Mint Syrup & Rhubarb Mojitos

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.

Yeah…

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

Ingredients:

  • 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.

 

Rhubarb Mojitos

cook time: 5 minutes

makes: 1 cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 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.

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Because The Holiday Season Means Drinking Booze At Inappropriate Times Of The Day

I’m going to disguise this post as a way to use up your mint jelly. Isn’t that one of those jars that ends up sitting in the fridge for ages, after you had one roast leg of lamb back in April, and now you have 3/4 of a jar left, still just sitting there, looking kind of sad and unappealing? That’s how it is at our house.

So. This isn’t about putting Jack Daniels in your coffee at 8 a.m., it’s about cleaning out the fridge.

I swear.Cleaning out the pantry, too…  That bottle of creme de cacao that I bought back in May, when the strawberries were starting to come in, to make chocolate-strawberry jam? I used about half a cup of it and the rest is just sitting there in the pantry, looking neglected and lonely.

This is what you should do with all that stuff.

No, Honey, This is Special Coffee For Grownups

Makes: 1 cocktail

Cook Time: 2 minutes longer than however long it takes to make a batch of coffee

 

Ingredients:

 

  • 1 c. freshly brewed coffee
  • anywhere between a splash and an ounce of whiskey, depending on how serious you are
  • 1/2 ounce of baileys
  • 1/2 ounce of creme de cacao*
  • 1 tbs. mint jelly
  • 1/4 c. whipped cream
  • 1 peppermint puff candy
  • optional: cream and sugar, to taste, depending on how sweet you like your coffee

Once the coffee is finished brewing, heat up 1 c. in a small saucepan and stir in the mint jelly.  Simmer for 1-2 minutes to melt the jelly into the coffee.  In a coffee cup, measure out the whiskey and the creme de cacao.  Pour in the hot coffee and stir everything well.  Add a pinch of sugar and some cream if you like.  Pour the Bailey’s in last, and top with whipped cream.  Crush a peppermint puff candy by placing the flat part of a chef’s knife on top of the candy with the base of your palm.  Sprinkle the crushed candy on top of the whipped cream.

Drink up!

*This makes a pretty boozy cup of coffee. If you want something a little less knock-your-socks-off, substitute chocolate syrup or some cocoa powder instead of the chocolate liqueur.

 

P.S.

This recipe is all about fun things to put in your coffee and then more fun things to put on your coffee. If you happen to have any of these things lying around, they’re all pretty good ideas, (but not necessarily all at the same time, of course):

In:

  • egg nog (especially the soy stuff!) & rum
  • amaretto
  • other flavors of jelly or jam, like raspberry or apricot, especially with coordinating liqueurs
  • extracts like vanilla or hazelnut

On:

  • crushed candy canes
  • a very small scoop of peppermint, chocolate, coffee or vanilla ice cream either instead of or in addition to the whipped cream
  • a drizzle of hot caramel or fudge
  • chocolate shavings

Elderflower Sun Cordial For Elderflower Cocktails

I am an elderflower fiend. If I’m at a fancy bar that has signature cocktails and there’s anything with elderflower liqueur, I’m instantly sold. Usually on more than one of them, since St. Germain is delicious even on pancakes. The unfortunate part is that I usually can only find these lovely drinks at really fancy places, which I rarely go to, and that even though they’re delicious, one cocktail usually costs in the range of $14-$18, which means that you better bring some cash if you want to sit around and have a few of them. These are a few of the reasons that I often embark on preserving missions. I know that making it myself is cheaper and yields a larger quantity than buying it at the store.

Elder trees are less prolific on the west coast than on the east coast, where I grew up. I vividly remember the intoxicating smell of the flowers on my parents property when I was just a teeny little muffin.

It took some searching here in Northern California but elder trees are, in fact, here. I saw one in my neighbor’s vineyards and another one next to the Russian River along Hwy. 101. The best specimen was at the Ag. Department of a local college, where they had been lovingly tending a huge tree for years (thank you Karen!).  I picked a bag of blossoms early in the morning, when the sun was just warming the flower buds. The smell is . . .   divine. It smells like the summer solstice, and birds singing, and sunshine, if those things all had smells. Cooking with it is the epitome of cooking with flowers.

Most elderflower cordial recipes are fairly simple. Make a syrup. Pour boiling syrup over blossoms and lemon slices, and let steep for 2-3 days. Coincidentally, the day I went to make the cordial, I couldn’t find my lighter and the pilot on my stove had gone out (an off-the grid propane stove that we don’t always keep lit anyway).  Hence the “sun” part of this recipe. If you live somewhere rainy feel free to harness the power of your stovetop as I have harnessed the power of the sun.

Elderflower Sun Cordial 

Makes: 6 half pint jars

Cooking time: 2 days inactive cooking, 30 minutes active cooking

Ingredients:

  • 6 c. water
  • 2 lbs. sugar
  • 20 large elderflower heads
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbs. citric or absorbic acid*

1. Rinse elderflower heads in cool running water and drain. 

2. Combine all the ingredients in a large glass bowl. The sugar and water won’t dissolve together right away, but give the mixture a stir anyway. Cover with a plate or some saran wrap to make sure that no bugs can get in to your cordial.

3. Put the cordial in a very sunny spot to warm the bowl. Give it a stir every few hours to combine the sugar and water into a syrup.  The smell will be intoxicating and you will be thrilled with how the project is going at this point.

4. After about 2 days of full sun, strain the syrup through a cheesecloth.  You can either freeze, refrigerate or can the syrup at this point. There are rumors on the internet about un-canned syrup being shelf stable because of the citric acid, but there are also rumors about it fermenting and jars exploding, so I’m not going to try it.  To can the syrup, as I did (I found my lighter the next day):

Heat up boiling water canner and sterilize jars and lids. Bring syrup to a boil. Pour hot syrup into hot jars leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims clean and attach lids. Process for 10 minutes.

Please note: I’ve never canned this before, and I found a whole array of recipes with differing instructions for storing the cordial. This is my very educated guess. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll update this post. I’m also pretty sure that you could add a little more sugar and some powdered pectin to make elderflower jelly if you’d rather make that than beverages.

*Citric acid and absorbic acid both are natural preservatives that can usually be found in the bulk section of big health food stores. I’ve found recipes using both types of acid, so my second educated guess is that they’re essentially interchangeable. Don’t be mad at me if I’m wrong, though.

The Obvious Next Step: Sparkling Elderflower-Grapefruit Cocktails

This was inspired by a cocktail I had at the W Hotel in New Orleans, since we can’t always be on vacation, let alone buying drinks at a fancy bars. They served a slightly different version in a martini glass, but we use big girl cups on the farm.

Makes: 1 quart sized jar cocktail (it’s more efficient that way, because you’re definitely going to be making multiples of this one)

Cooking time: 3 minutes once you’ve got all the ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 2 shots of vodka (or you can use gin, that works well too)
  • 2 shots of elderflower cordial
  • 1 c. seltzer water
  • a splash of grapefruit juice
  • 6 very thinly sliced cucumber wedges
  • ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients in your jar and mix well. If you’re fancy and have a cocktail shaker, you can go that route and pour it in a martini glass and garnish with a cucumber wedge. 

Happy Drinking!