Some herbs are fabulous to use in ground form – you just throw a spoonful in without worrying about fishing pieces out of the finished dish. I do this with rosemary, bay & sage. The process is:
1) Dry 2) Store 3) Mill batches as required
1) Hang a large paper-bagful up and forget about it until dry and brittle
2) Crumble the leaves off the branches, and store them somewhere dark and dry until needed. (eg in jars in a cupboard)
3) When it’s time to refill the herb jar, use a coffee/spice mill to grind them. As this only needs to be done occasionally, you could borrow it.
Capture ephemeral flavours and fragrances in different liquids, using this basic procedure:
1) Infuse 2) Strain 3) Bottle
Obviously there are loads of exciting things to try. But here are some favourites:
Infused vinegars make great salad dressings and fragrant pickles. Aspall sell organic cider vinegar made from UK-grown apples. You can get it in 5l bottles. Of course the cheapest source is to make it yourself from surplus apple juice
– Hogweed seed (seems best when green)
Lots of favourites.
It captures the fragrance of rose petals perfectly, but savoury-sounding herbs are surprisingly good too – eg sage. And chilli syrup tastes sweet and hot, like ginger.
Meadowsweet blossom makes a divine marzipan-flavoured syrup. These syrups can be drunk diluted, used in baking, or added to alcohol to make great cocktails.
In the eternal quest for ethical decadence, we have been making vodka infusions and liqueurs. (A liqueur is a sweetened infusion.)
Why vodka rather than other spirits? Because its neutrality lends itself to experimenting with flavours and a London-produced organic brand is available.
Some of these need a long time to mature. I’ve got green walnuts sitting in vodka in a cupboard but it’s supposed to take at least a year to be at its best!
To save us the headache of working out how to shop ethically, the excellent ‘Ethical Consumer Research Association‘ has researched different brands of vodka. Their free report is here: www.EthicalConsumer.org/BuyersGuides/drink/vodka (In case you’re interested, I buy UK5 Organic Vodka because it scores highly and is reasonably priced. I buy it from Abel and Cole for less than £16 per bottle. Of course you can buy whatever you like!)
The Ethical Consumer report on sugar is here: www.EthicalConsumer.org/BuyersGuides/food/sugar. I buy Equal Exchange organic raw cane sugar which works out about £4 /kg.
But remember, people’s tastes differ, and however weird a concoction you come up with, someone somewhere will like it. However safe, someone will dislike it…
Some of the infusions that sounded fantastic but were disappointing:
- Sweet Cicely (fennel was better)
- Douglas Fir or Juniper leaves were a bit bitter
- Dried bramley apple slices – OK but not excellent
- Lime (Linden) blossom – nice, but only when infused for a few hours, after longer it got bitter.
- Jasmine blossom – disappointing
- Mint leaves – disappointing
Experiment all you like, but if you want to play safe, here are some generally popular combinations
Easy Infusions. [Made by steeping the herb/seeds in the vodka for at least a month, shaking every now and then. When you approve of the flavour, strain and bottle.]
– Fennel seed
– Scented geranium leaves
Easy Liqueurs. [= infusions + sugar]
- Bay: Conveniently my favourite is the easiest to make…. Add bay leaves and about 1/4 cup of sugar straight to the bottle of vodka, and leave for a few weeks, shaking occasionally. You don’t even need to strain this one! It isn’t noticeably sweet. (The sugar costs about 20p and the bay leaves are obviously free.)
- Plum leftovers: Rather than picking sloes or damsons especially, I use the flesh left over from stoning plums. Again, I don’t add much sugar. When the flavour’s OK it will need straining to get the bits out.
BTW The all time most popular Urban Harvest cocktail is ‘Sagacity‘ – Vodka sage liqueur. To make this just add sage leaves and sugar to the vodka. When it’s ready strain out the leaves if they look messy or bitty.