This project started out as an attempt to preserve spring herbs.When I first started my garden, years ago, I was working with this bare hillside covered with brush and weeds. I didn’t really have any experience with garden planning and made some strange choices, once of which was to plant a whole bunch of mint. I liked the idea of mint growing around my garden without me having to do anything, and since it would spread I figured it would take over the space from all the weeds.
That was about the dumbest idea I’ve ever had. Now we have mint everywhere. Don’t plant mint in your garden. Put it in a container, not the ground. The roots are so invasive, and even when you think you’ve dug them all up, they come right back. God forbid you run a rototiller through it — then all of the roots split into little pieces and sprout new plants, and instead of having a million little mint plants you have ten trillion of them.
I’ve been trying to think of a way to use this ridiculous amount of mint, to turn it into something that would actually make it worth the space in the garden. Later in the summer, it shoots up pretty purple flower spikes and I put it in our bouquets for the farmers market. I wanted to find a culinary use for it, though, so I figured I’d make a mint simple syrup since mojitos are a staple around here during the summer. Oh yeah, that beautiful shade of baby poo green? That’s why most people put green food coloring in their minty canned goods.
I’d never made anything like this before, so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. It’s good, but if you’re using it for mojitos I think it works better in addition to the fresh mint than it does as a substitution for the fresh stuff. The flavor in the cooked syrup is definitely very minty but loses some of that fresh brightness that the leaves originally had.
So while that whole project was going on, I was also working on rhubarb things and finally made the Tigress’s recipe for Rhubeena, (rhubarb syrup), which is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages now. It came out perfectly – it’s everything that the mint syrup isn’t, actually. It tastes tart and bright and turns a stunning shade of hot pink. At this point, my mediocre herb-preservation project joined forces with the power of rhubarb to make some absolutely stellar cocktails. You don’t necessarily have to use rhubeena to make these- any rhubarb product you have around will work. I even made a couple using some rhubarb pulp leftover from a totally different project. Rhubarb jam would work. Technically… you don’t even need to use rhubarb as the fruit flavor. You could substitute any fruit product that makes you happy: blueberry jam, apricot butter, chopped fresh strawberries… whatever you want. The rhubarb is amazing, though, and I highly recommend it. It seems like everyone always looks forward to summer for fun stuff like grilling and fizzy cocktails and eating outdoors. Spring has always seemed like a some kind of preparatory period leading up to summer, but recently I’ve been thinking that, you know, the weather right now is totally beautiful, the garden has plenty of nice things going on, and – most importantly – late July and August on a farm tend to be so busy that there’s not much time to stop and enjoy everything. I’m embracing spring as the time to celebrate. The sun is back out. Make a cocktail and clean the grill off, no reason to wait.
(I know, I know, it might still frost/snow/sleet etc., I’m starting the party early anyway).
Mint Simple Syrup
Thanks to Cindy from SB Canning for helping me make sure that this project would be safe to can (she’s pretty smart about that stuff). Lots of recipes on the internet for mint syrup that goes in the fridge, but I wasn’t sure if it would be shelf stable. This recipe should work for other culinary herbs as well.
cook time: oh…. 40 minutes including processing time?
makes: a little over 3 half pint jars
- 3 c. water
- 3 c. sugar
- 1 huge bunch of fresh mint, washed thoroughly: I don’t mean the little teeny bunches that they sell at the grocery store- I mean a big huge handful!
This recipe comes together pretty quickly, so you might as well start by bringing the boiling water canner up to a boil right off the bat.
In a nonreactive pot, combine the sugar and water. Cook on high heat, stirring for a minute or two, to dissolve the sugar. Add the mint into the pot and cook for 15 minutes on medium heat. Remove from heat and strain through several layers of cheesecloth or a jelly bag. Pour into clean half pint jars leaving 1/4″ headspace and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.
cook time: 5 minutes
makes: 1 cocktail
- ice & seltzer water
- 2 ounces rhubeena
- 1 ounce mint simple syrup*
- 6 or 7 fresh mint leaves
- 3/4 of a lime
- 1 ounce rum
Cut the lime into wedges. In a pint glass, combine the rhubeena, mint syrup, and rum. Squeeze the lime wedges into the glass to release the juice and then throw them right in there with everything. Add the mint leaves. Add some ice. Top with seltzer water. Mix well.
*In the past I haven’t bothered making mint syrup for mojitos, but I think it actually made a significant improvement in the cocktail to do it this way. If you don’t want to can a big batch, you could just infuse a small batch of simple syrup with some mint leaves and put leftovers in the fridge.