Super Simple Syrups & Cordials

WP_20130929_001Making syrups is one of the most delicious ways to preserve some of nature’s tastiest and healthiest offerings.  By taking herbs, berries, roots, and spices and creating these concoctions of goodness, you can extract the wonderful properties, vitamins and health benefits and make very useful syrups.  These can be used for making cocktails and mixed drinks, sweetening tea, coffee and cocoa, drizzling over ice cream or even using in an icing or a pancake and waffle syrup.  Some even work well as medicines–soothing a sore throat or combating a cough.

To take the syrup up a notch, mixing it with alcohol like vodka, bourbon, whiskey, or rum helps to turn it into a cordial or liqueur–perfect for sipping as a sweet, after-dinner treat.  We’re going to share our basic recipe, along with some tips on how to customize and experiment to create your new favorites!

To start the process, you are basically making a very strong tea.  Add 1 cup herbs, berries, roots or whatever you want to decoct to 1 quart of water.  These can be fresh or dried.  Some of our favorites include: licorice root, dried rosehips, fresh mint leaves, fresh or dried rose petals, lavender petals, fresh basil leaves, and dried elderberries.  (We get most of our dried ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs, we’ve included a link, but you can source from a place you trust.  We like knowing everything is organic!) Bring this mixture to a slow boil over medium high heat in a sauce pan with no lid; and then turn down and let simmer for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

Strain this mixture and compost the herbs, berries, etc. Pour the strained liquid back into the pan and add 1/2 cup raw, local honey or sugar for every pint of liquid. Stir until dissolved.  You shouldn’t need to cook this mixture any further unless you want a very thick syrup.  For honey, we prefer to NOT cook it since many of the beneficial enzymes can be destroyed by cooking.  If you are using sugar and want a thick syrup, you can bring the mixture back to simmer and cook until it is the consistency you want.  Once finished, you can decant to a jar or bottle.

For a cordial, you will basically just be adding alcohol to your syrup (or syrup to your alcohol).  Let the syrup cool completely (if you add alcohol to hot syrup, the alcohol could “cook” out of the mixture.) I like to add about 1/2 cup of vodka, whiskey, bourbon, or white rum per quart of syrup.  You can make it stronger or weaker depending on your tastes.  Combine this well; bottle and cap.  You can store cordials and syrups made with honey in a cool, dark place, but, they will last longer if you refrigerate them.

It is really that easy!  You can make combination syrups if you like (elderberry and wild cherry bark is one of our favorites for a medicinal syrup) and you can add spices, essential oils or extracts for added flavor.  There are so many possibilities and this is such a delicious way to preserve some of those herbs and fruit growing in your garden.  These make wonderful and gorgeous gifts as well. Happy sipping!

Autumn Tasks at Raggedy Hen Farm

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We were allowed no illusions; no lingering, clinging bits of Summer.  Autumn has struck our little wet corner of the world with a determined smack.  Days of blustery rain, leaves starting to turn and tumble from the trees, and, as happens here in the Pacific Northwest, all the grasses are greening up again. Those “someday” tasks we’ve had on our list to get done before Winter hits moved to the top of the page and we’ve been rushing a bit to get them done!  Here’s a brief account of what we’ve been up to the past few days–in between rainstorms and warming coffee breaks:

  • Finish spreading compost on all the beds
  • Trimming back the tomato plants (cutting off the new growth and maximizing sun exposure for the many large, green tomatoes still on the vine
  • Harvesting ripe pumpkins and winter squash
  • Planting garlic
  • Planting fall/winter crops like lettuces, collards, kale, etc.
  • Harvesting figs and waiting patiently as the persimmons ripen
  • Putting away lawn furniture
  • Cleaning off the back deck, tucking the grill under cover, and gathering decor items
  • Trimming and cleaning potted plants
  • Bringing in geraniums for winter storage
  • Contact the city for a delivery of leaves later in the season
  • Tidy garage
  • Harvesting, pruning and drying some of the woody herb plants

There are a few tasks that have to wait until it gets much cooler.  We will be pruning back the raspberries, grape vines and roses, but we wait until after the first frosts to tackle those jobs.  Last year, it felt like we were able to slip into Autumn slowly on the backs of sunny, crisp afternoons but, as every year is different, that has definitely not been the way things are unfolding this year.  Every night for the past week, I’ve been hearing the migrating Canada geese honking their goodbyes as they fly overhead and we’ve had noisy flocks of all sorts of birds congregating in the back conifers and evergreens as they move through the neighborhood.  While it only seems a few weeks ago that we were sitting out in the orchard watching the chickens forage at the nearly 9:30 pm dusk, we are now shutting them up in their cozy henhouse by 7:30 pm.  Soon, they’ll go to bed before we even have supper.  Like every season, we savor and celebrate as we go about our chores–there is something so reassuring about the first dark days of rain–we start to anticipate buttery Chanterelle mushrooms (we ate our first batch of wild-harvested ones just the other night, sautéed up in butter and garlic); evenings of reading, warm cookies and hot tea; and fresh pressed apple cider from nearby farms.  Fall is here for sure, and we might as well enjoy it!

 

Gifts from the Forest

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Cedar tips and fir resin infusing in the sun.

We spent this past weekend deep in the woods in one of the magical, old-growth forests we have here in the Pacific Northwest.  We were saying “goodybe” to Summer by spending a few days camping with some of our grown kids.  Since we tend to take Raggedy Hen Farm wherever we go, we spent a little time ethically wild-harvesting some wonderful natural ingredients that we will be using in our soaps–cedar tips and conifer resin.

I grew up calling the super sticky stuff that can be found on conifer trees like fir, pine, cedar, and spruce trees “pitch,” but have since learned that is not exactly correct.  This resin is what the tree makes and sends to areas where there is injury to the tree to help heal those wounds.  Because of this, we are careful and only take a little bit of the older resin from several different trees and we harvest it with just our hands and a dullish knife, so we don’t cause any further injury to the tree. Over our camping weekend, Teri and I gathered a bit while on an afternoon hike; and our daughter Lucy and her boyfriend, Alex, gathered a bit too while they took a long half-day hike through another part of the woods.  We mostly harvested from fir trees, but gathered some cedar resin too.

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Teri is taking just a little hardened resin from this fir tree.

The resin smells amazing and has wonderful healing properties.  It is also fat soluble, so when we bring it home, we put it in a jar and cover it completely with olive oil.  This will infuse for several weeks before we strain it, and then use the oil in making soaps like our Forest Pine. Resin is not the only gift we brought back from the woods, however, and we also gathered some very aromatic cedar branch tips.  These smell just like Christmas to me!  We’ve also tucked those in a jar and covered with olive oil and we’ll have a deliciously infused oil from this in a few weeks too.

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Kori carefully gathering resin.

While we will mostly use these oils in soaps, you could actually use these in cooking.  Resin is also used in making incense and it can be dissolved in alcohol too. Since we are dedicated to using only all natural botanical ingredients and organic whenever possible in our soaps, we are learning ways to tap into the the goodness that the natural world has to offer.  Besides, there is something that feels a bit magical knowing the beautiful, old-growth forests high in the mountains (we were at almost 3,000 feet elevation), growing along a clear, spring and snow-fed stream are giving a little of themselves to folks all over the U.S. who use our soaps.