Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In the CSA box this week

Nothing beats a pile of beets!

A cup of tea

   We enjoy a lot of tea here, hot in the winter and cold in the summer.  A half-gallon jar full usually waits for the thirsty on the counter.  Sometimes it's the bright red of roselle (hibiscus) and other times it's the faint green of mint, both lightly sweetened with honey.  For no particular reason, we mostly pair lemongrass with stevia.  And we were excited to add tulsi basil to the mix last year with its licorice-like flavor.  New in the garden this year are anise hyssop, catnip, chamomile, lemon basil, and bergamont.  We are looking for good flavors in tea and these all come recommended.  Our basic method for herbal teas is to harvest a handful of the herbs we want (sometimes a mix), bring the water to a boil and let it sit for just a couple minutes, and then pour the water over the contents in a bowl.  We give it about 5 minutes to steep then pour the liquid through a fine sieve into a half-gallon jar (using a canning jar funnel), then sweeten with honey (if we didn't already use stevia). All of these teas we also dry so we use the same method, just taking out a comparable amount of the dried herbs.  We've mostly been content with teas we could grow, but Melissa still had cravings for black tea.  Maybe it's the cream and honey that pair so well with black tea or maybe it's the caffeine!  In any case, years ago we planted a 4 inch tall Camellia sinensis (Chinese tea), the camellia from which regular black and green tea are made.  C. sinensis, although it sizes up slowly like other camellias, does fine here. It's hardy enough to take the winters and has no pest trouble that we know of.  It's evergreen with small leaves and pretty but not showy white flowers.  Regular harvesting actually helps promote a compact bushy habit.  Our bush has now reached 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide and we were overdue to actually put it to use.  We're a bit hesitant to share our process because we're still very much experimenting.  If you have any personal experience processing C. sinensis from fresh leaves, we'd love to hear from you.  The basic process we followed for regular black tea was to harvest new growth, the youngest two or three leaves.  Then we laid the leaves out to simply wilt for a day.  This helps the leaves become more pliable for the next step of rolling/crushing them.  By doing this, the now bruised leaves begin to darken, somewhat like bruised basil.  We left the leaves out on a tray for another day and then finally put them in the dehydrator to completely dry out.  And the result for us: a light brown liquid with the characteristic bitterness of black tea and for someone who rarely consumes caffiene, a bit of a caffiene jolt!  It was delicious, especially with cream and honey. We're planting more Chinese tea as well as herbal teas and hope to soon be able to help you more regularly enjoy a good cup of local Chinese tea.  In the meantime, be sure to try the tulsi and roselle this year if you haven't already, and, of course, enjoy the mint, too.

Forcing mushooms


They call it 'forcing' mushrooms, but this sounds a bit strong. Coaxing, tricking, encouraging, giving opportunity ... these seem more appropriate to explain what we've been doing to our mushroom logs lately.  Normally, good soaking spring rains stimulate shitake logs to fruit and within a week of one of these rains all of our logs will be covered in mushroom buttons that soon expand to lovely brown mushroom umbrellas.  As you may have noticed, though, rains like those have been in short supply this month.  So how are we offering mushrooms for sale?  Here in comes the practice of getting mushroom logs to 'fruit' when the weather itself doesn't initiate fruit set.  Fortunately, it's pretty straight forward to imitate a good rain when it comes to shitake mushrooms.  A simple soak in a water bath for 24 hours can start them on the path to mushrooming. We've tried limited experiments of this in the past but as this spring has come at us hot and dry with no mushrooms, we decided we didn't want to watch a season of unproductive logs.  Shitake logs will last about 5 years, degrading with time whether they've fruited or not.  So we put an old broken chest freezer to use as the water bath and started somewhat daily soakings.  It's not the perfect set-up.  For one, it only holds a half dozen logs at a time at best, limiting the quantities to small pickings.  Many of the logs are too long, which means only half fit in the water and so only that half ultimately mushrooms.  Some of the logs are old enough they've lost most of their weight and therefore float, requiring that we gingerly weight them down to keep them submerged.  And some of them are old enough that the bark is brittle and knocks off easily in the communal bath.  This may indeed shorten their remaining life. Despite the extra effort, it's been with great excitement that we're harvesting a regular supply of mushrooms.  The definition of forcing is to make someone do something against his will.  In this case, the mushroom logs are likely not opposed to mushrooming, they're just needing a little help until the rain returns.