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Cool wave pansies and drinking vinegar recipes & info are featured in this issue of Garden News
Log House Plants
Cool Wave Frost Pansy

COOL WAVE PANSIES

First, a quick introduction to Cool Wave Pansies, a new series that’s a cousin of the popular Wave Petunias. Available in Frost, Violet Wing, White, and Yellow, Cool Wave Pansies are heat and cold tolerant, with a vigorous, prostrate habit just right for baskets, containers, or groundcover. Low compact plants grow 6-8 inches high and spread or trail 24-36 inches. The deep green foliage stays fresh and crisp even in hot weather, but is also hardy enough to overwinter in the Pacific Northwest. Plants are not daylength sensitive, so the colorful, weather resistant blooms continue almost all year, resting only from mid December to mid January!
 
We’re shipping them now in 4¼" pots – look for them at your local retail nursery!
 

SHRUBS & DRINKING VINEGARS

Drinking vinegarsThe sun is out and harvest season is well under way! Need a use for that last round of overripe strawberries, the surplus rhubarb, or the looming glut of tomatillos? Here’s an idea: homemade shrubs!
 
Perhaps you’ve seen a shrub described on a food blog or listed on the drink menu of a happening new restaurant. Derived from the Arabic word “sharaba” or “shariba” (meaning “to drink”), “shrub” may refer variously to a drinking vinegar alone; a soft drink made by combining drinking vinegar with soda water; or a cocktail in which a drinking vinegar is used as a mixer; but basically a shrub is a beverage made using a drinking vinegar as one of its ingredients. A drinking (or sipping) vinegar is a concentrated, sweetened fruit- or vegetable-infused vinegar.
 
As a summer beverage, this funny-sounding concoction is surprisingly refreshing – the sweet fruitiness combined with the acidity of the vinegar and the fizz of the soda water make it a satisfying thirst quencher for a hot day, as well as an especially nice non-alcoholic option that still has some kick.  
And if you make the drinking vinegar at home, you can put those extra fruits and vegetables to good use, preserving the bright flavors and colors of summer’s harvest. Because you begin by smashing the fruit anyway, drinking vinegar is an ideal use for your less-than-perfect pickings or bargain “seconds” found at the farmer’s market.
 
TRADITIONAL-TURNED-TRENDY
Accounts differ somewhat on the history of the shrub but generally trace it to 18th century England and America, when fruit vinegars were used to enhance (or mask) the flavor of cheap liquor. A shrub was rather like a punch, but its key ingredient, drinking vinegar, had the additional benefit of preserving seasonal fruits for extended storage. A close relative of the shrub was switchel, a ginger-molasses-vinegar brew brought from the Caribbean to America in the colonial period that later gained popularity as a thirst-quencher for farmers working long days during the hay harvest.
 
Recently, these tart, flavorful beverages are making a comeback in foodie circles and cocktail bars around the country. Portland’s popular Pok Pok restaurant even produces its own line of drinking vinegars, Pok Pok Som that are combined with soda water for soft drinks and served as a mixer in custom cocktails. Sage and Sea Farms is another Portland area company making drinking vinegars primarily from locally sourced produce.
 
If you have extra fruits or vegetables from your garden, a CSA, or the farmers’ market, though, making your own drinking vinegar to use in a shrub is a pretty simple project. Homemade drinking vinegar preserves excess harvest – particularly any imperfect or overripe fruits and vegetables – and you can control the balance of flavors and the relative amounts of sugar, fruit, spices, herbs, and vinegar in each batch.
 
HOW TO MAKE DRINKING VINEGAR
Myrtle, our resident experimenter, explains the basic method for making a drinking vinegar: “take your fruit or vegetable, cut it up, add some sugar, mash it all together, cover with raw vinegar like apple cider vinegar or coconut vinegar, put it in a glass jar with a tight lid, let it sit on a table for a week, strain, and store in a sealed glass container…it will keep like any other vinegar (best stored in a cool, dry place).”
 
To make a shrub, combine the drinking vinegar with soda water or dilute as you would an apple cider vinegar drink. See the beautiful jars of drinking vinegar in progress and hear Myrtle explain more about the history and benefits of drinking vinegar in this You Tube video filmed at Log House Plants.
 
For a detailed, step by step explanation of several methods for making drinking vinegar see this article on Serious Eats. Note that this version mentions only fruit, while Myrtle had several tasty and interesting results using vegetables and botanicals as well; also this method calls for refrigerating the fruit while it soaks in the vinegar while Myrtle made her drinking vinegars at room temperature – the acidity of the vinegar prevents harmful organisms from growing.
 
DRINKING VINEGAR RECIPES
Starting with a base recipe  that used the cold (uncooked) method, raw cider vinegar, and a slightly lower proportion of sugar than many of the recipes out there, Myrtle came up with the following successful results:
 
Watermelon Drinking Vinegar
“Delightful and refreshing – my first real success. Great alone or mixed with flavored syrup.” – Myrtle
 
Ingredients:
1 individual sized watermelon
½ cup cane sugar
Enough raw apple cider vinegar to cover fruit
 
Directions:
Cut up the fruit (discarding the rind), mush a bit with sugar, then leave in a covered ceramic or glass bowl overnight at room temperature. The next day, put the mixture in a jar and cover with vinegar. Close the lid tightly and let sit at room temperature, shaking several times a day, for one week. Strain and pour into a storage bottle. To make a Watermelon Shrub, mix to taste with soda water (adding other syrups or flavorings as desired).
 
Pear Drinking Vinegar
“Yowza!” – Myrtle
 
Ingredients:
A bunch of very ripe pears of any kind
½ cup or less cane sugar to every cup of cut fruit
Heaping tablespoon of raw honey
Raw coconut nectar vinegar (or the easier-to-find, cheaper raw coconut water vinegar)
Smallish (about 1 inch) portion of a vanilla bean, split
 
Directions:
Cut up the pears, discarding the cores. Muddle with vanilla bean, sugar, and honey, then place in a jar and cover with raw coconut vinegar. Close the lid tightly and let fruit soak for a week, shaking two or more times a day. Strain with cheesecloth, removing as much pulp as possible. Add to soda water in desired proportions.
 
Other variations that turned out well using raw apple cider vinegar and cane sugar
  • Beets/lemons/lemonade (“The idea was stolen from a story on a New York Deli that invented it by accident. Tastes wonderful, if you like beets.”)
  • Blueberries
  • Pomegranate
Myrtle’s experiments with vinegars and spices
  • Pear, raw coconut vinegar, honey, vanilla bean (“Heaven.”)
  • Fennel, raw coconut vinegar (“Mmmmmmm….”)
  • Rhubarb, coconut water, white balsamic, raw apple cider vinegar
  • Mango, cayenne, lemon peel, raw apple cider and distilled cane vinegars
  • Strawberry, cane vinegar, apple cider vinegar
  • Ginger, apple cider vinegar, touch of honey (“Pretty mellow for ginger, great to use with ginger syrup and lime.”)
  • Tomatillo, coconut water, raw apple cider vinegar
  • Artichoke (flower, leaves, and stem), honey, red balsamic, cane vinegar, raw apple cider vinegar
  • Fennel, honey, white balsamic, coconut water, raw apple cider vinegar
Other possibilities using homegrown ingredients
  • Sweet or hot vegetables like tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, beets, carrots, pumpkins, winter squash, celery, or cucumber
  • Kale or other leafy greens
  • Cantaloupe or other melons
  • Add culinary herbs like basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, mint, fennel, or lavender
  • Mixtures of medicinal herbs and flowers like yarrow, burdock, and dandelion
NOTES, VARIATIONS, & TIPS FROM MYRTLE
  • Let the fruit macerate with the sugar for a couple of days, even to the point of fermenting into alcohol; the vinegar will stop your mixture from producing alcohol and turn it all into vinegar.
  • Overripe or bruised fruit is great (just don’t use moldy things).
  • Vary combinations of fruit with flavorings, spices and herbs: cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, cardamom, cayenne, nutmeg, fennel, ginger, mint, citrus zest or rinds; or keep it simple and combine flavors to taste later on.
  • Combine or vary sugars: honey and molasses are traditional sweeteners, but evaporated cane sugar is the norm.
  • Combine or vary vinegars: “I’ve used raw apple cider vinegar, cane vinegar, balsamic vinegar (use the fancy real balsamic, not the cheaper kind that’s basically dyed white vinegar with flavoring), raw coconut vinegar (and distilled vinegars to stretch the more expensive raw coconut vinegar). A little apple cider vinegar goes a long way, and you can combine it with some other liquid like lemonade or coconut water. You are drinking this vinegar, so you have to like it and think of it combined with the perfume and flavor of whatever vegetable or fruit you are marrying it with.”
  • “Use raw materials that are not sprayed with any chemicals, and wash all of it, as you are going to be drinking whatever comes with the fruits and liquids, too…. I have come across recipes for cooking the vinegars but I think that would kill all the good stuff, so these are raw drinks and I let natural chemical reactions prepare the food, all safe and mostly delicious.”
  • Jars and lids should be sterilized or at least thoroughly washed; use glass or ceramic bowls (metal will react with the vinegar); check your lids during fermentation and replace any that show signs of rust.
  • “For the squeamish, or too-strong vinegar, I made syrups to sweeten the shrubs – like ginger syrup for a refreshing ginger ale (and you can get candied ginger as a byproduct). I wasn’t very proper, just boiled sugar and water and the flavorings for each syrup: strawberry, mint, citrus, ginger. Or just add honey.”
  • “Some claim that these vinegar drinks will stimulate the appetite, but I find the opposite – they are filling, especially with soda water, and instantly refreshing!”
FOR MORE INFO

NY Times Magazine article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/style/tmagazine/09cecchiniw.html
 
On the history of shrubs and switchel:
http://www.diffordsguide.com/class-magazine/read-online/en/2011-08-09/page-3/shrubbery
http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/m093002.htm#1 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posca
 
For more gardening tips and recipes visit Ann Lovejoy's Green Gardening blog
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