Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hannah Fries: Gulping the Harvest — Making Garden Syrup with Mint or Any Favorite Herb

Syrup made from fresh herbs is a simple way to bottle and enjoy the taste of summer all year long. 

Many of Storey’s books are beautiful to hold and look at, but Drink the Harvest really knocks my socks off — the berry-splotched pages, radiant ciders, glowing juices, all that light shining through. It makes my mouth water for summer.

Last year about this time, I planted a smattering of basil starts that had sprouted from seeds for a mix of different basil varieties. As the herbs basked in the sun and grew more robust, I strolled through the garden rubbing leaves between my fingers and sniffing. Mmmm . . . . One of them was clearly lemon basil. I had plenty of traditional basil to use for pesto, enough to freeze and later fill our pasta and pizza needs through the winter, but this lemon basil was so fresh and lemony, it called for something else, something special. I settled on making a syrup, simply by steeping the leaves and adding sugar. And it was even better than I expected. All summer long, we added the syrup to club soda for refreshing fizzy summer drinks and to our locally made Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Ethereal Gin for fancy cocktails. We impressed our friends — and so easily!

So now I am extra-inspired to try making some new garden syrups and juices using the recipes in Drink the Harvest. Other herb syrups recommended by authors Nan K. Chase and DeNeice C. Guest include bee balm, lavender, rosemary, and mint. And then there are the fruit-herb combo syrups: watermelon-mint, peach-rosemary, blueberry-basil. (This is when I get that dreamy look in my eye as I think about putting my bare feet up on the rails of our porch on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August, hearing the ice cubes clink in my glass as I raise it to my lips . . . )
A handful of mint — about 1 cup of leaves — will yield a pint of syrup.
A simple herb syrup is easy and versatile and will get you hooked. Here’s the mint syrup recipe from Drink the Harvest. Not a mint lover? Just swap in your favorite herbs. Enjoy! I promise you’ll soon be turning to the book for more. — Hannah Fries, Project Editor
Enjoy mint syrup immediately, or store it in sterilized jars or bottles for a taste of summer any time.

Mint Syrup

The taste of mint has never been so perfectly fresh and sweet as in this syrup. Garden mint really sings when boiled with sugar, and whatever this syrup is added to will be energized with minty goodness. Here are just some of the beverages you can make using mint syrup: mojitos, mint juleps, mint-flavored iced tea or lemonade, mint spritzers, minty-licious sangria or other wine punch, or mint-flavored hot chocolate (with a splash of peppermint schnapps for the adult version). For a special dessert, add some mint syrup to homemade fudge sauce before spooning it over ice cream.

Makes 1 pint

Prep time: 1 hour
2 cups filtered water
1 cup fresh mint leaves
2 cups sugar
 teaspoon ascorbic acid (optional, but it lengthens the shelf life)

  1. Bring the water to a boil.
  2. Place the mint leaves in a small bowl, and pour the boiling water over them. Cover and steep for 20 minutes.
  3. Strain the liquid into a saucepan to remove the mint leaves.
  4. Add the sugar and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam.
  5. Remove from the heat.
  6. Add the ascorbic acid and stir.
  7. Pour the contents into sterilized containers, seal, and label.

Recipe excerpted from Drink the Harvest © 2014 by Nan K. Chase and DeNeice C. Guest. All rights reserved.

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