Rose cognac in the jar

IMG_1590Here is Rose Cognac in the jar, rose petals happily giving up their scent and flavour to the cognac and honey mixture:  50g dehydrated rose petals from Baldwins.  They go a very long way.  150g organic honey, dissolved first in 100mL Courvoisier cognac, then topped up to 850mL Courvoisier.  Altogether 1L menstruum and 50g rose petals.  Combined in a large jar and stirred.  Smells divine.  After a few days I shall taste and add more honey if needed, until perfect.

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Fragrant body cream

Fragrant body cream

Fragrant body cream

I’ve made variations on this many times before, always searching for the ideal cream, and this is my favourite to date.  It is light enough for a rich face cream, but nourishing and luxurious.  This version seems to be absorbed very quickly and leaves no residue on the skin.  When I rubbed it in (straight from the mixing jar!), it was all gone within a few seconds.  A tiny amount goes a very long way.  I shall use this daily.

This time I made it using a hand held stick blender rather than a coffee frother, which seems to be producing rather frothy creams… not entirely surprising.  The blender, on the other hand, works well, as long as I keep it on low, or low-to-medium as the cream thickens.  I could have added more rose absolute, but I don’t like my creams too fragrant. Adapt for any other fragrance, maybe lavender, frankincense or rosemary, instead of rose.  Here is the recipe:

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Dried raspberries

Dried raspberries

Dried raspberries

Joolz bought me a dehydrator for Christmas – an Excalibur – five drawers of pure dehydrating joy.  I can dry anything from herbs at 35 C to crisp breads at 68 C – or indeed fruit at 55 C.  A client brought me an enormous bunch of organic parsley which has dried to a brilliant emerald green with an almost pungent aroma.  A couple of days ago we dried raspberries – according to the manual they are ‘poor’ for dehydrating, but they are extremely tasty when dried, so it was worth experimenting.  I spread them out with plenty of room between each raspberry and dried them at 55 C for about 18 hours.  they have turned out beautifully preserved and crumbly crisp.  Fantastic in my morning porridge, and I shall be layering them into flapjacks.  And into chocolates.

Scottish raspberries are wonderful little beings, and in the summer we shall be picking and drying by the bushel.  They are easy to keep in Kilner jars.

Fruit leather also works beautifully – blitz any fruit, but add raspberries if you need some pizzazz.  Pour the thick liquid on to the silicone sheets on the dehydrating trays, making a layer about 2 – 3 mm thick, and dry until leathery or even crisping.  Totally yummy to eat as sweets, and no added sugar.  I like 80% plums, 20% raspberries.

Wound-healing ointment

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I’ve been thinking about an ointment that can be put on wounds, cuts, scrapes, grazes or ulcers.  Dedj’s Duck Poo contains arnica, so can’t go on open wounds.  It works amazingly on bruises, bashes, sprains, strains and the like, though.  Now, if I had an ointment or a cream that worked as well as that for open wounds, that would be a fine thing.

I tried two ideas, using the Duck Poo ratio of oil parts to aqueous parts, and making it slightly less hard, so using less beeswax.  Here you see the results.

I had made a deep decoction of Achillea millefolium, a wonderful vulnerary, which smells deep, dark and delicious.  This I used as the aqueous component for both, and I used organic Symphytum officinale, also an extremely effective wound-healer, in the form of infused oil in both, with organic beeswax.  The ratios are roughly 30 oil, 10 aqueous, 2 beeswax.  Then add whatever you think will give it a little extra something.

IMG_1524I had recently acquired some Shilajit capsules – Shilajit is supposed to be a wonder-healer, developed, I think, from some kind of resin. It’s difficult to get reliable information on it – the one leaflet I read (and bought!) was written by someone who made up spelling, syntax and grammar as she went along, so I didn’t even begin to trust her research.  Hey ho.  Anyone who knows more about this substance, please get in touch.  I cracked open 15 capsules, which on my scales did not add up to even 1g, and added that to 10g Achillea, and put them in a bain marie to heat.  29g of Symphytum oil were added to 2g of beeswax, and they were also heated to melt the beeswax.  The Shijalit expanded immediately in the deep decoction so the mixture became very stiff, and stuck to spoon and glass, hardening quickly.  It took some stirring when the oil and beeswax were added, to break up the consistency and scrape it off the walls of the glass.  When it felt as if the Shijalit had been suspended sufficiently not to ruin my coffee frother, I frothed until the mixture turned gleaming and fairly smooth.  Here is the result:  a wonderfully dark ointment with “bits” of Shijalit in it.  Shall try it out on an unsuspecting (grown-up) child (of mine) this evening.  He has a big scrape on his elbow from heroically avoiding a suicidal run-out in cricket.

IMG_1526The second batch was made with double the quantities of everything and 10g of Commiphora molmol (Myrrh) powder instead of the Shijalit.  It looked about double the Shilajit  in bulk, and I am wondering whether my scales were having a sulk when I was weighing the Shilajit.  I usually put Myrrh powder on open wounds, so this may be a more efficient way of doing it.  This time the powder didn’t bulk up so much in the deep decoction, but the result is still grainy.  Frothing it was fairly easy as you can see here.  Again, I shall experiment this evening for results.

IMG_1529Here you can see the finished Commiphora molmol nestling gleamingly in its tin, and if you look carefully you can see flecky bits residing within.  Both these ointments will suit the “It looks so disgusting it must be doing me good” tribe, closely related to the “No pain, no gain” family.

Sea Buckthorn Boiled Sweets

There’s more to the noble art of sweet-making than meets the eye!  And fortunately, in this little saga involving the lovely Karoline and me in another Friday morning experimentation extravaganza, nothing hot or boiling met any of our eyes.  Karoline turned up just at the end of a wonderful herbal med e-seminar on skin cancers, contact dermatitis and psoriasis with a large bag of frozen Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides.  She, and Doug and Jonesie (Jonesie is the lurcher) are absolute heroes and went harvesting on the Scottish coast.  This is not without difficulties.  If you have ever harvested Sea Buckthorn, there are three things which will not have passed you by:  firstly the thorns… long and spiteful;  secondly, the squishiness of the berries – they splat as soon as touched, launching their juiciness to the four winds;  thirdly, the fact that Sea Buckthorn juice is a really effective, permanent yellowy orange dye.  So, if you get anywhere near enough a Sea Buckthorn branch to harvest it, you will quite likely be covered with orange goo as a thank you.  However, it is worth it.  The easiest way to manage Sea Buckthorn is to freeze it ASAP, and get the berries off whilst still frozen, avoiding splatting and inadvertent dyeing of favourite sweaters.

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Sea Buckthorn is an amazing food, very citrusy and tart, containing at an average of 695mg per 100g fifteen times the amount of vitamin C as oranges.  It also contains vitamin E, carotenoids, omega oils 3,6,7 & 9, flavenoids (including quercetin) and minerals, making it a nutritious food-medicine.  Although boiling it will destroy some of the constituents, it will still taste highly distinctive.  Not to say mouth-puckering.

We dutifully scraped all the berries off the branches with forks (thus avoiding the thorns), picked out most of the leaves and rinsed / washed them.  Then into the jam pan with 200ml water.  You will be asking how much Sea Buckthorn.  We didn’t weigh… but there was a large plastic bag full of berries on branches, frozen.  We brought the mixture to the boil and simmered for five minutes or so, then strained the whole lot through a muslin and a sieve to give us 732ml Sea Buckthorn juice.  Very, very tart.

SB sweets 1I cleaned the pan, and we put the juice back in with 732g golden castor sugar and brought it to the boil.  The trick is to get it to the ‘soft crack’ or ‘hard crack’ temperature, then – somehow – get the liquid into these little silicon trays you see above and below.  We stirred continuously (remembering a previous jam-making scenario where I turned my back for a millisecond and was rewarded with ‘caramelised plum jam’), and, hey presto, around 140 C, the mixture started going very dark, very quickly.  No more bright orangey goo, this turned a glorious, rich, dark orange in, yes, a millisecond.

SB sweets 3Getting it out of the jam pan and into the silicon trays involved a soup ladle, a pyrex jug, a lot of swearing, and no burns at all.  Well, just a tiny one on my little finger which I can’t feel any more.  This stuff cools and hardens very quickly indeed, so we were manhandling a rather sticky mess in no time.  Notice the toothpicks in the large heart-shaped sweets.  These will be lollies.  There will be an easier way to do this, and I shall investigate.  The washing up was easy peasy (mainly because my cleaning lady had turned up, and she did it) but also because a little hot water dissolved away all the sticky goo immediately.

The result is very yummy, very sticky (suck, do not chew if you want to keep your fillings), and may well turn up in some guise in my children’s christmas stockings.  Now I’m off to sup Sea Buckthorn vodka and suck a sweet before dinner.

 

 

 

Plum harvest

This year the harvest has been very good from our little plum tree.  We reckon 8 or 9 kg, leaving the uppermost branches for the birds and beasts to feed upon.  This means there have been lots of delicious happenings:

Plum jam:  225 ml water and 700g caster sugar to each kilo of stoned, halved plums.  Simmer the plums in the water for 20 minutes until the skins start to come off.  Heat the sugar in the oven in the meantime, to help prevent crystals when it hits the plums.  Add sugar and stir, simmering for another 15 minutes or so until all crystals have gone and the sugar is completely and utterly dissolved.  Then boil hard for 10 minutes and start testing for the ‘wrinkle effect’ when dropped onto a cold place and pushed with a spoon.  Pour into sterilised jars, cool, seal and label.

Plum jam with orange and chili:  add powdered, i.e. ground up in a pestle and mortar, dried orange peel.  We dried our own from organic oranges – so pungent!!! Thereof 2 teaspoons, and 1/2 teaspoon very, very hot dried flaked chilies we got from the Indian grocer’s.  These to each kilo of plums, in the initial shimmering stage.  Yum!

Plums in vodka, folk method:  fill a large Kilner jar with halved, stoned plums and press down.  Fill the same jar with good quality vodka.  Seal and leave for at least two weeks.

Plums in brandy:  fill a large Kilner jar as before.  Add one tablespoon light muscovado sugar to about 200ml Courvoisier and let the sugar dissolve.  Add this to the jar, then top up to the top with straight Courvoisier.  Both jars should be filled right up to level with or above the top of the plums.  Leave for about 2 weeks, or longer.

Dandelion Spring Tonic – Taraxacum officinale

Another year, another spring tonic.  Whilst we are supping last year’s Spring Tonic of Dandelion, Cleavers and Chickweed tinctures, for next year I have started the Dandelion tincture.  Again following the folk method, whereby you don’t have to measure or weigh.  This works for Dandelion, but not necessarily for other plants.

Step one:  harvest your dandelion.  This needs to be done with respect for the plant – it is giving me its medicinal properties and it is crucial that I have its agreement in this.  None of the to me abhorrent practice of using nature as a ‘resource’ – I actually ask each plant whether it is ok to use it.  There is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ quite clearly discernible after asking, much in the same way that we search for a ‘gut feeling’ on tricky issues.  Very seldom do I encounter a ‘no’ but I move on when I do.  I found our garden strewn with glorious Dandelion heads, luscious leaves and strong roots.  Excellent!  Here they are, harvested and washed.

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During the washing, the herbs also have to be scumbled, that means picking out all ‘foreign’ bits, including bits of grass, other plants, one errant woodlouse I found, dead leaves, anything that is not the herb you are using.  The next task is to dry them thoroughly, given that the ratio of water to alcohol in a tincture has to be fairly exact – even if one is using the folk method.  This means using the salad spinner, first for three large batches, then a tiny handful at a time, to get most of the water off the plant material.
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Then I spread the leaves and roots out on a dry towel and roll them up carefully, pressing and squeezing gently to mop up the remaining moisture.

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After this they all get chopped, chopped, chopped, into the tiniest bits I can manage.  Chop.  And again, chop, chop, chop.  When I lose the will to live as a human chopping machine, I pile them all into a sterilised Kilner jar, press them down, and fill the jar to the top of the herb with 40% vodka. Then the whole mixture is turned out into a large bowl and blitzed with the hand-held blitzing machine, whereupon it is returned to the Kilner jar, as shown below, taking up rather less room than before.  Not because I sprayed vodka and Dandelion all over the kitchen, but because smaller bits take up less room.

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Now it gets labelled and sealed.  Labelling involves giving the Latin name at least (Taraxacum officinale), so there is no confusion, the method (folk), the strength of alcohol (40%) and the date upon which the tincture will be ready, namely 14 days from the making of it.  I shall shake it twice a day, with intention, until it is ready to be strained and bottled (sterilise the bottles!), and labelled in exactly the same way as before.

Phoebe (asleep) and Cleo (coquettish as ever) in a rare moment sharing a nest.  The common denominator is my brand new cardigan 🙂IMG_1213

Hand cream recipe

Despite all the previous talk about aqua-free hand moisturisers, my daughter asked for some more traditional hand cream – here it is in the making.

Oil phase:  10g cocoa butter, 5g shea butter, 10g almond oil, 6g emulsifier (I use olivem 2000).

Water phase:  60g rose water or lavender water (just make an infusion from dried rose or lavender petals using bottled spring water);  I used orange blossom water, 5g glycerin.

Cooling phase:  20 drops vitamin E, 20 drops preservative, 20 drops essential oils for frangrancing.  I used tangerine and sandalwood.

Heat both the oil and water phases in separate bain maries to 75 – 80 degrees celsius.  Keep the oil phase on the low heat and add the water phase stirring with a metal spoon for two minutes.  Turn off the heat but leave the glass bowl in the pan of water.  Change to a coffee frother and froth for a further five minutes, then take the bowl out of the pan and allow to cool in its own time, not in a pan of cold water, as is often recommended for other emulsifiers.  Keep frothing until the frother froths no more – too thick, and allow to cool completely.  Then add the cooling phase ingredients.  Spoon into sterilised jars.  Makes nearly but no more than 100g.

This is what it looks like after the frother has gone on strike with exhaustion:

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Arthritis balm – ‘capsicum cream’ in push-up sticks

‘Lipbalm’ sticks with chilli or capsicum ointment for arthritis sufferers – the idea hit me as I contemplated making my lovely mother-in-law another batch of ginger and chilli oil for her poor fingers.  She has been given capsicum cream from the doc but finds it inconvenient to use sometimes as it leaves her fingers sticky – not a good feeling when you are about to do piano practice or needlework.  So, I thought, how about a stick of something with the same / similar ingredients that may be a little more easy to use.  Just rub it on exactly where it is needed, minimally sticky paws, and easy to carry around in your handbag.

I have some good chilli oil, of the ‘blow your head off’ type, just waiting for this opportunity to show its true worth outside the culinary field.

Having spent a fair amount of time researching for and experimenting with making solid hand moisturisers, I have developed the beginnings of a ‘feel’ for what is hard enough to stay solid in a stick.  This was scuppered – entirely – by my foolish decision to ‘look up some recipes’ before starting.  One book I consulted went on about the need for more beeswax for a stick than a balm-in-a-tin – reasonable – then gave a recipe with a ratio of beeswax to oil 1 : 1.  Hmmm, thought I, that’s quite high, but maybe it does indeed require that much wax.  So, I duly weighed out 15g beeswax and 15g chilli oil, melted them down, and filled a couple of sticks, with some left over for a 15g pot.  More on the tricky art of filling lip balm sticks below.

Result? Almost no hint of chilli in the preparation at all!  There MAY have been a little reddening on my finger as I rubbed it on, but I suspect that was caused by my… rubbing it on.  No heat, not even any discernible warmth, and certainly no sting.  Oh dear, I thought, (since I am a lady) and melted down the pot’s contents to try a different ratio.  Having learned so recently how to fill lip balm sticks, I left those intact, not wishing to break the spell.  Weighing the brew, I found that somehow, in the 15g pot, there were 19g of wax/oil mixture.  So, to turn this into a 1:2 ratio, I need to halve the 19g and add that amount, 9 1/2g, of chilli oil to the mixture.  This I duly did and refilled 2 lib balm sticks and a slightly larger pot.

Well, firstly, the ratio of 1:2 feels much better than 1:1 and goes on much more easily.  As for the efficacy of the preparation, I am confused, and I suspect the proof of the pudding will be in the actual use on arthritic fingers.  As before, there was no discernible sting or warming, and no reddening on my finger, but a little on the inside of my (very white) arm.  I was a little bemused by this, and decided to perform the ‘lick-it-and-see-if-there-is-any-chilli-in-it’ test.  My tongue is still stinging.  Huh?

For anyone wanting to reproduce the experiment, the ratio is 1:2 beeswax to chilli oil, and I used 15g organic beeswax to 22.5g chilli oil, melted them down, by circuitous means, in a double boiler and then filled the lip balm sticks when the beeswax had melted.  The chilli oil is olive oil which has had chopped up chillies sitting in it for a month or so.

Filling lip balm sticks:  yes… not as easy a task as might seem at first glance.  The sticks need to be sat, according to the author of the book I shouldn’t have used for the lip balm wax-to-oil ratio, in a bowl of iced water, fill them one quarter full to begin with, so they don’t leak out of the bottom (very good point) and then, when the bottom ‘plug’ is solid, fill them to the top.  Fairly straightforward, no?  The picture in the book shows lip balm sticks standing upright in a bowl, all one quarter filled.  Many of you will be anticipating the problem, but I just ploughed on blithely.

Oils hot, hot enough to need a tea towel to grasp the glass jar, ice and water in bowl, sticks at the ready.  Place a stick carefully into the icy water, and… no, of course not… the stick won’t just stand there, will it?  It will float!  It is plastic, unfilled, and there is nothing that will persuade it to root in the water.  Oh dear.  Notwithstanding, I held the stick steady, poured in the oil and waited.  And waited.  Why was it not solidifying more quickly?  The ice water did not reach the bottom of the section the oil was sitting in.  Expertly I flicked the teatowel around the bottom of the still hot jar, to set it down, then, cradling the bowl in my arm and still holding the stick upright I made my way to the cold tap to add water, not wanting to remove the stick from the cold in case it leaked.  So with the addition of water the plug solidified and I could fill the stick up to the top.  Oh no I couldn’t – the hot oils in the glass jar had also been waiting and as the plug had solidified… well, you can see the problem.  Back in the bain marie went the glass jar to remelt its contents before I could fill the stick to the top.  At this rate I would take four days to make lip balm Christmas stocking fillers for the family.  The second stick went marginally more quickly, but I am left with the feeling that the photo in the book is somewhat dishonest – and the direction to ‘stand the sticks in iced water’ is ludicrous.  Next time I shall crush ice and wedge the sticks in firmly.

It only remains to label the sticks carefully, warning of the dangers, and hope, hope, hope that nobody ignores the label and tries to use them as lip balm 🙂

Tidying up in the herbology kitchen

This morning, besides tweaking the recipes for the solid hand moisturisers I have become obsessed with, I decided to tidy up the long top of bookshelf on which sit preparations in … preparation.  This happens every month or so, usually when good weather heralds my venturing out to harvest the next batch of in-season botanicals with which to make my year’s supply of tinctures, creams, salves, soaps, dried herb store or useful (fun) artefacts.  Up here in Edinburgh it seems as if we are late with everything this year, and as I look out into our small garden, the dandelions are only just making a serious appearance.  This does now mean that I have to get underway and make next year’s Spring tonic from Taraxacum (dandelion), Galium cleavers) and Stellaria (chickweed).  More about that later.

Before any of that happens, however, there has to be order on the shelf, which was this morning a mass of pots of experimental creams, tinctures lovingly shaken twice daily, macerating oils and vinegars, and two small bottles of rather good gin in orange peel.  Trawling through the tinctures I find some have been there just over a month and need to be filtered, labelled and bottled, others need to push their way to the front as they will be ready in a few days, and the oils and vinegars all need to be filtered as they will otherwise embrace their chilies, ginger, garlic and sea buckthorn (not in the same jars!) in the presence of anything aqueous they can grab from them and make sweet, sweet mould!

I am going to combine a ginger tincture with a chili oil to make joint soothing cream, wonderful for arthritis – not for the first time, but I think the recipe can be improved upon.  It needs to be seriously ‘hot’ enough to draw circulation to the skin, in order to flush through the joint, but not so hot that I end up being hospitalised when I do the ‘I accidentally stuck my finger in my eye’ test.  These two little darlings (ginger and chili) are now sitting side by side on the shelf, filtered and rebottled, waiting to take up their starring roles in the Killer Cream production.  Next time I might try chili tincture and ginger oil…

The vinegars are smelling delicious, despite the fact that they have been there far too long.  Scottish raspberries in red wine vinegar and tarragon, red onion and garlic in organic cider vinegar.  Filtered and rebottled, sitting by the chili and garlic oils (we use enormous amounts of both of those), the shelf is beginning to look not overcrowded, but … smug.

At this point events begin to speed up and my ‘tidying up’ runs away with itself.  It often happens when the words ‘I’ll just do this…’ start flitting across my brain.  This morning ‘I’ll just melt down the soap whilst I’m sterilising the bottles for the gin’ were my downfall.  The sterilising machine hisses and spits, and today Phoebe the cat was observing my tidying from a not very safe distance.  She hissed back in defence and leapt over, or rather into a gin bottle ready for filtering – I couldn’t let go of the soap to catch it, so a good measure of delicious orange gin sprayed out over the kitchen and across the soap.  Gin soaked orange peel everywhere, and the soap beginning to get to its crucial sticky stage…

Ah well.  Things have been worse.  The combined smell of orange gin and lavender soap is strange, but not unpleasant.  The men here to climb about on the roof to give us quotes for the chimneys and balustrade repairs look faintly bemused when they come in, but Phoebe is unharmed (outraged, but unharmed) and I only lost a little gin.  The soap remains, as always, reticent to go fully mushy, so there is another alchemical experiment to be working on in the future.