Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seeds, seeds, seeds.......

What to do on a cold, wintry day.......plan your garden!!!  When I have a day that I can stay inside, I plan what I want to plant in my garden in the spring and leaf through pages of seed catalogs to find new plants or new varieties of things I'm already planting.  So for the next couple of weeks, I'm going to share with you some of the seed catalogs that I like  to order from and hope that you will share your favorites with me too!
First on the list is Pinetree Garden Seeds.  They have been in business for 32 years!  Owned by Richard Meiners & Donna Childs, they are located in New Gloucester, Maine.  They cater to the home gardener and offer lots of varieties in nice size packets at affordable prices.
What first attracted me to Pinetree was the fact that they offered a large variety of herb seeds.  They not only offer basil seeds - they offer 13 varieties of basil!  They not only offer culinary herbs, but they also offer medicinal herbs and dyeing herbs.  And the best thing about them is their price!!!!  Most seed packets are priced from 95 cents to $1.50!  Now that's a price that fits my budget!
Cover of the current Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog.
I order a lot of herbs seeds from Pinetree every year - and they have always been quality seeds.  I have never had any problems with seeds that were mislabeled or did not germinate well.  And they are fabulous people to deal with!  I used to call in my order over the phone, but now I just order online.  But if you have questions about any of the products, don't hesitate to call.  They are very pleasant and knowledgeable.
Pinetree offers many, many other seeds besides herb seeds -- they offer tons of vegetable and flower seeds.  They offer many vegetables from lettuces, beets, beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, melons, and almost any other vegetable you could want.  They also offer many ethnic vegetables.  They offer over 20 varieties of lettuces, over 30 varieties of peppers, and over 50 varieties of tomatoes.  I have purchased many tomato seeds from them such as the notable Mortgage Lifter tomato (which produces a huge dark pink tomato) as well as Black Cherry tomato (which produces a delicious dark purple cherry-type tomato).
Here is a glimpse of the lettuce page in their catalog.

Here is a picture of the beginning of their tomato list.
They offer several heirloom varieties in their lineup as well as hybrid varieties.  And they offer good descriptions of the vegetables to entice you to try new things every year.
Their list of flowers is impressive as well.  There are annual and perennial flowers to choose from with great descriptions and lovely pictures.  I always order more that I can get planted each year because they make them so darned tempting!!!
These are some of the varieties of Nasturtiums that they offer!  Who knew there could be so many varieties of Nasturtiums?

They have an impressive list of sunflower varieties as well!
But wait.......there's more!!!!!  In addition to all of the seeds they offer, they also offer onion sets, seed potatoes, asparagus roots, rhubarb roots, and some plants as well as bulbs for many varieties of daylilies and other flowers.  They even have blueberry plants, strawberry plants, elderberries, raspberries, and grapes.
What more could you want?  Books.......did you say books?  They have a very impressive list of books.  Cookbooks, compost books, herb books, bird books, flower books, berry books, garden project books, and even books on many creative garden projects.....they have it!
They also have many garden tools, greenhouse supplies, organic insecticides, pesticides and herbicides.  They have natural fertilizers like seaweed powder and bat poop.  They have potting mixes and Japenese beetle traps.  They even carry soapmaking supplies and a yogurt maker!
I think you really need to check out Pinetree Garden Seeds if you don't already know about them.  You can call them for a free catalog at 207-926-3400 or look up their website at
So what are you waiting for........?  Look them up now and get your order ready!!  Spring will be here before you know it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ginger, a Warm Herb for Winter

Ginger is an herb that I have grown very fond of in the past few years.  It is one of the classic herbs of traditional Chinese medicine........but also what makes gingersnaps and ginger ale so tasty!  It is a great herb for the digestive system, helping to relieve nausea, morning sickness, and motion sickness.  The root is the part of the plant that is used and it can be used fresh or dried.  I prefer using fresh roots, but have also used dried ginger in capsule form to relieve nausea when I have problems with an inner ear infection.
This is fresh gingerroot.  It can be found in most grocery stores in the produce section.
If you read my last post, I have also used fresh ginger in tea......using my nifty little French press to make nettle and ginger tea.  I now have a new fan of nettle and ginger tea - my daughter Grace.  (Which is a wonderful way to get some nutrients into my picky eater!)
Another way I use ginger is to candy it, and I try to make a batch of candied ginger at least once a year.  I find it to be a delicious preventative medicine during the cold and flu season.  It's not hard to make candied ginger, it just takes a little time to prepare.........about 4 days!  (but it only takes a few minutes a day......really!)
I buy a couple of pounds of fresh gingerroot at the grocery store.  Look for plump, firm roots.  Peel and cube or slice the ginger until you have about 2 cups.

Ginger that I have peeled and am cutting into small chunks.
This is not an easy task since the ginger is unusually shaped.  I usually end up breaking it into pieces to peel it.  Ginger is fairly fibrous, so when I cut it, I slice it like meat - across the grain - so the fibers are shorter.  The ginger then goes into a saucepan and covered with water.  Put a lid on the pan and bring it slowly to a boil.  Simmer the ginger until it is fork-tender.  Remove your pan from the heat, keep the lid on it, and let it sit overnight at room temperature.  The next day bring the ginger to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add thin, peeled slices of 1/2 a lemon or orange and also add 1 cup light corn syrup.  Simmer for 15 minutes longer, uncovered.  Stir occasionally.  Remove from heat, put the lid on, and let stand overnight.
On the 3rd day, bring the mixture to a boil.  Stir in 1/2 cup sugar, bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.  Stir in another 1/2 cup sugar and bring to boil again.  Remove from heat, cover and let stand overnight.
On the 4th day, bring the mixture to a boil once again.  When the ginger is translucent and the syrup has thickened, remove the ginger from the syrup.  Put the pieces of ginger out onto a wire rack or screen to dry.  The recipe I use tells me to leave the ginger out to dry overnight, but I find that I need to leave it out to dry for a few days.  Otherwise, it will all stick together when you store it in a jar or container.  The ginger will still feel tacky, so dust it with sugar to keep it from clumping together.  Store it in an airtight container.
Here are the ginger pieces after they have been 'candied'.  I put them out to dry on these spatter screens.
My current stove cooks things too hot, so I scorched this batch a bit.  Still edible, but a few of the pieces got extra browned.  (I keep telling Shawn that we need a new stove!!!)
I store the ginger pieces in a small canning jar or a plastic container with a snap on lid.  Then I can have a piece of ginger to nibble on when I feel the need.  Ginger is very peppery tasting.  It has a heat that hits you at the back of the throat.  Even though it's hot, it is really good for coughs, colds and sore throats.  You can also mince the candied ginger and use it in cooking or add it to tea.
This is the 'sauce' that is leftover from making the candied ginger.
Once you have removed your candied ginger and put it out to dry, save the sauce that remains.  This can be a delicious remedy all on its own.  I put the leftover sauce in a jar and add it to teas.  It could also be used to glaze meats or added to stir-fries for a sweet and hot flavor.
Here is my completed candied ginger.
If you want to try your hand at making candied ginger, now is a good time.  Or at least it's a good time for me since it's cold and nasty weather and I'm indoors a lot more and don't have other projects going on right now.  Plus there are lots of cold and flu germs floating around out there, so get this good-tasting medicine ready for you and your family.
Also, check your ginger once you have completed it and put it in a storage container.  If it was too wet when you put it up, it will melt your sugar dusting and will be a pile of goo in your container.  Don't worry......just dump it all out on a sheet of waxed paper and let it dry for a few more days.  Then you can dust it again with sugar and pack it up once more.
Let me know what you think.  Do you think you'll try making some candied ginger?  Do you have other suggestions on how to use it?  Comments, people!!!!  I love your comments!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Make tea this winter!

Although we've had a brief reprieve from our winter weather, there is nothing better on a cold winter morning (or evening) than a warming cup of tea.  We've done this (especially my husband) for many years, makng a cup of tea to warm you up, open up your nasal passages, settle your stomach, and many other reasons.  We've always had a variety of tea bags in the (great to open stuffy noses), chamomile (great for an upset stomach and also a great calmer), oranges and cinnamon, hibiscus, raspberry, and a wide variety of herbals as well as regular teas.  All delicious!!!
But this year we have something new to play with ---- a French press!  WooooooHoooooooo!
This is my little French press. 
Isn't it cute?  I actually won this as a raffle prize this summer at our District Gathering of the Herb Society.  I was so excited!  I had seen pictures of them in Martha Stewart's magazine earlier last year.  It is actually a coffee press.  You put coarsely ground coffee in the bottom of it, pour boiling water in and put on the lid with the plunger up and let it steep.  It has a snug fitting screen on the plunger.  After it steeps, you can depress the plunger and it will hold down the coffee grounds and you can pour yourself a cup of freshly brewed coffee.  Martha pointed out in her article that these little coffee presses work wonderfully to make herbal teas.......and I wanted one immediately!!!!!!!
Sadly,  I won this prize in July and brought it home and let it sit on the shelf until December!!!  (I only like hot drinks in really cold weather!)  But since the temperatures have dropped, this little baby has really gotten a workout!  This small press makes one cup of tea, but we frequently reuse the herb material for a 2nd or 3rd cup.
Our tea of choice has been nettles and ginger.  Sound strange?  Of course it does!  But it is extremely nutritious and very DELICIOUS!  Nettles are a common weed.  Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) - you've probably unexpectedly wandered into a patch of them and ended up with painful stings.  But these weeds, although hated by many, are loaded with vitamins and minerals.  Once dried or cooked, the 'sting' goes out of the plant.  It can be cooked or steamed and eaten as a green, tasting much like spinach.  Nettles is one of the superior tonic herbs - rich in iron, calcium, potassium, silicon, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and chromium, as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals.  Nettles has a very mild and pleasant taste, and it blends well with other herbs.  I like to blend it with a few slices of ginger root (which is a delicious and healthy herb in its own right).

Down inside the French press.
I like to use about a teaspoon of dried nettles and a few thin slices of fresh ginger root.  Then I pour in the boiling water and put the lid on the press and let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
After I add the hot water, I place the lid on the press with the plunger up and let it steep.
I like a little honey in my tea, so I put the honey in the bottom of my mug and then pour the hot tea in.   Mmmmmmmmmmm!  Delicious!
Ahhhhhh.....a nice cup of tea!

I am soooooooo impressed with this little appliance, I bought a few of them for Christmas presents and even received a larger one as a gift!  I found a few of them at Target stores, but had a hard time finding them at other department stores.  I had to look in specialty gourmet/cooking stores and I also understand you can find them at Starbucks.
My new larger one will do 8 cups, I think.  I haven't tried it out yet.  But think of the possibilities..........a large dose of lemon and ginger tea .......ICED for the summer!  A large pitcher of mint tea.......ICED! 
So I have lots of plans for my herb garden this year.  I shall have several varieties of mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, monarda, and even basils.......and all of them shall have a turn in the French press!!!