idea of a jam with a little heat, but thought that adding real peppers might round out the flavor more and I wanted more of a strawberry flavor. I happened to have two ripe mangoes in the fridge, plus about 3 quarts of strawberries left in my flat. Here’s the recipe:

Strawberry-Mango Jam with a Kick


2 ripe mangoes, diced in about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice

6 cups strawberries (sliced and chopped to equal about 4 cups)

1 (or more!) jalepeno pepper, chopped finely

1 organic lemon, zest and juice

1 box powdered pectin (such as Sure-Jel)

6 cups sugar

This recipe makes six half-pint jars, plus not quite a cup extra. Make sure you have all the equipment you need at hand before you begin.

Chop the fruit and pepper, mix together with the zest and juice of the lemon and 2 cups of sugar. Set aside for about an hour.  Meanwhile, wash and prep the jars and lids for your jam and get the boiling-water canner started on the heat. (It takes about 30 minutes for my canner to come up to a boil, so give yourself time.)

After fruit has marinated, mix in the pectin and set the mixture in a large pot on the stove over medium heat. Bring it to a full, rolling boil that you cannot stir down. Add, all at once, the remaining 4 cups of sugar. Stir and bring it back to a full, rolling boil. Cook about 2 minutes. Turn off heat and add the jam to prepared jars. Put on lids and screwtops, then boil in the canner for 12 minutes.  Remove the jars and listen for the pops.

For basic jam-making instructions, check out this tutorial or this video. If I were to make the recipe again, I would add another 1 or 2 peppers. The extra heat tastes really interesting under the sweet, fruity jam flavor.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

It’s rhubarb season here, which means thinking of lots of ways to use those tart stalks. Growing up, both of my daughters loved rhubarb sauce with yogurt, and rhubarb muffins are also delicious.

rhubarb crisp
A little almond extract in the filling brightened the rhubarb crisp.

Strawberries and rhubarb go really well together, and even though the local strawberries are not ripe yet — and may not be for awhile — I decided to make a strawberry-rhubarb crisp last night.

It took less than 15 minutes to throw this recipe together, including walking out to my rhubarb patch to grab the stalks. After 45 minutes in the oven, the rhubarb crisp emerged fragrant and bubbling. Because rhubarb is very tart, this recipe has more sugar than I usually use in crisps, although not as much as it would need if it were entirely rhubarb. The strawberries add a nice sweet flavor that complements the rhubarb and the addition of almond extract gives it a nuanced flavor.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


4 stalks rhubarb, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 quart strawberries, rinsed, cut into quarters

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/2 tsp almond extract

Mix strawberries and rhubarb with sugar, flour and extract. Put in a pie dish.


In the same bowl you mixed the filling ingredients, mix 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon and 4 tablespoons melted (or very soft) butter. Pour the topping over the filling, and bake. You may want to put a pan under the crisp in the oven in case it drips.

We didn’t have any ice cream or whipped cream in the house, either of which would have been delicious with this, but both my husband and I had a big bowl and thought it was great — the perfect end to a busy weekend spent in the garden.

Rhubarb is a very easy perennial vegetable to grow. It likes a lot of fertility in the soil so I have my rhubarb growing in a spot that formerly had my compost bin over it.  You can often get a division of rhubarb from a fellow gardener, and like many perennials, rhubarb does not mind being divided every few years. University of Minnesota Extension has an informative fact sheet on growing rhubarb, if you’d like more information.

What’s your favorite rhubarb recipe?


Checking the Larder, and Squash Waffles

As we hit the end of January (woo-hoo!!), it seemed a good time to check on the garden goodies I stored away for winter and see how we were doing at eating things up. This fall, my husband and I became empty-nesters, at least most of the time. So, we are figuring out new ways of cooking and eating. The good news: More vegetables. The bad news: I still am cooking for three or four, not two, so we have a lot of leftovers.

In any case, I did a brief survey of what we still have from our frozen and canned garden produce. We’ve got plenty of relishes, pickles, pesto and jams, but are almost out of the whole fruit I froze. I checked on the squash we’ve been storing in a very cool part of the basement and discovered that while it was still OK, it was time to cook it off. So Sunday afternoon, I cut up the remaining six large butternut squash and boiled them to a pulp. Most of it was put in containers for freezing and using in soups, breads, and squash custard (a family favorite), but I took a small amount to make a new recipe I developed (based in part on something from Alton Brown‘s latest cookbook) to use up cooked squash. If you have some cooked pumpkin, squash or sweet potatoes, this is a good way to use them up.

Sqaush Waffles

1/2 cup cooked squash, well mashed

3 eggs, separated

2 TBSP butter, melted

1/3 cup milk

2 TBSP brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

Separate the eggs, and give one yolk to the dog. Set the three whites aside in a separate mixing bowl. Whisk together until smooth two egg yolks, the cooked squash, milk, brown sugar, and vanilla. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together, then add to the wet ingredients. If it seems really stiff, add a bit more milk. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Mix about half the whites into the squash/flour mixture to lighten it, then gently fold the rest of the whites in to the mixture.

Follow directions on your waffle maker to make about four largish waffles. You could probably do these as pancakes, too, and they would still be tasty. We topped ours with syrup and homemade applesauce, which was delicious.

Raspberry Decadence

Decadence in a jar.

It has come to this: I have so many raspberries ready to harvest in my backyard that I made jelly — the gardener’s equivalent of blowing a wad in Vegas, buying a fur coat, and drinking a $5 latte all in one day. Jelly is decadence, but when you are harvesting 16 cups of raspberries almost every day, when your freezer is full, when your neighbors have eaten all they want, and your pants are getting tight from all the raspberry cobbler you’ve made — it’s time for jelly.

Unlike jam, which is a thrifty spread full of fiber and fruit pulp, jelly requires only the essence of the fruit, the tarty juice extracted after hours of squeezing and dripping. To make a decadent jelly, start with 16 cups of absolutely fresh raspberries. (You can pick them in my backyard, if you’d like!) Rinse them lightly to get off any stray dirt or bugs, and let them drain on a paper towel a few minutes. Then, put the berries in a large pot, crush them a bit and turn on the heat. The goal is to get the berries to start juicing up without actually cooking much. When the berries come to a boil, take them off the heat, and crush a bit more with a potato masher. Get that juice flowing.

Let them cool while you prepare your juice extraction system. You can buy something called a “jelly bag” but I just lined a colander with several sheets of cheesecloth. Put the colander over a large pan to catch the juice, and pour the berries and juice through the colander. Plan on several hours for all of the juice to come out. After the first rush of juice, I wrapped the cheesecloth around the berries and put a plate and a can of soup on top of them to get more juice out. Push on it occasionally. You should end up with about 4 cups of raspberry juice. (If you are a little short of juice, add some water.)

The jelly recipe I used is the basic one on the box of powdered pectin and with juice this fresh, it’s plenty good. You start by preparing your jars and getting water boiling in a boiling water bath canning pot. (For good instructions on basic canning, check out this site.) In another large pot, mix the juice and a box of powdered pectin, such as Sure-Jell. Bring this to a boil. When the liquid is boiling, add all at once 5 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir it to mix in the sugar, and bring this up to a rolling boil (one that you cannot stir down). Let it boil hard for 1 minute, then pour the jelly into your sterilized jelly jars, put on sterilized lids and rings, and boil in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (some instructions say 10, but I did 5). Remove the jars from the boiling water bath and listen for the “ping” that tells you the jars are sealed.  Let cool and store.

This recipe makes 6 half-pint jars of jelly, plus a little left over for the cook to put in the refrigerator and enjoy with toast the next morning.

Bruschetta Variations

Bruschetta with Garlic and Goat Cheese

With the tomatoes starting to come in, I made bruschetta and eggs for dinner last night. Bruschetta is toasted Italian bread with a topping, often including tomatoes and olive oil, that is typically served as an appetizer.  Last year, I made Bruschetta a la Julie and Julia after watching a movie about Julia Child and the blogger who cooked every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (The bruschetta scene is positively mouth-watering.) Since then, I’ve seen bruschetta recipes with everything from bacon to peaches in them. The variation I tried last night is not quite traditional, but close

Bruschetta with Garlic and Goat Cheese

For the topping, cut three to four ripe tomatoes in smallish pieces, and mix with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste. You can add a splash of vinegar, if you like things tart. Let this mixture sit out on the counter for a half hour or so to blend the flavors.

Toast slices of Italian bread. We used a whole grain version, but use whatever you like as long as it is sturdy. Rub each slice lightly with a clove of garlic. Spread with chevre or another goat cheese. Top with topping and enjoy!

This was very good, but whoo-boy, the garlic I used was very fresh from our local CSA farm and pungent. After dinner mints required.

Dealing with Abundance

This sign — spotted while riding my bike around town — made me laugh. Faced with an abundant harvest, who hasn’t wanted to give it all away?

Cucumbers are the crop du jour, and I know I’m not the only gardener with more cucumbers than they know what to do with. I’ve already made a big batch of bread-and-butter pickles, but there are more things to do with cucumbers than just preserve them. Here are two easy, delicious ways to use cukes with abandon.

Easy Marinated Cucumbers

This recipe works really well with cukes that are a little large. Peel a large cucumber, cut off the ends, then slice it in half length-wise. Using a spoon, scrape the seeds out of the cucumber. Slice each half into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Mix the slices in a dish with 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and a big grind of black pepper. The salad tastes even better after it has rested in the refrigerator a couple of hours.

Cucumber Water

I got this recipe from one of Prevention magazine’s diet books. Even if you are not watching what you are eating, this is an incredibly flavorful summer drink, and it does calm your digestive system nicely. Peel and slice one cucumber into thin rounds. Wash and slice an organic lemon thinly. Mix the sliced fruits with 8 cups of water, 1 Tablespoon grated ginger, and a few mint leaves. Let it sit a few hours or overnight to blend the flavors.


Recipe: Pickle Time

Right now, the squash and cucumbers are duking it out in my back garden. I’m afraid that, without intervention, the squash — an allegedly “compact” butternut variety  — may win. In the meantime, the cukes are growing like crazy, so I’m making pickles.

While many people enjoy dill pickles, I grew up on  sweet bread-and-butter pickles made from Grandma Lahr’s recipe. Pickling, like any preserving project, is all about the process. That said, the number of methods and recipes I located for bread-and-butter pickles is remarkable. You can also watch lots of people making pickles over on youtube. Here’s one with a very similar recipe and process to the one I used.

jar of pickles
Yum! Grandma Lahr’s Bread and Butter Pickles

My grandmother’s recipe does not call for a boiling-water bath to guarantee safety, so I contacted the Minnesota-Iowa food preservation line just to check whether that was necessary. The kind lady who answered the phone said grandma’s method, while common in her day (and I should note grandma was a public health nurse at one time and a real stickler for cleanliness and food safety), is not approved now because of the danger of food poisoning. Here’s an approved recipe for b-and-b pickles that are canned. If you are willing to refrigerate your pickles, read on:

As with any recipe, read through the whole thing before you start. Also, keep your work area scrupulously clean to prevent any stray bacteria from getting into the pickles.

Grandma Lahr’s Bread and Butter Pickles

Step 1: The Veggies

4 quarts (16 cups) thinly sliced cucumbers

1 white onion, thinly sliced

1 green pepper, thinly sliced (optional)

1 red pepper, thinly sliced (optional)

1/3 cup salt (I used Kosher)

Ice (about 1 tray)

Wash your cucumbers thoroughly, then slice your vegetables about 1/4 inch thin and layer them in bowl, sprinkling each layer with some of the salt and a bit of ice. When it is all prepped, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and weigh it down slightly. (I put a couple of Pyrex cups on top for weight.) Let it sit 3 hours. When the time is up, drain the icy, salt water off of the vegetables and put the vegetables in one large kettle or two smaller ones.

Before you start the brine, wash and sterilize (usually by immersing in the boiling water for several minutes) 8 pint canning jars. Wash and set in a separate pan or bowl 8 canning lids and 8 rings. Pour boiling water over the lids and rings to sterilize them as well. Leave the rings and lids in the hot water.

Step 2: The Brine

3 cups distilled white vinegar

5 cups sugar

3 cloves garlic (optional)

1-1/2 teaspoon tumeric

1-1/2 teaspoon celery seed

2 Tablespoons mustard seed

Mix this together, heat it to a boil, then add the vegetables. Put the heat on again and bring it to a boil. Once it hits a decent boil, turn off the heat.

Step 3: Canning

Carefully ladle the hot pickles into the hot jars to within 1/2 inch of the rim, making sure the brine covers all the veggies. Poke a knife or spatula in each jar to remove air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims with a clean cloth or paper towel, then attach the sterile lids and rings. Set them on a counter to cool. Most of the jars (5 out of 6 in my case) will seal. Store in the refrigerator for up to three months.

These pickles are incredible in tuna salad or alongside any meat sandwich.


Cherry Crisp

Cherry Crisp, still warm

Yesterday was the first day in a long time that the weather was cool enough to fire up the oven. With cherries in the freezer and a few cherries still on the tree and ready to be picked, I made a cherry crisp.

Unlike a cobbler, which is typically made with a batter, such as this wonderful raspberry cobbler, a crisp involves a crunchy topping of butter, sugar, flour and oats. My topping tends to be more oat-y than crunchy, but that way I can eat it for breakfast (with yogurt) and only feel a little guilty.

Here’s my version of Cherry Crisp:

Fruit Layer

Put 6 cups of cleaned fruit (I used 4 cups tart cherries, 1 cup blueberries, and 1 cup strawberries) in a baking pan and squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon over it. Mix together in another bowl 1 cup sugar (may need more if cherries are very tart or less with sweeter fruit) and 1/2 cup flour (do not skimp!). Pour the sugar/flour over the fruit and mix thoroughly.


In the same bowl that you mixed the flour and sugar, mix together 1-cup oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 6 tablespoons butter (melted). Mix well to distribute the butter. Then, spread this over the fruit mixture, and bake it all for about 1 hour in a 350 degree oven. It should be bubbling slowly, indicating that the fruit is thickening. Let it cool and serve with whipped cream or ice cream for a dessert.

The nice thing about a crisp like this is you can vary the amounts of sugar, butter, oats, etc., to your own taste. It’s almost impossible to ruin a crisp.

The Grape Escape and a Recipe for Grape Preserves

grapes on vine
Grapes are easy to harvest, but a bit more cumbersome to process.

I have to admit that I feel like I have finally escaped after processing about 20 pounds of grapes from my neighbor’s vines. My neighbors moved and so were not able to do the harvest themselves this year, and I asked if I could step in, having enjoyed some of their fabulous grape jam last year. With their permission, I harvested about 20 pounds of grapes, about half of the Swenson and Concord grapes they have on the vines.

Harvesting grapes is a snap. Take a scissors with you and just snip the bunches off the vines. Then, clean the grapes, and start processing. That’s where the work gets more cumbersome. I made three kinds of grape preserves with the fruit. The first is a recipe taken from Jane Brody’s Good Food Gourmet for grape conserve. To make it, you have to skin the grapes, which sounds difficult, but actually involves only a tiny squeeze on the grape so the innards pop out.  However, it takes a lot of grapes to make even a few jars of conserve and, as Brody notes in her recipe, it’s a lot more fun with a group of people. My 17-year-old helped for awhile, but mostly I soldiered on through the grapes alone.

grape recipe in jars
Grape Conserve ready for storage

After that, I still had buckets of grapes left, so I cleaned what I had and dumped all the grapes in a big pot to loosen the skins and seeds. After about 15 minutes of cooking, I ran the mixture through a food mill and ended up with a thick, tart grape juice. (And, a pile of seeds and gunk, which went into the compost pile.) The next day, I took some of the juice, strained it again, and used 5 cups of juice for a traditional jelly recipe. The recipe is in any box of Sure-Jell pectin. While it’s a pretty sugary jelly, the fresh, tart grapes give it a bite that you don’t get from store-bought jelly.

I still had more juice, so the next day, I made an old-fashioned grape marmalade. This is a variation on a recipe I found on the web from an old — like 1800s — cookbook. I took 6 cups thick grape juice, 3 oranges (zested, peeled, and chopped), 3 cups of stewed apples (I’d recommend local Haralson apples microwaved about 5 minutes with some apple cider or water), and one cinnamon stick.  Bring this mixture to a boil and add 1.75 pounds of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and let it cook for a good half hour — maybe more. While it’s cooking, bring the hot water bath to a boil and clean and sterilize your canning jars and tops. (For instructions on canning, see the U of M’s site.) Then, remove the cinnamon stick, and pour the marmalade in the jars. I processed the jars 10 minutes in a boiling water bath to seal them up, though the original recipe recommends that cooks put paper over the jam and it will “keep for years.” I’m a little doubtful these grape delights will last that long here.