Category Archives: Beverages, Infusions, and Decoctions

Homemade Sour Mix









Today was time to plan the menu and the big bi-weekly shopping trip.  The challenge this week is that when it is just the boys and I we don’t go through food quite as quickly, so I have some ingredients leftover from the last big shopping trip which I need to use up.

So, I found myself staring at the baskets of limes and lemons I keep on the shelf in my kitchen, thinking about what to do with them before they went bad?

I thought about  making lemon and lime curd, but since the girls moved out that goes bad before I eat it up.

The other night during a class I was leading, someone mentioned a whiskey sour and I’ve kind of been craving one. The problem is that I hate the sour mix that is used in bars with a passion.  That nasty artificially flavored high fructose corn syrup is something that I wrote off years go.

I decided to experiment.  I tweaked a recipe I found online by making a citrus simple syrup and adding freshly-squeezed juice.

Sour Mix
1 cup of water
1 cup of raw cane sugar
grated zest of lime and lemon
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

To begin with place the water and the citrus zest in a sauce pan. Add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Bring this mixture to a boil and allow it to simmer for about five minutes. Remove the sauce pan from the heat, cover it and let it sit until completely cool.

In the meantime you can be squeezing the limes and lemons. Strain the citrus juice into a jar and when the above mixture is cooled completely, strain it in to the juice. It is really that easy.

This can be used in margaritas and whiskey sours, but you can also just add a tablespoon to a glass of sparkling water to make a quick glass of lemonade.  I will warn you though that this recipe is more on the sour side than sweet.  I like a good tangy glass of lemonade-not sugar water.

I also took the leftover citrus rinds and put them in the half gallon jar and covered them with apple cider vinegar. I will let this steep for a couple of weeks in the herb closet and then will strain this and use it to make summery vinaigrette.

Items You Might Find Useful:

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee

Cold Brew and Vanilla Simple Syrup

Cold Brew and Vanilla Simple Syrup

I will have to apologize in advance to those of you who have given up coffee, as a vice.  Coffee has been rather unfortunately vilified, for various reasons, however it seems to be making a comeback in a similar way to saturated fat.  Turns out it really isn’t all bad.

Coffee has an antioxidant known as chlorogenic acid (CGA).  There are many of these types of acids but this specific ester,   formed between caffeic acid and L-quinic acid,  is being  studied for its health-promoting properties.

One of the amazing things CGA does is to help slow down how fast your body releases glucose into your bloodstream after you eat. It seems that  those fifties housewives who offered up an after dinner coffee, had the right idea.

CGA is a constituent found in many anti-inflammatory foods. I will grant you that there are more healthful sources. Strawberries, blueberries and pineapple are all good sources.

I maintain a good deal of what makes coffee bad for you has to do with what you put in it.  That is not to say that I don’t treat myself to a latte every now-and-then.   But for the most part, I drink it hot and black and I rather love it.

This time of year, even a cold vata like me knows enough to avoid hot drinks, so sometimes we like a creamy iced coffee.  I always make my own because the commercial stuff has scary words on the label is just far too sweet.

I used to just make a really hot, strong batch of coffee and pour it over a little sugar to dissolve it, but then I had a cold brewed coffee at a friends house and was converted.  There are some people who say that cold-brewed coffee has health benefits, but this has yet to be studied properly.  It definitely tastes better.

There  are all sorts of tutorials out there on how to cold brew coffee, but I’ve found it easiest to just make it in my french press and pour it through a coffee filter.

To make a cold brew concentrate, I coarsely grind 1 cup of coffee and add 4 cups of cold water to that.  You should let this brew, in the fridge, for at least 12 hours.  I highly recommend 24.

After this has steeped and cooled, strain it into a pitcher and add  your “milk” of choice. You know best what works for your body. You could use almond milk, coconut milk or any other dairy substitute you enjoy.  Do take a moment to read the ingredient label though.  If you can’t say it, you probably don’t want to drink it.

My husband and I have our gene pool to thank for lactase persistence,  so we use half-and-half. Nice stuff that we get from the Kalona SuperNatural  folks,  whose farm is about 2o miles from my home.

How creamy you make it is a matter of taste. I use almost 2 cups so I am diluting the coffee concentrate at a 2:1 ratio.

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee


Next,  I sweeten this to taste with vanilla simple syrup or barley malt syrup.   Actually I let my husband decide when it is sweet enough because I would never put enough in. Sometimes,  I just skip the sweetener altogether and sprinkle some nutmeg on top.

Beltaine Customs

This is one of the articles from my Beltaine newsletter. Feel free to take a look at the rest of it. Lá Beltaine sona daoibh!

Lá Beltaine or May Day widely celebrated in agricultural cultures. This holiday signified the shift in energy that occurs as spring turns to summer. Flowers were beginning to bloom and outdoor work increased.

When Ireland was populated mostly by pastoral cultures, this was the time they would move their livestock to their summer grazing pastures called buailes (booleys). It was also a time when the fishermen would leave on their long fishing trips. So the eminent departure seemed to call for a sending-off party.

These celebrations always centered around a community bonfire, which stems back to much more ancient traditions, but they had a practical nature. Traditionally, these festivals were the venue for paying rents, hiring summer workers and making contracts for summer grazing land.

Flowers were strewn on the threshold of homes and garlands of flowers were hung –they were even tied to cows tails according to scholar, Estyn Evans.

Young people would carry branches of flowers and walk from home-to-home singing songs which welcomed summer in return for small treats or gifts. This is a sweet little song frequently heard in Waldorf classrooms that speaks to this custom.


Here’s a branch of snowy May,
A branch the fairies gave us.
Who would like to dance today
With a branch the fairies gave us?
Dance away, dance away,
Holding high the branch of May.



We don’t have many blooming flowers right now except for the lilacs, so that’s what we use. I admit I loathe cutting branches off my flowering shrubs. This one broke rather fortuitously.

Many of the rituals surrounding Beltaine involved saining the cattle by various methods. This word which finds its origin in the Old Irish word  sén– referred to “protective charms” of various natures. One of these rituals involved driving the herds over the embers of the dying fires . Frazer reports that men would also leap over the fires and intimates that this was a re-enactment of an older customs involving human sacrifice, but he was prone to hyperbole.

As Beltaine was the beginning of the dairying season, Frazer also reported that the traditional foods at these festivals were caudle –a custard of butter, eggs and milk and “a cake of oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers against a stone.” In other areas of the country a flat bread called farl was served with caudle.

This is not a Celtic custom rather it is a German custom that I learned long ago and incorporated into my May Day celebrations. I believe the first time I had it was at a Waldorf playdate and it was the non-alcoholic version I describe below. In the years before I had sweet woodruff growing, I would use violets and that makes a tasty beverage as well.  So feel free to substitute.

 Mai  BowleIMG_6115
1 bunch sweet woodruff
1 bottle white wine
4 Tbsp. honey
4 Tbsp. Apple Brandy
1 bottle chilled champagne
1 cup sliced strawberries
Violets and woodruff for garnish.

In the evening before you want to serve the Mai Bowle, April 30th, pour wine over sweet woodruff and allow this to steep over night in your punch bowl.
Just before serving you will want to remove the sweet woodruff and mix in the honey, brandy and champagne.  Float the sliced strawberries, woodruff blossoms, and violet blossoms on this mixture.

IMG_6119Non-Alcoholic Alternative

Warm  apple juice and the honey and pour this mixture over the sweet woodruff in the evening. When serving use  sparkling water instead of champagne. 

Nocino from a Historical Perspective

black walnut, nocinoIt isn’t really close to time for starting nocino in my little part of the world, but I recognize that for some of you the time is drawing very near.  I’ve been asked for the recipe more than a few times this spring so I thought I would do something ahead of time, for a change.
There are so many recipes floating around out there that I thought I would speak about it more as an herbalist and less as a foodie, for a novel approach.  Before we get into all of that,  we should clear up a question that I have been asked a few times now as to which species of walnut to use in the preparations of nocino?

walnutenglishblackFor those who need some identification help, I’ve added the picture to the left.  As you can see the leaves of the two types of walnut trees are quite different from one another so you should have no problems.  The leaves on top are from a black walnut (Juglans nigra) and the bottom leaves are from an English walnut (Juglans regia).  The most authentic recipes call for English walnuts.  If you look at Libovitz’s recipe you can see that he is using English walnuts, however, I remain unconvinced that one must use English Walnuts.  I would imagine the that recommendation is based on the fact that these  were the only type of Walnuts growing in Europe until the mid-17th century, but I see no reason why they aren’t interchangeable.  The early American colonists seemed to think they were, especially as they had a hard time getting English walnuts established.

I have black walnuts growing behind my house, so black walnuts are what I use and I have been quite happy with the results. If I stumble across a plentiful supply of the English variety, I will have to do a comparison.  The sacrifices I must make for my research…

As usual I like to research the history of my preparations.  I tried to pin down the origin of the drink.  I had almost given up on the idea when I found a journal article which attributes its origins to the Celts.  The authors of the journal cite literature from an Italian monastery which also confirms the use of the preparation “as a tonic and digestive aid” and attributes the origins of the drink to the Druids who traditionally collected “green unripe walnuts”at the end of their summer solstice rituals. It remains  traditional in Italy to gather the walnuts for this preparation on St. John the Baptist’s day which is the Catholic holy day that seems to have replaced the pagan solstice rituals.  So every year on St. Johns Day,  I pick his wort and start my nocino.

nocino-3The following is the recipe for nocino as translated (probably poorly,  I used Google) from a pdf published by the Ordine del Nocino Modenese, the monastery which claims to have originated the drink in Italy.

1 liter of alcohol 95 °
700-900 grams of sugar
1 kg of walnuts (33-35 nuts about depending on the size but always in number odd)

The nuts must be strictly locally sourced and free from any treatment. They also need to be , as tradition indicates , collected at the turn of the feast of St. John the Baptist .The right consistency of the nut should be assessed and pierce it with a pin and / or verified visually by splitting in half with a knife.

Optional: Cloves and cinnamon in small quantities and dosed in such a way that the aroma prevalent in liquor is always that of the walnut and the overall bouquet you create a harmonious result.

The nuts, once harvested, they must be cut into 4 pieces and placed in a glass container (no rubber seals) together with the sugar. After being kept in the sun for 1-2 days and stir
Periodically, the nuts are ready to be added alcohol and any flavorings. The product thus obtained must be positioned in an area partially exposed to the sun, occasionally opened and shuffled, and not filtered before 60 days.

It is advisable to bottling in glass containers dark and / or refine the product in small wooden barrels… can choose either chestnut oak that provided that the barrel has been properly treated before use. The preservation of the walnut must be carried out in a cool place and for a minimum period of 12 months if you want to fully appreciate all the characteristics of this liquor.

This is certainly a recipe that screams to be played around with a bit so this year I have decided to make a traditional batch with some cloves and another batch flavored with Angelica now that I have that growing in abundance.
The brew is not without a medicinal history. Although M.Grieves focuses on pickling the young nuts, there are historical references to green nuts combined in some way with sugar and used as a digestive aide. Gerard says “the greene and tender nuts boiled in sugar… are a most pleasant and delectable meate, comfort the stomach and expel poison.”   Culpeper recommends a very similar preparation saying, “The young green nuts taken before they be half ripe and preserved with sugar, are of good use for those who have weak stomachs.”  He also mentions that ounce or two of a distillation of the same age of husk, is used to “cool the heat of agues and resist the infection of the plague.”  That might be a new tradition to add to my summer solstice celebration.  I’d guess a black walnut distillation smells amazing. I may have to give Susanna Avery’s recipe for pickling the green nuts a try as well.

Let your nutts be green as not to have any shell; then run a kniting pin two ways through them; then put them into as much ordinary vinegar as will cover them, and let them stand thirty days, shifting them every too days in ffrech vinegar; then ginger and black peper of each ounce, rochambol [ Spanish garlic] two ounces slised, a handfull of bay leaves; put all togeather cold; then wrap up every wall nutt singly in a vine leaf, and put them in putt them into the ffolloing pickel: for 200 of walnutts take two gallans of the best whit vineager, a pint of the best mustard seed, fore ounces of horse radish, with six lemons sliced with the rins [rinds]on, cloves and mace half an ounce, a stone jar, and put the pickel on them, and cork them close up; and they will be ffitt for use in three months, and keep too years.

Alamprese, C.,  “Characterization and antioxidant activity of nocino liqueur,” Food Chemistry (2005): 495-502.
Avery, S. Her Book, 12 May 1688 “To Pickel Wallnutts Green.”
Culpeper, N.,  Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician, (Manchester: J Gleave and Son, 1826), 194.
Gerarde, J., The Herbal or General History of Plants, 1633 edition, (New York: Dover,1975), 1441.