Making Distillates at Home

Pot distillation has been around for a very long time and the oldest methods involved simmering plants in liquid and collecting the liquid that cooked off them which I refer to as the distillate.  Simple distillation apparatuses were discovered at both the Tepe Gawra (Mesopotamia 3500 BCE) the Mohenjo Daro (Indus Valley ca. 3000 BCE) excavation sites.

The Alexandrian perfumers’ guild (which was actually a group of early alchemists) was using simple alembics to distil floral essences beginning in the 1st century BCE.   There is actually a very interesting story that alchemists sometimes tell about their discovery of a malleable glass that has been lost to time.   In a 4th century manuscript written by Zosimus of Panapolis, he shares a pictures of their system. He is a good person to study if you are into alchemy and its history.  In his manuscripts he tells each of his students they must obtain an alembic and instructs them on how to use them. Continue reading “Making Distillates at Home”

Historical Notes about Cranberries

I think that this information is probably going to surprise some people, but the way we use cranberries for sauces and fermented beverages is a very old practice from Northern Europe.

Vaccinium oxycoccus and Vaccinium microcarpus  are both native species in the British Isles and were used quite widely as food and medicine. The English called them fen berry or moor-berries. The Welsh called them llygaeron and Ceiros-y-waun. Clan Grant in Scotland wore Mùileag as their heraldic emblem into the 19th century.[1] In Ireland you also saw it referred to as monog (peat berry).[2]

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Historical Notes About Goldenrod

I wrote this article back in 2016, for Natural Herbal Living Magazine but I had to throw it up on the blog today because someone called goldenrod a weed and I felt like sticking up for one of my favorite fall ornamentals. I also wanted to share that you most likely aren’t allergic to goldenrod.  The pollen produced by goldenrod is quite large, heavy and sticky.  It is too heavy to become windblown and relies on insects to spread it.  It’s almost impossible for people to be exposed to the pollen aside from touching the plant. 

Whenever I think of goldenrod, I think of this poem by Clement Wood, that I found when writing my first monograph on the plant many years ago.

Coin of the Year
NOVEMBER, you old alchemist,
Who would have thought
You could turn the high arrogance of golden-rod To still plumes of silver?1

Today it seems odd to think of goldenrod as a plant of “high arrogance,” however thru the early part of the 20th century, our friend was held in much higher esteem. Continue reading “Historical Notes About Goldenrod”

Cranberry Jelly

I promised I would post this today.  I honestly just started making this a couple of years ago, because my daughter added a new appetizer to Thanksgiving Day and I really try to make sure that’s the one day of year I am making everything from scratch.I know seems over the top, but its my party and I can make it more work if I want to. This is ridiculously easy though even if you don’t have an Instant Pot. 

Ingredients

  • 2 bags (12 oz each) fresh cranberries, about 6 cups
  •  1 cup apple juice
  •  2 cups sugar
  •  3 tablespoons powdered pectin

Directions

  1. Cook the cranberries in the cider until they are soft.  If you have an Instant Pot you can make your  life very simple by putting them in there for 5 minutes at high pressure and then doing a quick release.
  2. Now do whatever you are going to do to strain the juice. Put  the mixture through a food mill, squeeze it through a jelly bag ,or just put them in a strainer and press all the juice out. It’s okay if some of the pulp from the berries gets in there.  In fact, it’s preferable.
  3. Put this juice in a pot.   Mix the pectin and the sugar together, stir them into the juice and bring this all to a boil.  Let it boil for a few minutes until the bubbles start to foam a little and the pour it into whatever jars you are using.  It’s not a huge recipe, it will only make five or six jelly jars full.
  4. I think right now some of my Americans readers are going to  raise an eyebrow because they learned how to make jam from some USDA home economist who makes everything too difficult. You really can just mix the pectin into the sugar and just dump it in there.  In the UK, you can buy jam sugar that has pectin and citric acid added.  That’s what they use to make jam in the Great British Bake-off show.

Also I have had so many people arguing with me that “of course Gerard did not write about serving cranberry sauce  with meat” that I am just preemptively  posting this picture from my book right here.  The entry for ” Marish whorts or fenne-berries”  starts on page 1419.   Jeez, people like I would say something without a citation. 

Old World Gourds & Their Uses

As you  might know,  I don’t write about indigenous North Americans’ use of  plants on this blog.  That is not because there is not a rich and varied history of indigenous plant use, it is because it is not my history to tell.   When I do write about the history of a new world plant, I first look at what was going on in the old world with alternate species and reason out how the new plant worked its way into that system.  Because that’s the system I know.

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