We’ve had a few frosts in this neck of the woods and the growing season is pretty much over for another year, *author emits an audible sigh of relief*. The question now is what to do with any excess produce?
Pumpkins and courgettes have been brought inside to store. Beans and peas blanched and frozen along with colourful bags of soft fruit. The larder shelves are groaning with jars of jam and chutney; but still I always find at this time of year there is an abundance of food left, which if isn’t used soon will go to waste.
The answer I have discovered is to drink it! From fruit flavoured liqueurs to warming fruit teas and vitamin packed vegetable juices, glugging down your garden produce is the ideal way to make sure your efforts on the plot are not in vain.
So here’s my list of the six most quaffable things from my garden this weekend. Drink it in!
1- Blackcurrant cordial, juice and tea
What a revelation drinking blackcurrants has been. The juice mixed with freshly pressed apples has completely replaced orange juice in our diet at home. I also make cordial by boiling the fruit with sugar and water before bottling and this means no more buying Ribenna from the supermarket. I’ve been downing both with great gusto over the last few weeks and I have not yet succumbed to any winter flu-bugs, which I attribute to the fruit’s high vitamin C content.
Blackcurrants have such an intense flavour, they respond well to a second extraction. After making the juice I have been taking the leftover pulp and simmering it with other fruit and spices to make a range of herbal teas. Pictured below left is blackcurrant and apple tea with cinnamon and cloves, perfect if you are suffering with a cold – and delightful even if you are not.
2 – Vegetable juice
There’s nothing quite like vegetables fresh from the garden to cook into delicious and nutritious meals but even the most avid healthy eater will find there are some you just can’t fit on the plate. Sometimes, especially if I’ve had a particulary sedentary day, I struggle to get in the recommended 5-a-day. So bring on the juicer! The great benefit is that you can stuff in all the odds and ends of garden veg like carrot tops, beetroot greens and the colourful stalks of rainbow chard. Just fling them in along with some apples and hey presto power juice. It’ll give you all the energy you need to get out in the garden and grow some more.
3 – Apples
Growing apples is easy but storing them is problematic. We have ours in a variety of holding stations in the hope of outwitting potential storage problems. Windfalls are juiced as soon as possible. Depending on the variety, the resulting drink can be tart or sweet but never anything less than delicious when freshly pressed. I tend to juice a batch and freeze some, reusing the leftover pulp in herbal teas as described above. All my small apples, too tiny to bother to peel and core for sauce or chutney, are stored in trays in the barn ready to be turned into fresh juice when required. They should keep for months but mice are a problem in our outbuildings and tiny nibble holes quickly turn the fruit bad and if left unchecked the whole tray can catch the rot. Larger apples but with imperfections on the skin, which mean they store badly, are in the larder waiting to be turned into chutney. The perfect ones, destined for any future use we might desire, are in the barn in a giant trunk to thwart the thieving rodents. We may decide to forget the whole troublesome storing issue and turn the whole lot into cider. Cheers.
4 – Thyme
If only I had as much spare in my daily life as I do in the garden. Thyme is a popular culinary herb but also widely used in herbal medicine. It is strongly antiseptic and a powerful expectorant which makes it an ideal treatment for winter coughs and colds. To make thyme syrup simmer 2 oz of the herb in a litre of water, cool and strain then slowly reduce to 200 ml and add 1lb of honey (recipe simplified from Herbal Remedies by Christopher Hedley and Non Shaw). Can be taken on its own or added to sweeten some of the drinks above.
5 – Rosemary and Sage
Next on the list are another two kitchen garden herbs that also have medicinal uses. Sage is antiseptic, ideal for treating sore throats and a useful tonic for tiredness. Rosemary is a stimulant, purported to improve circulation and ease headaches. I enjoy both as a quick herbal tea simply by pouring hot water over a few leaves in a mug.
6 – Fruit liqueurs
How about using some of the excess fruit in your garden to turn a cheap bottle of spirit into something truly luxurious. In years past I have made raspberry vodka, bramble whisky and sloe gin simply by steeping the fruit in alcohol for a period of time and adding sugar. This year I have added Creme Cassis to the drinks menu, a sweet dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants. It should be ready about Christmas time … perfect timing.
If you would like more information or recipes for any of the drinks mentioned here please let me know in the comments section below. Or if you simply enjoyed reading this post and would like to see more like it head over to The Propagator website.