glass juicer

Glass is one of the materials I trust to touch my food. I try to store my food in glass, I refrigerate it in glass, or in glazed ceramic. Kitchen tools made of glass are a bit more unusual – glass rolling pins? Glass jelly moulds, gorgeous! But the everyday glass utensil I love most is my glass juicer. It’s a modest, simple thing.

lemon squeezer

The pressed glass juicer has its roots in the early 18th century ceramic presses, used in Constantinople to extract citrus juices from imported lemons. In the dark of November, I’m quite happy with imported lemons myself, though naturally I’d prefer to grow them in a glasshouse, a Victorian orangerie. As it is, well-traveled oranges and lemons are still just the thing for short, cold grey days.

(Now, I often mix a bit of our freshly squeezed juice with cod liver oil, or rather, the other way round, to mask the flavour, in hope of surviving the northern darkness with a bit more natural vitamin C & D induced health, joy and contentment than one might experience after a solid three months of rain. Endless rain.)

glass juicer

I’m fond of the juicer not only for its simplicity of materials, and its wonderful, fluted shape, with a trough designed to catch the liquid – some even have shapes to collect the seeds! But what I like is that there’s just very little to go wrong with it. Well designed, and nothing more to worry about. I lived for a while without one, in London I had almost convinced myself that a fork was quite sufficient, until that fork got through a lemon into my palm. A most unfortunate combination. In Canada I was reunited with this, my grandmother’s glass juicer, and I am glad of it.

honey lemon

Having been hopelessly ill last winter, the worst in memory, this year I’m stocking up on traditional cold remedies. I’ve put up medicinals: rosehip cordial, elderberry cordial, elderflower cordial and elderflower honey. I’ve made a nettle tincture. I have my neti pot and my epsom salts and my skin brush. Just one more thing. A very simple remedy, the equivalent of taking your umbrella out in the hopes that just having it might mean you won’t need it.

honey-lemon © elisa rathje 2011

Honey and lemon. It’s made as you would expect, inspired yet again by my beloved copy of Sloe Gin and Beeswax.

honey-lemon © elisa rathje 2011

I used a funnel to fill a jar half full with beautiful local Sussex honey. The lemons were filtered through a jelly bag to remove seeds and pulp. Then I gave the bottle a great shake, corked it, and popped in the fridge just in case. That’s probably unnecessary. I look at that beautiful amber each time I open the fridge and appreciate it. It’s the sort of thing that’s so easy to throw together as needed, but somehow I’ve always run out of honey or forgotten the lemons when we really need them! If we develop a sore throat the honey lemon remedy is ready to pour into hot water, perhaps with a slice of ginger infusing it. One more wish for good health this winter.

apothecary

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.

elderberry cordial

Preserving berries as a cordial takes me hurtling back to childhood. My grandmother would make a syrup from the wild blackberries she would pick each summer. She’d fill green bottles that seemed colossal to me, and the stuff was rich, heady and gorgeously dark.

elderberry cordial © elisa rathje 2011

I haven’t yet found a blackberry patch big enough for those purposes, but the elderberries we gathered share many qualities with the blackberry. They are ever so beautiful, and I was very pleased with how they really did pop off the stem like little buttons when pushed by a fork, just as my Preserves handbook says. Lovely! I was eager to taste them and had a ripe, raw one.

Awful!

elderberry cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Still, I persisted, and cooked them til soft in a bit of water.

elderberry cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Here in London, away from all of my preserving equipment, I kept it quite simple and used what I had. Cheesecloth, scalded to prepare it, and folded in layers, did the trick to hold the crushed berries and allow them to drain overnight into a clean jar. (I’ve reserved the berry pulp for an infused vinegar, following the advice of Food in Jars)

elderberry cordial © elisa rathje 2011

In the morning I resisted tasting the liquid until I’d dissolved sugar into it over low heat. Then I sampled it again, my first taste of elderberry cordial.

Marvellous!

elderberry cordial © elisa rathje 2011

I put up a very small bottle to save for fighting wintry flu bugs. We tasted the rest diluted with water, though I’m sure that sparkling water would be very fine and sparkling wine still finer. Everyone agrees. Marvellous stuff.

elderberrying

Whenever I become familiar with a plant I begin to see it everywhere, ubiquitous, like the name of a star who appears everywhere you look. Each year the elderberry eluded me. I never knew it like I know the wild blackberry, sure of its stages, and though we knew where to find elders from gathering elderflower in the spring, we’d return each summer to England long past berry season. This summer we were resolute. On a sunny afternoon the children and I called on the first plants we’d collected flowers from, along an old greenway near our old flat in London, where nettles grow tall and rich and blackberries line the path.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

Abundance.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

I was warned that elderberries are a bit poisonous raw, and so we still only imagine their flavour, though we’ve since heard that’s only the unripe ones. The bucketful we’ve picked are bound for a medicinal cordial, but may not make it past us to flu season. While the berries on the sunny side of the path were glorious black, in the shade there are green ones, there’s time yet to return for more elderberrying.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

The elders grow tormentingly tall along our path, but we made a couple of friends, building at the end of a garden, who emerged with the perfect berry snips, and helped us forage a few extra umbels. Ever so kind! I spotted what I thought were plums high up, out of reach, and I’m delighted to hear they are likely damsons. My first glimpse of them. This is wild fruit I’ve only dreamt of in deep winter whilst poring over my copy of Hedgerow.

mirabelles © elisa rathje 2011

Our friends confirmed that we’d found a wild plum. Probably mirabelles, if Mark, the head gardener at River Cottage, can be trusted. He did just write their latest handbook, Fruit, which I must wrestle away from my tall girl so I can read it myself.

hawthorn berries © elisa rathje 2011

Our small girl was enchanted with the hawthorn berries and wanted to collect them. I’m hoping they will keep on the trees until we’re back in the countryside with our trugs and our preserving jars. I’ll be back soon to show you what I’m doing with all the wild food!

Before you go, subscribe to the appleturnover postcards, which will commence with this autumn’s equinox, in celebration of a year of homemade stories. I’ll be marking the anniversary with a gloriously delicious project that tells the story of how appleturnover came to be. Get the postcards to your inbox for a peek at what I’m plotting to learn to make in the coming months and to catch singular homemade projects appearing in the impending appleturnovershop.