Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mint Tea Smackdown

We got carried away with herb-planting in the spring, particularly mints. Our new kitchen has a bay window begging for herbs. Naturally, we overfilled it with one of everything we liked and more of the things we thought we could move outside. The final mint tally was six plants of four different varieties. They ultimately ended up in great big pots on our deck where they are happily producing large quantities of fragrant leaves.

It turns out, we only use mints in three ways: tabbouleh, cocktails, and tea. Mostly tea. Thinking ahead to next year -- I don't need this much mint! I want maybe two to four pots of mint in one or two varieties. Our enthusiasm this spring, however, gives me a splendid opportunity to choose exactly which mints I want growing in my summer garden by taste testing the different mint teas.

Here's how I make mint tea:

  1. Cut enough 4-8 inch stems with leaves to fill a big stainless steel bowl.
  2. Wash the stems in the bowl three times.

  3. Boil water in my 4-cup measuring cup in the microwave (this takes 6 to 8 minutes).

  4. Using tongs (yes, I learned the hard way that fingers were not a proper tool for this job), shove the mint leaves and stems, even flowers, into the hot water.

  5. Cover the measuring cup with an inverted dinner plate.

  6. Let steep for twenty minutes (or until I remember that I need to rescue my tea).
  7. Strain through a metal colander back into the original bowl (which I've rinsed and dried).

  8. Let cool in the bowl until safe for my nice glass pitcher -- I pour the tea back into my big measuring cup and then into a glass pitcher because it's easier.

  9. Put the glass pitcher in the fridge.

  10. Drink the next day in a glass with ice and a slice of lemon. I usually drink the whole quart in the afternoon and will go through the whole process again in the evening.

Most of the time, I harvest mint from several of the plants (generally trying, desperately, to keep ahead of the flowering) and mix them all up in one brew. That's been quite satisfying but has told me nothing of my preference for the different types of mint. To do my taste test, I made four pure teas, one from each variety of mint. I let them chill overnight, and then it was time for the competition -- the Mint Tea Smackdown commences!

And the winner is....peppermint! For being the mintiest. Second was apple mint for having a nice hint of sweetness. Spearmint came in third and ginger mint took last place. To be fair to ginger mint fans, we did let that one bolt (go to flower before we could cut it back), so the off-taste may have less to do with the attributes of the plant and more to do with our lack of gardening skills.

Stay tuned for my next mint adventure: mint cloning! I'll take cuttings from my peppermint and apple mint and see if I can get new plants to grow in the bay window over the winter.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Spiral of Seasons

The seasons of the year are often represented as a spinning circle or wheel, each season coming around again in its turn. But, that's not quite right because it's not the same summer again, rather a new manifestation of summer -- a spiraling up, season layered on season. With a little luck and learning, my next summer can be better than this one, just as this summer was better than last summer. For me the seasons are a spiral, each season's abundance building on the experiences of that season in the year before and the year before that, all the way back to childhood. I hope that keeping a blog of successes, failures, and ideas for next year will help me make that spiral-building process more conscious and effective.