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September 17, 2010

Making Essence of Purple
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:35 AM * 141 comments

So I pruned the blackberry bush in the back garden this spring, pruned it hard. It was throwing too many spiky canes toward the outside table instead of lurking demurely in the corner by the water butt like it’s supposed to. I taught it manners with the blades of my secateurs.

I wasn’t thinking of the berries, honest, but it’s produced a greater volume of them than last year as a result of my efforts at barbering†. They’re still seedy and, where their weight has dragged the branches to the ground, sandy. Maybe it’s the wet year (my tomatoes seem to have caught some kind of rot and are wilting horribly with green fruit still on the vine), maybe it’s the sparse and sandy soil the plant’s rooted in; I don’t know. I do know I’m not going to spend too much energy nursing a Himalayan blackberry bush*.

But still I have these blackberries, too numerous to waste but too seedy to put in my breakfast cereal. And so I bethought myself of something I read here once—not live, mind, since it predates me, but in one of my retrospective trawls.

Thus for this is what I am doing, or a near approximation thereof. This morning I bought a bottle of inexpensive vodka§, and some of it sits in an earthenware pot along with macerated berries and a little lemon peel. This is, I hope, the beginning of a beautiful friendship‡.

Anyone else stocking the pantry for the autumn or planning the garden for the spring?

† Or barbarous efforts, if you will.
* Some things deserve to live in a Hobbsean state of nature.
§ Not overproof, so I suppose technically this will be blackberry vodka rather than blackberry liqueur. I’m not proud; I’ll drink either.
‡ Albeit a tragic and doomed one, like Romeo and Juliet on a double date with Drusilla and Spike.

Comments on Making Essence of Purple:
#1 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:06 AM:

Yes. Oh Yes.

I've got 3 mason jar quarts of blackberries, 2 Vodka, one Rum. (and several gallon bags of individually frozen berries as well for breakfasts) I've also got a llieeetle tiny mason jar of overproof rum and diced ginger that tonates 1/8-1/4tsp of its contents to a glass of last year's blackberry that makes it just that bit better.

And, I've got a hankering to do this, with cocoa nibs.

#2 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:10 AM:

My people-food garden has mostly fizzled out due to neglect, but I have been planting natives for bird & bug food, and was rewarded this morning by finding the first monarch caterpillar on my swamp milkweed.

#3 ::: Mary Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:29 AM:

Heh. My daughter and I planted a few pumpkin seeds this spring, straight from the pumpkin. The resulting plant has completely covered our back yard and is threatening to cover several of the neighbours. It's even climbing TREES.

#4 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:31 AM:

Hyperlocal News - Moose has nearly finished the greenhouse (and vice versa).

Next year I can grow stuff in it. (The old one was falling down, so an aluminium & toughened glass replacement that would fit the existing foundations with a minimum of wrangling was purchased. The greenhouse is wonderful, the manual is an abomination and the author(s) have clearly never attempted to assemble the thing using the instructions they wrote.)

we shall have tomatoes, peppers, and somewhere to put the tree fern (Dicksonia Antarctica) in the winter to protect it from frost.


#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:31 AM:

Snap! Our pumpkin's up the pear tree, too!

#6 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:36 AM:

You can eat pumpkin leaves! They're delicious! Braise them like kale, or google for African recipes.

#7 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:38 AM:

Now I'm imagining an alternate-history Isaac Newton crossed with the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

#8 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:43 AM:

I've been putting up roasted tomato sauce, and drying the cherry tomatoes we can't manage to eat.

#9 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 12:04 PM:

First batch of dilly beans are done, and blueberry jam is on its way. Jam is taking a lot of sugar this year; the cold, wet summer wasn't conducive to fruits laying in lots of natural sugars.

First steps of cidermaking scheduled for this weekend, with the planned acquisition of ~20 gallons apples. Like the jam, they'll likely be more acidic than sweet, and likely yield a lower proof cider by spring.

The pumpkin vines have outcompeted the tomatoes this year.

#10 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 12:05 PM:

Is there a different metric for knowing when melons are ripe while still on the vine, as compared to buying them? Banging an on-the-vine melon produced an amazingly hollow sound, so I figured it was ripe. Nope, hard as a rock inside and bitter with it. Too bad it was the only one ... off the only part of the vine getting partial shade, as the rest had wandered off into the yard in search of I know not what.

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 12:28 PM:

Pumpkin vines will climb walls and rock faces. I saw one once (started from a seed that grew from a discarded rotten pumpkin) that walked across a small quarry and climbed the quarry wall.

#12 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 01:19 PM:

On the subject of purple -- this was my week for purple food. Roasted beet gnocchi, with pickled blueberries for dessert.

(The blueberries are parcooked in red wine vinegar, so they turn all sorts of magenta.)

All the purple food is now eaten. Now I have twelve ounces of sour-sweet blueberry syrup (with cinnamon and allspice and such) left over. Any idea what I can do with it? Putting it in seltzer is obvious, but too easy.

#13 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 01:31 PM:

Andrew #12:

The obvious choices in this household would be to put your syrup over vanilla ice cream or some flavor of fruit sorbet. Other people might put it on top of pancakes, or use as a tea sweetener. It might also work as a fish glaze.

#14 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 02:19 PM:

Mattathias @9 -- if you want a higher proof on your cider, I found that adding honey worked very well (about a pound to a five-gallon batch was optimal). What yeast do you use? My experimentation gave me results I liked when I used wine or champagne yeasts; beer yeasts yielded a cider that tasted more like beer than I wanted.

#15 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 02:30 PM:

joann @10:
Toby Willin has a post about melons over at Kitchen Counter Economics. It may be useful.

#16 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 02:53 PM:

In previous years, my aunt's cherry tomatoes have overrun their wire frame and made a good attempt at taking over the old chicken house. Not this year, alas.

Since I have a pretty reliable brown thumb, I will be content to say "ooooh, blackberries!" and leave it at that.

#17 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 02:55 PM:

I posted in the current OT about doing exactly what abi did - no overproof vodka, just regular 80 proof.

The raspberry one is awesome.

The herbal one is complex and somewhat numbing (and you breathe tarragon fumes for about twenty minutes after).

I have not tried the herbal lemoncello yet.

#18 ::: Cindy ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:02 PM:

@#10 Joann

We have had passing good luck by waiting until the vines start to die before picking anything; we are very far north, though, and our growing season is short. We have not managed anything larger than canteloupe and canteloupe sized melons, so I don't know if this works with larger varieties.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:03 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe @16:
So you did, though this project predates that comment. But I've been pointedly ignoring you since you mentioned going to Barney's and Fenton's with Terry Karney, because you didn't pay me to fly over and join you. Which, upon hearing of the expedition, instantly became my dearest wish.

(I grew up five blocks from Piedmont Avenue. You were on my turf. And you didn't invite me. Hmph.)

#20 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:04 PM:

I've done raspberries before, and it's gooood. Better than blackberries, but I have to buy the raspberries, so it's less attractive. And I've been using 105 proof for most of what I'm doing, as over proof stuff is hard to find locally. I've only recently picked up a couple of bottles. I actually had a jar of raspberries + 100 proof vodka explode last year. Well, gently, it was more of a -it's leaking, I'll take the top off, and then half of it slowly rose out and foamed over everything. I was bummed that I lost the berries, but I wasn't that into consuming something that was growing like that in that much alcohol.

This year the garden has been pretty disappointing except for the blackberries (invasive), the potatoes (185 lbs harvested and saved, and more already eaten) and the garlic (lots). We've had 4 or 5 meals of zucchini, from 5 plants. The beans are just coming on. The other squash is mostly tiny. The tomatoes, while the first one came in 7/14, have produced less than a pint ripened from 7 plants. Guess we wait till next year.

#21 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:07 PM:

I have a brown thumb, too, but the cherry tomatoes on the kitchen windowsill* have outgrown their available light. I'll take them down this weekend. Next year, back to just one plant, I think. I got a good harvest while it lasted, though.

*It's the only place that gets enough sun. I live in an apartment with no yard, no patio, and no balcony.

#22 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:24 PM:

I taught it manners with the blades of my secateurs.

I doubt this. The only thing I ever found that blackberries respected was a systemic poison that had to be painted on the cut stubs of the canes. Everything else resulted in "Hah, I laugh at your puny attempts at weeding! Just wait 'til next year!"

But still I have these blackberries, too numerous to waste but too seedy to put in my breakfast cereal.

I find I don't mind the seeds at all if I sprinkle the berries on top of vanilla ice cream (chocolate fudge works too).

#23 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:51 PM:

A good way to eat blackberries is to turn them into dumplings. Cook up the berries until they're making a nice syrup (I think standard recipes are available in regular cookbooks; I'm away from mine right now). Mix up dumplings, cook in the berry quasi-syrup. Softens the seeds.

I've found that it takes goats to get rid of Himalayian blackberries. Goats, or serious ripping up of the patch followed by concrete and/or serious herbicide action. Maybe defoliants.

#24 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:55 PM:

Teresa's method seems like a complicated version of how I do fruit in alcohol.

1. Fill quart jar with cleaned fruit.
2. Add half a cup sugar.
3. Fill jar with cheap vodka or rum.
4. Shake to dissolve sugar.
5. Leave alone until Christmas.

I spoon the fruit over ice cream or plain cake, using a slotted spoon, and mix the flavored alcohol with lemon-lime soda or gingerale for a nice drink.

#25 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 04:13 PM:

The only thing I'm having much luck with this year on my balcony is herbs. Never enough basil, of course, but I do have a nice bit of mint and oregano and lavender. I suppose it's getting to be time to whack them back and hang them up to dry. I'll have to see what they do on the windowsill over the winter. Hm, what would lavender and/or mint infused vodka be good for??

#26 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 04:15 PM:

Is the "Cheap vodka" a matter of "better vodka will be wasted" or a matter of "this actually leaches poisons out of it?"

Science wants to know!

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 04:18 PM:

Sandy B @25:

In my case, it's a matter of "I don't know my vodkas anyway," with an extra dash of "I don't want an interesting vodka flavor; I want it to taste like blackberries."

#28 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 04:53 PM:

Tom@14: If you're working with honey in quantity, technically you're making a fruit mead, or melomel. I've been making straight-up apple ciders, other than last year's apple/ginger cider, but may consider adding something this year depending on what the initial specific gravity reading is. Thus far I've used Cote du Blanc, but I'm considering switching to a champagne yeast; Cote du Blanc has given me some problems with odd sulphury taste.

and regarding cheap vodka: running bottom-shelf vodka through a Brita pitcher takes out the nasty smells quite effectively.

#29 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 05:13 PM:

Quite some time ago, I worked a summer job at the city Farmers' Markets. The vendors expressed their pleasure at my company and attention to the job by pressing upon me items of produce that were good right THEN, but wouldn't be after a long truck ride back to Michigan.

Much of it was fruit, which I don't eat. So I made some fruit pies (I'm told I make lovely fruit pies, though I don't taste them -- see also, 'don't like fruit'), and the rest I washed and froze, and largely forgot about.

A year or two later, our landlord closed the restaurant he was running on the first floor of the building whose second floor we inhabited. He shut it down, turned off its water, etc. Several days after THAT it became clear to us that our fridge's freezer was spontaneously defrosting ... it was plugged into an outlet beside the back door that turned out to be on the same circuit as all the outdoor lighting, which was in turn controlled by a light switch inside the restaurant. So he'd effectively turned off our fridge.

We moved it to a different outlet, but meanwhile, spontaneous defrost! Much was eaten or cooked that day. Several gallon bags of berries were set to one side as not nearly as critical as the meat, and then John took it as incentive to actually DO something with the glass carboy he'd been given for learning to brew in.

He went out and bought several large bottles of vodka, and we set it all up to macerate. The fruit was loosely packed into a (very old; probably pre-the-problem) nylon stocking so we had some chance in hell of getting it back out again -- our maceration chamber was shaped like an old Culligan water-cooler top, only bigger. So the fruit went in pre-strainered, somewhat, and sugar was stirred in; a string tied about the stocking was left hanging out the top opening before we covered it (see again: hope in hell, getting fruit out).

We never did an exact survey of quite what went into it, but I know blueberries, two kinds of raspberries, and strawberries were involved. The resulting liqueur was dark bluish, with red tones in it if held up to the light.

The fruit sludge, henceforth referred to as 'The Freezer-Melt', went (after expressing as much liquid as would come out) back into the freezer in tubs, and has been being used up gradually over time as somewhat-alcoholic ice cream topping. It doesn't quite freeze, it just gets sludgier and pours from side to side very .... slowly.

I do believe we still have a (sealed) Mason jar of freezermelt cordial in our fridge. This is impressive, as it was bottled two domiciles and nearly a decade ago ... there hasn't been an appropriate occasion to crack it open and try it, with enough appreciative drinkers around to make it seem worthwhile.

#30 ::: incandescens ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 05:26 PM:

My mother puts some raspberries or loganberries in a glass jar with brandy every autumn. Come Christmas, she makes trifle with the brandied fruits on Boxing Day, and serves around the flavoured brandy to drink. :)

#31 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 05:53 PM:

Until Terry called me last Sunday and said suggested Barney's, I was ignorant of their glory.

Unfortunately, graduate student instructor stipends make it hard to fund research into the teleportation of Fluorospherians...

Anyway, I am not having any of my various infusions until after sundown tomorrow. Having any of them as part of a pre-fast meal seems like a Bad Idea.

#32 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 06:59 PM:

I've been making small batches of tomato sauce as the tomatoes ripen. They've all split at the sides, something to do with the weather I imagine, and the skins are too leathery for fresh eating but I hate to waste them, they're nice sized fruits, so peeled and into the stock pot they go. Probably do another quart or so this weekend.

Other than that, nothing grew this year. Except the squashes. I planted multiple sorts of winter squash and they've nearly all gone berserk. The butternuts in particular grew long and slender and, um.... decidedly phallic.

(I'd post a picture, but it would be NSFW.)

#33 ::: Kelley Wegeng ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 07:02 PM:

I seem to recall that blackberries, raspberries, and any other of the rubus genus, can be aged a jar in the sun with some honey to make a fairly good mead. Mulberries would probably work as well (I'm guessing on their shape, not genus).

#34 ::: Chris Eagle ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 07:37 PM:

Making sloe gin and Rumtopf here. Also some kinda pickled damson thing, and blackberry jelly.

#35 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 07:57 PM:

This was my first year attempting a vegetable garden, and I don't have much to put up this year. I might be able to freeze a cube or two of basil (I've got regular and amethyst) for making pesto over the winter, but that's about it.

Since I'm container gardening, and planted late, I didn't have much produce overall this year. I got some nice salads from my buttercrunch lettuce earlier this summer, before it bolted to seed. One bell pepper got tossed in when I made orange chicken, and the other one, plus the banana pepper, ended up in a vegetable soup. I have one small tomato that's just about ripe, and 4 others that are still green.

Some of my herbs are in small pots, so I think I'll see if I can keep them alive (and safe from cats) indoors this winter.

I've also got a flourishing lemon verbena plant, and no idea what to do with it. I've heard the leaves make a nice tea, but I can't drink nearly that much. Might it be worth infusing in vodka? And if so, is there anything it might combine well with?

#36 ::: Elizabeth Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 08:28 PM:

I'm from the Pacific Northwest. The idea of someone intentionally growing Himalayan Blackberries breaks my brain. It feels like every couple of days I have to venture onto my porch and single handedly hold off the assault with my trusty green-handled clippers.

That said, it is a lot of free food, isn't it? My childhood wouldn't be the same without the days spent picking blackberries off the towering bulwark at the bottom of the street.
Last weekend, my aunt made blackberry syrup, and thanks to the type of jar she put it in, and the color and consistency of the syrup, it looked exactly like the jar of blood they get sent a key in during the first season of Dexter.

#37 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 08:32 PM:

And Spring has hit here, but alas I'm still in the pulling-things-out phase of remedial gardening. My garden goes to rack and ruin over the cold months, and the drought finally broke this year, so the weeds have been going berzerk.

But when I get to the putting-things-in stage, it'll be a salsa patch and a complete revival of the herb garden. And a lot of mulching.

#38 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 09:11 PM:

@35 container gardening -

If you have good light, you can have indoor herbs and even salad greens. I've got the luxury of a very well lit enclosed porch, home to my cactus collection, that also houses a large pot of catnip (for the convenience of my feline overlords). Last winter it also housed a bowl of swiss chard rescued from the garden before the last frost and which is finally, a year and a half after planting, giving it all up. (Soup time, methinks.) The year before that, I overwintered a large tomato plant in a kitty litter bucket - it didn't bear fruit in the winter, but produced early the next spring before succumbing to some sort of blight.

I think it's time to put the chard out of its misery and perhaps sow some spinach in the bowl for this winter's fresh greens.

#39 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 09:35 PM:

When I was well, most of my friends didn't drink alcohol, so I steeped herbs in vinegars and oils, in fancy bottles, and gave them for Christmas.

#40 ::: mimi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 09:53 PM:

I read this post right in the middle of making apple peel jelly, leftovers from the applesauce I made yesterday. (I know you can use peel and cores in applesauce, but I prefer mine chunky and don't have a food mill.) This summer I also put up raspberry-blackberry preserves, blueberry-blackberry preserves, blackberry-rosemary preserves, five-spice yellow plum preserves, sour cherry preserves, sweet cherries in rum, and canned peaches. I haven't done this much in around a decade, but this is the first year I've had easy access to an excellent weekly farmer's market, and they're all small batches.

I'm also attempting a small jar of creme de noyaux from some of the cherry kernels. It's aging now; in five months it should either be a lovely almond flavor to add to cocktails, or alcoholic cyanide. Wish me luck!

#41 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 10:10 PM:

In my opinionated opinion, blackberries exist so that blackberry cobbler can be made from them.

We've been putting up all sorts of frozen bits for the winter--pureed roasted peppers, pureed roasted eggplant, roasted eggplant, smoked cherry tomatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes, dried cherry tomatoes...

*Blackberry cobbler: heat and sweeten blackberries to taste. Make a batter/dough with 1/2 c sugar and 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 an egg for every cup of flour (put salt to taste, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp soda in each cup flour). Add about 1/2 cup buttermilk (or yogurt and milk mixed 1/2 and half) per cup flour and a dash vanilla, put in a greased pan, pour the boiling blackberries over the top, bake until done. Eat with cream.

#42 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 10:38 PM:

Marilee @39 When I was well, most of my friends didn't drink alcohol,

So now you're not well*, and... as a result all your friends drink?

*best wishes for fullest possible recovery if you are unwell currently, of course!

#43 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:23 PM:

vian, 37: Welcome back! How have you been?

#44 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 01:57 AM:

Benjamin@31, we've teleported Abi and other Fluorospherians before. When I first met her, she was flat with a 15" diagonal, and more recently, she was here in her full four-dimensional form, with several other people sharing the 2-d version, and in both cases, Kathryn from Sunnyvale was doing some Skypish magic to make it happen.

So Abi, if you'd like us to take you on a laptop tour of a cheese shop run next time, just let us know and we'll be happy to teleport you.

#45 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 02:47 AM:

Here in Southern California I'm just getting started on putting in the Winter Crops. (Maybe a bit late, but the Community Garden where I have two 9x18-foot plots was open only one morning per week during the school system's summer vacation, and that was barely enough to keep up with harvesting, weeding, and watering.) We might or might not get a few touches of frost (happened only once during the past eight years, at home, but five miles can result in significant differences in microclimates). The Winter crops will be broccoli, maybe a cabbage or two, beets, carrots, lettuces, edible-pod peas, and many kinds of Asian greens. I rather enjoy the challenge of trying to stagger plantings so that just enough is being produced at any given time to keep me adequately supplied with about as much as I can consume. That never works out precisely, of course, but it's fun to try.

Meanwhile, still harvesting some of the Summer plantings -- late tomatoes, green beans (mostly pole type, including noodle-type Asian ones), Chioggia beets, carrots, pak choi, & collards. And zucchini, of course.

#46 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 03:32 AM:

Elizabet Coleman @36:
I'm from the Pacific Northwest. The idea of someone intentionally growing Himalayan Blackberries breaks my brain.

Being raised partly in Cascadia* myself, I know what you mean. But this was there when we moved in.

Also, in the Netherlands, Himalaya blackberries don't seem to be nearly as invasive as they are elsewhere. They're merely hardy, not ubiquitous.

* OK, I'm stretching it a bit, since I'm talking northern-Northern California, and Cascadia is rarely thought to extend south of Oregon. But Humboldt County is, culturally, more Cascadian than Californian. And it's full of Himalaya blackberries.

#47 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 03:57 AM:

Early in the summer when I was thinnning the plums, I came across the directions for making "plum wine" from Cooking With Dog -- actually a kind of cordial, I think.

I followed the directions with my unripe satsumas, except I had no money to buy ingredients so I used vodka left over from some other project and regular sugar instead of shoju and rock sugar.

I was originally planning to do feral blackberry jam this year, but it didn't happen. It was all plums, all the time. I have two kinds of plum jam, three kinds of dried plums, and canned plums. I was not up to making true plum wine, as it turned out. I have lots of apples but I don't want to deal with the kind of fermentation that makes carbonation -- anybody have experience with still cider?

#48 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 06:42 AM:

I dunno if this applies to the Himalayan version, but I've been warned that blackberries tend to migrate over the years -- they throw a runner, sprout there, and then the parent plant dies.

#49 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 09:26 AM:

My garden, such as it is, was mostly disappointing this year, but I've been preserving things anyway. The biggest disappointment is the prune plum tree. It's not bearing at all well this year, and the few plums are wormy (although I used preventive measures). I had to *gasp* buy plums to make Pflaumenkuchen. Never happens.

My chili pepper plants have lived on windowsills for over a year, and we've got a few bags of anchos and serranos in the freezer. Something (I think bacterial) has befallen the leaves, though, and I need to start over with new containers, earth, and seeds.

We have a pick-your-own farm nearby with strawberries and raspberries, so I made strawberry/rhubarb jam flavored with vanilla. I also picked a nearly obscene amount of raspberries a couple of times. Most were eaten fresh, immediately. The rest was worked up into jam (rasp/blueberry/nectarine) and puree, which I froze. abi, this might be of interest for you: We don't like seeds, either, so this year I invested in a puree sieve. It really did the trick, and I envision using it with frozen raspberries, too.

Back in June, I bought vanilla beans and vodka, and am looking forward to doing my Christmas baking with my very own vanilla extract this year.

#50 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 10:25 AM:

The glory of homemade liqueurs (at least that I've found) is blueberry, which after proper aging and decanting produces a tawny liquid which is as transformed from the berries as champagne is from grapes (not fizzy, though). I was going to make some this year but like most of my plans there were severe round tuit deficiencies.

#51 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 10:36 AM:

I generally find that blackberries rarely survive long enough to get indoors, let alone have something made from them.

All I'm growing this year is rosemary, cabbage, and rue (which sounds like a folk song) but I had vast numbers of strawberries earlier.

#52 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 10:49 AM:

Earlier this week I harvested leftover pumpkins and basil at the CSA. I made 4 quarts of pesto (pecan and pinenut) and a batch is now freezing in ice cube trays. We have a large freezer so I most often freeze rather than can our food. I roasted the pumpkins and pureed them. Then I portioned the puree into half cup silicone muffin cups to freeze.

#53 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 11:59 AM:

I have grapes in the fridge, slowly raisining. (Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel, for the curious, and it's most of this year's harvest.)

Now I'm wondering what happens if you macerate Concords in vodka.

#54 ::: Larkspur ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 12:20 PM:

This is the best thread ever. Berries are my totem fruit. Blueberries are at the top of the totem. I am coming to visit each and every one of you.

Also? A Romeo+Juliet and Drusilla+Spike double-date? I wish to purchase a ticket, pls.

#55 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 12:26 PM:

My summer garden this year was more a "keep my hand in" than anything. A few tomatoes, a couple of peppers. But it's comin' on to winter veggie season, and I'm looking forward to carrots, spinach, and other tasties.

Some years back, I rented a house with a plum tree. The plums were not eatin' plums, but my first encounter with satsumas. With help, I put up gallons of satsuma chunky jam. I gave jars away for various holidays for some years, at the behest of the previous recipients. ("Do you have any more of that jam?")

First and last time I put up anything other than a couple of containers tossed in the freezer. It was one of those "learning experiences" that I'm glad I had, and don't wish to repeat if I can help it.

#56 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 02:25 PM:

#55 -- The plums were not eatin' plums, but my first encounter with satsumas.

I would contest that assessment of satsuma plums. My plums are satsumas and they are excellent for all uses, including straight off the tree.

#57 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 03:12 PM:


You have sent me to Google Image Search wondering in what strange dialect a 'satsuma' is a sort of plum when for 30-odd years I've used the word referring to a variety of small orange.

Strange fruit, this conversation bears.

#58 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 03:14 PM:

Also, the alternative to Concords in vodka is grape pie. (5 cups for a 9-inch pie, 4 for an 8-inch.)

#59 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Himalayan blackberries do not 'migrate'. Himalayan blackberries colonize, with fire and sword and the names of their gods on their wee berry lips.

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 06:32 PM:

pericat @ 59:

Truth. Also, parent canes do not die, they simply grow thicker and thicker, and their prickles grow thicker and develop hooks and barbs on their ends. Had the Himalayan blackberry colonized Europe earlier, the rack and the iron maiden might not have been invented.

My sources say it originated in Armenia and entered Europe early in the 19th century.

#61 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 06:44 PM:

Joann: They ought to come off the stem without too much effort.

I missed that thread the first time. I was in Germany, and there was no internet really available.

It was an interesting time, and beer was the tipple of choice.

#62 ::: Antongarou ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 07:15 PM:

abi- you might get better results if you use 95% grain alcohol, cut with water as appropriate. IIRC some cheap vodkas have impurities that might cause problems with the taste. All the local recipes I ran into use this trick rather then buying vodka. And depending on the way they're priced in the netherlands, grain alcohol might be cheaper to boot.

Also, I envy your garden. I live in an apartment that has no garden and gets next to no sun(although that can be a blessing during the summer).

#63 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 09:23 PM:

pericat @59

Himalayan blackberries do not 'migrate'. Himalayan blackberries colonize, with fire and sword and the names of their gods on their wee berry lips

Oh, like the wine berries in my yard!

#64 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 10:00 PM:

pericat, #42, "So now you're not well*, and... as a result all your friends drink?"

Well, sorta. I had to pretend to be a christian until I was an adult because my father would have killed me. I continued with that for some years because I thought I had friends in the church. However, when I had the first renal failure and was in the hospital for nine months, I found that what they wanted me to do was word processing and baby showers and other volunteering that I couldn't do anymore. A majority of my current friends drink.

"*best wishes for fullest possible recovery if you are unwell currently, of course!"

I'm too sick to ever be well, but I appreciate the best wishes!

#65 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 12:19 AM:

Like everyone else in the PNW, we have blackberry thickets taking over our land. I loves me some blackberries, but a plant that grows thorns on the undersides of its leaves is not one that will ever love me back. I don't even think about clearing it anymore, I just try to keep it at bay. Every now and then I fantasize about setting fire to the back forty, not that it would do any good. Not only would the vines survive, but they'd rejoice in the demise of competitor plants.

I have a couple of pint jars of blackberries steeping in vodka in the back of my icebox now. I'd have more, but jars and vodka cost. I'm intrigued by the mention of blueberries making a nice liqueur; we have gallons of blueberries. Would they do all right paired with a nice single malt? Or brandy?

#66 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 03:06 AM:

Maybe it's coincidence, or maybe it's just the end of summer, but about a week ago I picked up a sixpack of Abita Purple Haze, a raspberry wheat beer, in time to drink during this discussion. Given this discussion, I looked at raspberries at the market today, but wasn't impressed, and got strawberries which will get eaten rather than liquorized, but maybe the farmers' market will do better.

Pericat, since my wife got blueberries when she was out today, I just tried several versions of "sip of liquor while eating blueberries", though the results of marinating for a while and maybe adding sugar would obviously be more complex. Single malt Scotch wasn't a good match - it loses everything that makes the whisky interesting, so if you're going to do that, use a blended whisky. (This was Highland; Blueberry Islay just sounded wrong in a dead-bodies-and-seaweed kind of way.) Irish was a bit less wrong, cheap bourbon was ok but not great, and probably the sourness would be hard to get right. I don't have Canadian around but it seems like a more credible whiskey to use, fruitcake-quality brandy did ok, and white rum did ok.

#67 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 03:46 AM:

re flavoring vodkas: The cheap stuff, can be improved. Pass it through a brita about three times, and Popov is up there with the better run of stuff one can get in the states.

I like to make cucumber vodka, as well I like ot make black pepper.

Take a small handful of peppercorns, crack them. Place them into a bottle of vodka (I get the small bottles of Stoli Crystal, it's perfectly fine mediocre vodka, which is fine for this). Place the doctored bottle into the freezer. It will start to get a strawlike color to it, in about two-weeks.

Taste. When it has a pleasant bite, strain out the pepper. It will get more aggressive as it warms up, so drink it cold.

For Cucumber: get a better vodka, one you would be willing to drink neat (the last batch I made for someone I used Uncle Tito's). Get a cuke, (hothouse are just fine for the purpose), and peel several strips.

Again, let it steep in the freezer, and taste after about two weeks. When the cucumber is as prominent a flavor as you want, remove the peel.

#68 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 09:50 AM:

Terry: Any particular reason you infuse in the freezer?

#69 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 10:56 AM:

Thanks, Bill! I was leaning toward the brandy, but your research gives me heart. These won't be but two small jars' worth, so if it's a disaster, it at least won't be scandalously wasteful.

#70 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 11:50 AM:

With this thread, I sense a real possibility of acquiring plant material at Berkeley Bowl to make even more infusions!

I had a wee bit of my herbal one last night after I ended my fast - it is losing the wonderful green color it had, and the flavor is a bit like being bludgeoned over the head with the herb patch. A useful dose seems to be about half an ounce, as a shot. Not really something to sip.

#71 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 01:20 PM:

Elliot: It slows things down. Forget to check them for a couple of day in the freezer, it's not too bad. Do the same things at room temp and they become way too strong.

It's also the temperature at which you want to drink them.

The black pepper, done right, can feel as if one has had a brass-brush run up and down the throat if you drink it warm. WhenI'm going to be serving it as more than just drink I hand someone, it goes to the table in brined ice.

#72 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 01:35 PM:

That suggests using the herbal infusion as a flavoring in something else.

#73 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 01:51 PM:

@70,72 I'll second PJ's suggestion. That sounds like a mixing spirit.

And my mind's tongue (or whatever part of the brain it is that mixes hypothetical flavors) is telling me 'Cucumber, mix it with cucumber and serve it very cold." But YMMV.

#74 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 02:33 PM:

Hm... I grabbed lemon cucumbers on my shopping trip. There is potential here.

#75 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 02:36 PM:

I had a cocktail at a restaurant last night that involved vodka infused with basil, cucumber water, and something mint. It was pale green, and incredibly delicious.

If you're a Portland reader, this was at Tabla bistro.

#76 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 02:49 PM:

At my neighborhood synagogue (which is incidentally in Benjamin Wolfe's neighborhood too, if he should happen to be looking for a friendly Conservative shul), congregants have an interesting tradition. During the fall holiday of Sukkot, people wave around etrogim, or ritual citrons. After the holiday is over, some congregants (I've never figured out who, but I know there are several) cut up the citrons and soak them in vodka. A year later, on Simchat Torah*, the bottles of last year's etrog vodka magically appear on the synagogue drinks table. They're redolent of citrus and alcohol (and I'm sure more complex notes which trained drinkers than I could recognize). I have a low tolerance for alcohol, so can only manage about half a shot without lowering my ability to carry a Torah scroll safely.

*a fall holiday appended to the end of Sukkot, which is heavy on the dancing, drinking and celebrating, as Samuel Pepys once discovered, to his horror.

(I'll go back to my regularly scheduled lurking now.)

#77 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 02:50 PM:

Three previews, and I still missed the word "more" in the phrase "more trained drinkers than I." Sigh.

#78 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 03:41 PM:

Rymenhild, the idea of etrog vodka prior to the dancing for Simchat Torah sounds like a dangerous idea - in the best possible way. In fact, it reminds me of the general practice at Hillel when I was in undergrad, which I have not thought about since I graduated. I have occasionally seen citrons available in normal markets, and have always been unable to make myself buy them and use them like a normal lemonoid citrus because of the association with Sukkot.

In regard to synagogues in my neck of the woods, I found the friendly Reform shul - which happens to be on the same street that I live on. I am in the process of applying for membership there [I went there my first Friday in town and after one service realized that yes, this was a community I wanted to be a part of]. Love it when that happens.

#79 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 03:56 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe:

I have occasionally seen citrons available in normal markets, and have always been unable to make myself buy them and use them like a normal lemonoid citrus

Try for the 'lemon zesty Cthulu' citrons instead.

#80 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 04:03 PM:

I have used those. Very fun... even if they do look like a tenticular horror from beyond spacetime.

#81 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 04:08 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe #78: Ironic, given it was almost surely selected as a familiar fruit in the holiday's original time and place.

Not-so-coincidentally, I just spent my morning helping to put up the Sukkot for our local temple✡, then helped unload a truck at the food bank.

✡ Which I don't even attend, but Mom belongs to...

#82 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Merav is coming to visit this week, to I am setting up a sukkah, circles and circles, perhaps I shall search out some etrogim, and make some vodka.

#83 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 04:46 PM:

I never said my oddities about not wanting to cook with etrogim were normal - but years of being told as a kid that you need to be very very careful with the etrog are a pretty good way to instill the idea that this is not a food item. On an intellectual level, I know you can eat them in a myriad of ways, but it just seems like not the right thing to do.

What can I say, I am a little strange.

#84 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 05:09 PM:

Hmmmm...would a vodka infusion using citron and dates be Absolut Sukkot?

#85 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 05:46 PM:

Would the Buddha's Hand ones to be more common at a Reform synagogue than Orthodox?

My associations with citron are different - they're with the candied ones in my mom's fruitcake. There were a few years that my wife was into making fruitcakes, and we found that the candied fruits go on sale for about 1/4 price shortly after Christmas, then disappear from stores until fall, so it makes sense to acquire them then, since they keep forever and fruitcakes get soaked in liquor for a while.

#86 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 08:10 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe #83: Oh, I didn't say it was "weird", just ironic. The ritual significance overtaking the reality is a commonplace thing....

In my own case, it's just not a fruit I would think to buy, especially since it's not particularly common around my parts.

#87 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 11:42 PM:

If my understanding is correct, a buddah's hand would not work in lieu of a proper etrog; I am pretty sure it does not meet the halachic criteria. Seeing one used as an etrog would freak me smooth anyway...

#88 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 11:44 PM:

#43, TexAnne

Hi, yourself. I'm faring tolerable, all things considered.

Weeding continues to have its rewards - in one of my front garden beds, I found that my violets hadn't all died out in the drought after all; the grass was hiding a small but hardy looking clump. So crystallised violets are in my future.

And if anyone in Melbourne wants a weeny Japanese Maple, I have about 14,000,000,000 of the buggers. It's all about the numbers - one or two of them would be precious seedlings, to be transplanted and nurtured and helped to grow into a gorgeous tree. But after you've pulled up your hundredth, or so, they're a bloody pestilence which puts you in mind and need of a blowtorch.

#89 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 12:58 AM:

My garden is usually more about the planning and starting than the carrying through, but this year I have not only grown herbs, but the rosemary has been harvested, dried, and all the way to bottled. Remains to be seen whether it's dried enough to store properly. Procedure to be repeated with the lemon verbena over the next week or so.

I grew tansy for the first time this year. It was clearly deliriously happy in my garden-- it shaded out the sage and thyme. Probably won't have it again, at least not soon. I have it harvested and dried, but haven't yet figured out what happens next. I'm thinking maybe muslin sachets in the linen closet and pantry.

Vian @88: When we first moved into this house, a friend gave us a tiny sapling redbud-- they're native here, and the seedlings were weeds in her yard. Eight years on, the sapling is a lovely centerpiece for one of the beds, a globe of about seven or eight feet and just starting to generate its own offspring. Somebody will love your wayward maples.

#90 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 01:06 AM:

I fed some of each of my three infusions to a labmate and his wife yesterday: the raspberry one is a real winner (universally loved). The labmate and I liked the tarragon/shiso one (his wife did not enjoy it); the lemoncello is good but too sweet for my palate.

#91 ::: Antongarou ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:00 AM:

Benjamin Wolfe @90: have you served the lemoncello room temperature of from the freezer?I found that if it isn't cooled enough I can't stand lemoncello, but when it's iced I love it.

#92 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:06 AM:

Room temperature. I should have thought about that - in the fridge it goes!

I am probably bringing a sampler of them to my lab on Friday, and will make sure to chill it then.

#93 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 02:19 AM:

Limoncello is one of the few forms of ethanol I find to be really dangerous - pour it over some ice, add fizzy water, it tastes just like good lemonade and I tend to drink it in lemonade kinds of speeds and volumes without paying attention, and by the time I realize that that was a bad idea, it's a bit late. Even wine coolers don't sneak up on my like that, and most other alcoholic drinks tell me how fast I ought to be drinking them. Fortunately it's a drink I seldom encounter except at home, and when I do have a bottle in the fridge I'm usually careful with it.

#94 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 08:26 PM:

NYTimes article on preserving fruit with booze - a bit behind the Making Light scoop on the topic, but with pretty pictures.

And Happy Equinox!

#95 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 11:47 AM:

Bill Stewart #94:

I took a brief look and muttered, "But what about preserving booze with fruit?"

#96 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 11:52 AM:

I bet the nitrous trick (see Particles) could be used to make limoncello in ninety seconds.

(Do fruit and alcohol first, then add sugar syrup. I don't know if putting syrup in a nitrous bottle would ruin the extraction effect, but I bet it would foam like crazy.)

#97 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 01:35 AM:

One of the local science fiction groups had an Alien Food Party last night, at which strange solid and liquid dishes were consumed. There were figs pickled in balsamic vinegar and spices, and fig syrup that got made somewhere in that process (dilute with fizzy water to drink.)

Also, one of the local spirits-makers brought a nitrous infuser and made several different quick-infused drinks using vodka or rum solvents. The ones I tasted included ginger, a sage and Fuji apple, and the winner of the evening's experimentation, Moroccan mint tea with fresh mint leaves added. There was also one with berries of some kind. They generally needed to brew for a couple of minutes, and apparently releasing the nitrous quickly is an important part of the process, so you don't get to use it recreationally.

#98 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2010, 04:52 PM:

At the request of my labmates, I now have two more infusions running : two large batches (1L) of raspberry, which if the last batch was any indication, will be awesome and one large batch of habanero*...

*I may like spicy things, but this is ridiculous. I asked around in the lab for suggestions and/or requests - and my adviser, who is well-known for an amazing capsicum tolerance, requested a habanero infusion... so I added them to my shopping list and bought about half a pound yesterday. Snipped the tops off (somehow, I did not think that the stems would be useful), made sure that alcohol could get inside and plopped all of them in about 750mL of vodka. After a day, the vodka is a light orange-yellow, smells peppery and fruity... and I have not been willing to try it. I am planning to decant all of my current infusions on Wednesday night - one bottle of each is going to the Thursday colloquium with my lab... and I bet the habanero one will be interesting. For values thereof which include "assault with intent to torment"

I cannot wait to see what my adviser makes of it.

#100 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2010, 05:34 PM:

Coming somewhat late to the discussion: in several previous years I picked and pricked sloes and made sloe gin. I recently went to a conference where at the auction to raise funds for the student members, the auctioneer managed to flog a 50 mL bottle of sloe gin I'd contributed* for... SIXTY EUROS! The winner promptly shared it with four other people. I've just packaged up a larger bottle to send to him - I thought he deserved somewhat more for his money!

On the gardening front, my herbs have done well this year - must move the pots into the greenhouse soon. First, I'll need to harvest the last bunches of grapes from the vine and cut it back to let some light in. Some of the longest (10 - 15 ft) lengths already went to decorate the sukkah at my shul.

We picked loads of blackberries at the local park several weeks ago. Cooked and froze, now we're combining them with (our) pears and (neighbour's) Bramley apples to make crumbles.

The tomatoes are still bearing - not sure how long they will continue.

I have plans to grow more veg next year - I bought the seeds already (yeah, didn't get around to sewing them this year!)

#101 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2010, 05:41 PM:

I just tried the habanero vodka... I put it together a day ago with rather more in the way of habaneros than the yelpers were discussing (the aforementioned half a pound of peppers). Potent, but not unbearable (well, not unbearable for me - quite nice, in fact - but dear Lord, if someone went on a bender with this stuff, the torments would be long-lasting and epic).

As it stands now, the vodka is a light yellow-orange and the nose is entirely sweet and fruity (the standard ripe pepper odor, with more complexity than you get from most). There is a real burn involved - my lips and tongue are still tingling after having a wee sample a few minutes ago - but it is not bad, by any means. I think I will let it keep running and not decant it now; I am curious...

#102 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2010, 05:54 PM:

This seems like a good thread in which to mention something we found out last week, although others may know it already. To wit: when using up leftover salsa as sauce over leftover roasted chicken, do not add the salsa before reheating the chicken! The reheating process greatly intensifies the capsaicin; a salsa that was pleasantly spicy in the jar became sharp enough to bring tears to my eyes and leave my lips and tongue tingling for about 20 minutes after eating, even though I had scraped all the actual salsa off the meat. Next time we'll heat the chicken first and then put the salsa on it.

#103 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 01:25 AM:

I have a quart jar, filled with peppers (of a habeñero corss, pleasantly fruity, with a bit of burn when the pith/seeds are stripped), soaking in about 20 ounces of champagne vinegar.

I'll decant the vinegar when I get back from my New York trip in the beginning of November. It will, I presume from past experience, be tolerable at the 1/8th teaspoon drunk straight level, and make a really useful flavoring agent.

I'll refill the jar with a decent white wine vinegar (or maybe, because I get a good price at work, more champagne), and give it to some friend who really likes HOT peppers for the holidays.

#104 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 01:38 AM:

This is my canonical habanero infusion information, albeit into oil rather than alcohol. Not that I've tried any of it—I can't tolerate spicy food at all. But there it is.

I've bought more, better vodka, and some of it is now infusing cinnamon bark, nutmeg chunks (bought one of those grinder things and broke it open), lightly crushed cloves, and a couple of cardamom seeds. My better half shudders when he hears this, but it's already pretty promising...

#105 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 02:48 AM:

I was reading through old recipe threads earlier today and stumbled across that one, abi, and was amused to realize just how cautious some people are when handling them. I have a healthy amount of respect for anything capsaisin-bearing, but I do not *quite* rank it up there with really nasty laboratory chemicals. Maybe I should.

And then there is Dave Luckett's great line in that thread: "food which commits assault with intent to maim."

I think I am naming the habanero infusion "assault with intent to maim". I consider it fair warning.

#106 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 10:28 AM:

I have to ask: does making sloe gin take longer than making fasy gin?

#107 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 10:57 AM:

Habanero infused vodka, eh? Sounds interesting. Perfect for bloody marys!

I've never found any pepper that particularly bothered my hands (stings some in scrapes or cuts, certainly). But even fairly mild peppers will bother my eyes if I touch them any time soon after handling the pepper.

Brita filters are like $5 each (quite a range, depending on where you shop, looks like). How much vodka are they good for? And have people found ways to store the vodka filter between times it's needed for vodka, or do you have to do it all at once? (For water, they clearly want you to keep the filter wet once you wet it the first time.)

#108 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 11:02 AM:

I would think that you could just keep your vodka-dedicated Brita filter in a jar of vodka. At 40% alcohol, I cannot imagine anything would try to grow on it...

#109 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 11:50 AM:

Is the warning about letting the filter dry out about bacterial growth, or physical form? Maybe the particles clump up in some unhelpful way when they dry together.

As for handling capsicums, if I don't wash my hands after a chopping session, I risk igniting a slow burn within a few hours -- the stuff soaks slowly into the skin. Backs of the fingers, usually; if it gets through the thicker skin in front, that takes longer. Nothing to do once it's started, of course. It's never been agonizing, but a couple of times I've gone to bed with a happy stomach but somewhat tender fingertips.

#110 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 11:53 AM:

They don't, of course, tell you why they say to treat the filter in certain ways. That would be too useful.

I've never forgotten (so far) to wash my hands after messing seriously with peppers. I'm trying to reduce the time period during which I have to remember not to touch my eyes.

#111 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 12:20 PM:

Paul A. @106: Despite knowing I'm answering a facetious comment, I'm going to answer anyway. My method (inherited from my mother-in-law) of making sloe gin takes about three months - which makes it pretty slow...

#112 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 12:45 PM:

I started the Great Sauerkraut Experiment today. My recipe calls for 20lbs of cabbage and a 5gal container. I decided to go for one head of cabbage, which yielded about 3lbs, and a much smaller container. I figured if it all goes south, the compost could handle one head of cabbage better than six or seven.

After due consideration, I decided not to follow the internet advice of stamping the cabbage with my bare feet, clean or otherwise, although it would surely lend a certain je ne sais quoi to the final result.

#113 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 01:20 PM:

abi, #104: That sounds pretty good to me too, and I don't like alcohol! What sort of things do you use it for?

#114 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 03:05 PM:

Lee @113:

I've never made it before. I note that it's acquiring flavor awfully fast -- and it's already the color of medium tea, though I only started it soaking on Friday. I think I might filter the first lot out and put the second lot in.

I think I would sweeten it a little, and leave it to age a bit, then pour some into apple juice and heat it up on a cold day*. Or sip it while eating something involving orange and dark chocolate.

I might try to obtain some fresh ginger on Friday or Saturday, and add it to a sub-batch.

* My parents used to put a cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves into a saucepan of hard cider and slowly heat it up†. They'd do the same with apple juice for us kids; I remember using the cinnamon stick as a straw. It's still one of my favorite winter drinks, but now I use the microwave now, for instant gratification.

† Honestly, I have a headache just typing that.

#115 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 04:07 PM:

re filtering vodka: A new filter will treat about 1 liter of cheap vodka (e.g popov/blue label).

A mid grade (say Stoli) it will treat up to 3 liters.

It takes about 3 passes to get all the unpleasant notes.

After that, it's not good for much.

I don't know how a really cheap vodka (say, лвивская) would come out. It might be one filter for .5 liter.

The reports say the inexpensive stuff (Wolfschmidt, et. al) come out at the taste range of things like Grey Goose.

Which is to say, 1: about as good as one can get in the states, and 2: probably more delicate than this needs

So it might be possible to prep with two washes, and get a bit more vodka through the mix.

Then again, for time/hassle, some Uncle Tito's (at about 20 bucks for 750ml) might just be the thing to do.

#116 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 05:17 PM:

Debbie@112, I can vouch for the effectiveness of composting as a means of disposal of unsuccessful sauerkraut :-)

Abi - heated cider with cinnamon sticks - yum! That even works with boring pasteurized filtered apple juice.

Haven't had habanero liquor, but I've had a chipotle infusion that was breathtakingly good. The recommended way to drunk it was to sip slowly, and 1/4 - 1/2 ounce is really all you need.

#117 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2010, 01:24 PM:

Well, we've opened the bottles.

The spiced vodka is still a little on the harsh side. I find it works better diluted with water. I shall try it with heated apple juice in a little while.

But the blackberry vodka is great. I think blackberries simply overwhelm any overly alcoholic overtones. Next year, I'll do it again with better vodka, now that I know I'm not wasting my time and money.

#118 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2011, 07:20 PM:

I just realized that I never reported back about the habanero vodka: the stuff is seriously dangerous. Easily weapons-grade; several lab members made the mistake of consuming 10-15mL on empty stomachs, which made a majority of them make haste to the bathroom heaving [no one actually vomited, but that much capsicum on an empty stomach is painful]. The experience was reported to be like being punched in the stomach for ten minutes. The substance has been deemed "Wolfe's Weaponized Vodka" and is now kept in the lab freezer to scare people with the story.

That said, it does make a good bloody mary - but I've nearly stopped drinking in the last six weeks, so I don't imagine that I'll be drinking a whole lot of it in the immediate future.

I also just gave away a raspberry infusion that had three months to mellow out - another lab here at berkeley was very, very happy to receive the jar.

#119 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 10:45 PM:

I am failing at my sauerkraut. I seem to be not quite getting my brine right, and gaining mold.

But I have a cucumber vodka steeping in the freezer.

#120 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 01:56 PM:

I'm contemplating how to infuse a ponderosa lemon that my Amazing Girlfriend brought back to Berkeley a couple days ago. I've cooked with them a couple times; they make for a respectable shaker lemon pie (well, I like it - but it's pretty bitter for most people, even with sufficient sugar) and I've made marmalade with them, which had much the same problem. Thinking of making a lemoncello variant with it, especially if I can find everclear or wildly overproof vodka this weekend.

Also, way back in the thread, Andrew Plotkin asked about doing syrup infusions with a nitrous siphon. I got one back in December and made a cacao nib infusion into a very heavy syrup - works wonderfully. It's the base for my chocolate soda. As I recall, about 3 minutes under pressure and then 10-15 min standing for the nitrous to work its way out. Filter out the big cacao pieces, and it's a clear light brown syrup. A couple teaspoons with seltzer is my Amazing Girlfriend's favorite soda. It doesn't gunk up the siphon - anyway, they're pretty trivial to clean.

#121 ::: Benjamin Wolfe is dwelling with the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 01:56 PM:

The Gnomes seem to want me to hang out today. Would they like to respond to a couple of reviewers?

#122 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 02:40 PM:

When I was in HS we moved into a house in San Jose that had a Ponderosa lemon in the back yard. They can be peeled with your fingers, and the peel would even pull off the fruit while it was hanging on the tree (resulting in squashed lemons underneath).

#123 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 05:38 PM:

That suggests we've misidentified it then. It's a citrus fruit roughly 8" in diameter, extremely thick rind (often well over an inch), relatively little flesh and notably bitter. I've never seen the peel come off one readily. Any idea what it could be?

#124 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 06:31 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe -- could it be an etrog/citron?

Do a Google image search on the above term and see if it resembles your "lemon."

#125 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 09:38 PM:

I could easily be wrong about the variety - they didn't have labels. We were going by the description. Thick skin, oh yeah. Also year-round fruit and lots of thorns. (There was also a more standard lemon, probably 'Eureka' or 'Lisbon', and a grapefruit.)

#126 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 09:40 PM:

It's definitely not an etrog of any recognizable description. The shape is wrong, and the smell is wildly wrong.

It matches PJ Evans' description pretty well...

#127 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 10:33 PM:

One year a bird built a nest in the grapefruit tree and lined it with pieces of lemon skin.

#128 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 10:56 PM:

re 124: perhaps a pomelo?

#129 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2013, 11:36 PM:

If you took a Eureka lemon and soaked it in gin, you would have Eureka gin.

#130 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2013, 08:11 AM:

Harold McGee has a discussion of the major citrus species, and this doesn't sound much like any of them. The size says pummelo, but not the bitterness. If the tree is homegrown, it could be a hybrid. McGee's account of the genetics and history is quite riveting.

#131 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2013, 01:06 PM:

I'll have to have a look at McGee tonight and see what I can find.

Is it bad that I want to get a large enough jar to infuse the thing whole? I realize it isn't optimal for flavor, but it'll just look really cool. I've made a variety of lemoncello-esque infusions before, and they're not really my thing. We're not going to eat it, and it's just too cool to let rot.

#132 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2013, 07:55 PM:

No, it is not bad to want a large enough jar to do this: Buddha's Hand citron infusing

#133 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2013, 08:26 PM:

It needs a label stuck to the jar, like a museum specimen.

#134 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2013, 12:56 AM:

TomB - I'm pretty sure that's one of the display ones at St George Spirits in Alameda. They're why I want to do it whole (a friend took me there a month and a half ago).

#135 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2013, 01:08 AM:

Benjamin Wolfe - Yes, that's a jar that sticks in your memory.

#136 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2013, 02:19 PM:

It strikes me that's a coffee shop cookie or biscotti jar, maybe?

#137 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2013, 02:19 PM:

It strikes me that's a coffee shop cookie or biscotti jar, maybe?

#138 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2013, 12:32 AM:

Another version of it, using leaves.

#139 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2013, 01:02 AM:

I got my hands on a suitably large jar for the Semi-Identified Citrus Fruit of Considerable Size. It took 2.5L of vodka to cover.

Floating Citrus or Brain?

#140 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2013, 04:17 AM:

It's a Zeppelemon!

#141 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2013, 11:42 PM:

It's the Bobbing Citrus of Doom. Dooooooooom.

Oh, wait, that might be the tasting of tasty alcohols talking.

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