brandied peaches

When I find the very last of the summer fruit is going, I always wish I’d preserved just a bit more of it. Even the last two peaches will do! By now I think you know my solution. When it comes to the final peaches of the year, there’s nothing better to do than to introduce them to some brandy.


Charmed, I’m sure. Don’t worry if the peaches are long gone or not yet arrived where you are – any fruit will do. Quince would be perfect! Like ginny plums and drowned cherries, like elderflower liqueur or raspberry vodka, like oh, oh how I miss it, sloe gin, all you need is a bit of sugar and some kind of hard liquor. A clean jar. I sliced these peaches, poured half a cup of sugar over them, and filled the jar with brandy to cover the fruit. The longer you wait, the better it gets. The peaches will be intoxicatingly brandied, and the brandy will be exquisitely peachy. With the astonishingly early autumn storms we’ve been getting, summer seems a long way off. Brandied peaches will be a fine reminder on a cold winter’s night.

boozy plums

If you are so lucky as to have an abundance of plums and don’t know what to do with them all, I say, drown them in booze. We had a few from a tree at my childhood home, and they were getting overripe, suggestive of ginny plums anyway. Might as well push them in.

boozy plums

Plum liqueur is an astonishingly simple way to preserve a glut of fruit from late summer throughout the year. Choose an extremely clean, wide-mouthed mason jar, inexpensive vodka or gin, and sugar. Wash the plums, prick them all over with a fork and fill the jar. Sprinkle over a cupful of sugar; pour the booze over to submerge the plums. Seal the jar. I turn my jars of boozy plums now and then for a week or so. Taste the infusion in a couple of months; add more sugar if needed. I like to leave the fruit infusing for at least three months before we start tippling!

This little recipe featured in last autumn’s newsletter.

plum picking

One year as we patiently awaited beautifully tree-ripened plums, a cheeky young bear stole into the tree and ate every last plum. He cracked branches, being neither a small nor a careful bear, and he lounged around in the sunny garden long after the larceny. Every year since, we make sure to beat the bears to the plums. The fruit will finish ripening in a bowl in the window.


Little girls are a good size to slip between the leaves for plum-picking without any branch-cracking or fruit-bruising. They do eat more than their share of plums, mind you.


I’ve always got high hopes for all the things I could make with the plums. Yet in all but the most bumper-croppish years, they get eaten up while they’re fresh.

plums and berries

If you’ve got an abundance of plums in these last days of summer, or wild blackberries (which rarely get through our door without being plunged into whipped cream and devoured) get the quarterly, out this week. It includes a very simple recipe for preserving fruit through winter. Even if life has been too much of a whirl for jams and jellies, you’ll feel industrious and a little bit triumphant over this one – pretty good for ten minutes work.


One day, during my summer in Vancouver, I went to study a bit of herbology at the local apothecary. Gaia Garden Apothecary has a devoted following of those who want to understand old knowledge and natural remedies, who like knowing exactly what’s gone into their medicine. The apothecary works like a compounding pharmacy, preparing creams, tinctures and herbal formulas.

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

I love the tradition of treating yourself or your family for everyday illnesses, making sure you have a good kit, or at least know where to find wild herbs safely. In Vancouver, folks wildcraft lemon balm, horsetail, plaintain, shepherd’s purse, yellow dock, red clover, nettles, red raspberry, dandelions. It’s good to have the apothecary if you don’t have that knowledge or the time to gather your own herbs, if you need advice about what to take, and if you have a naturopath supporting your health who can prescribe herbal medicine. The master herbalist at Gaia has helped me so much over the years. He showed me a page in one of his favourite books, which shows all the known medicinal properties contained in ginger root. There were over three hundred!

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

Row upon row of dried herbs, plants that have been used for thousands of years. There’s an herb room in the back where Gaia’s teas are made, and they do mail order and wholesale herbs.

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

Row upon row of tinctures. These are alcohol and water extracts, one part plant material to three parts liquid. Wild cherry bark and passion flower sound delicious! The apothecary makes tincture formulas for patients, like going to a pharmacy and getting a prescription.

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

Essential oil is usually steam-distilled, and needs very special equipment. With infused oils, put the plant material in an oil base for a couple of weeks, strain and use, or you can give it a little bit of heat for a couple of days instead. I’m going to try this! Gaia would need a separate distillery for each oil, required microbial testing is far too expensive to do small batches of tincture, so they work with a company that produces oils on a much bigger scale. Besides making my own infused oils, Kathleen, my herbology teacher for the day, has inspired me to make tinctures:

If you ever wanted to make a tincture at home they’re actually really easy to make. One of the best alcohols to use is vodka, mostly because it doesn’t really have a smell of it’s own and isn’t going to interfere with the herbs you put in it. You just need a big jar, put plant material in it, pour the alcohol in so it covers the plant material. A couple of weeks, shake it every day, strain it, bottle it up, that’s it you have a tincture! Very simple really. Making tinctures like that is a method they’ve used for hundreds of years, the monks used to make digestive bitters with alcohol the same, and we’re still using those herbs, like frangelico… made as medicinals.

Fascinating that some of the infused liqueurs we have now were orginally made as medicinals. I imagine it’s fairly recently that we’ve even abandoned the idea of having alcohol in the house for medicinal purposes, especially when you didn’t have antiseptics and painkillers. Thank you to Kathleen, for showing me round the apothecary, and to everyone at Gaia Garden for welcoming me into your beautiful space. I’m so glad that you exist, supporting natural medicine.

Come and see my first tincture. If you’d like a look at what I have in the works for the future, don’t miss the postcards! Sign up for appleturnover’s first newsletter, out for the equinox this week.

cherry liqueur

Last summer I had the good sense to put some cherries in a jar, tip in some sugar, and cover the lot with vodka before I left for England.

cherry liqueur © elisa rathje 2011

Summer in a jar. Those cherries infused all year long til I returned to Canada in late spring, and broke open the jar to share some homemade cherry liqueur with my friend Tamara. A tipply tea party.
cherry liqueur © elisa rathje 2011
In celebration of another lovely visit with family here (though summer did take its time arriving), we poured a glass all around to say goodbye.
cherry liqueur © elisa rathje 2011
All the booze is in the fruit, a pair of cherries will set me a little drunk. Perhaps not the best state for packing the suitcases. I’ll be in England with my sweetheart before long – luckily he made cherry liqueur last year too! We sipped it all through the winter, when it is particularly good with a square of dark chocolate. I soaked the last cherries in sherry come spring and abandoned them back to the pantry. I expect they’ll be quite nice this autumn. We made lots of other types of liqueur and we’ll have to do it all over again this year.