August 2014
The Herb Farm

Chillin’ Herbs

“What am I?” Last month the WAI was Red, White and Blue flowers: Red Dragon Wing Begonia, White Baby Wing Begonia and Blue (Salvia nemorosa) Meadow sage.  

After surviving the hot month of July, it’s August and the temperature is even hotter. I think I’ll just spend the next little while making up hot weather recipes to cool us down.

Let’s start with finding something to do with all those tomatoes we are harvesting. This year has presented itself a perfect growing opportunity for my garden here on the Herb Farm. I spent the last two weeks processing, I don’t know how many, tomatoes. Making sauce, tomato paste, tomato powder, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato juice and even tomato wine occupied most of my time for the last several weeks.

Every day, I walked out to the garden and knew I would need to carry a couple of baskets with me because surely there will be at least that much produce to fill them up.

The other day, a friend of mine stopped by just as I was getting ready to go out in the garden and get more tomatoes. I gave him a couple of empty baskets and asked him if he wanted some tomatoes. He said sure, but not that many. We walked out into the kitchen garden patch that is not the main garden. I picked two large baskets full of tomatoes and my friend picked one large basket full, along with a mixed basket of Ichiban eggplants, green and yellow zucchini, yellow summer squash and a mess of okra.

It has been like that all summer long. This is the best growing season I have seen in a long time.

Every time I brought in a lot of tomatoes and processed them, I had to look in the pantry to make certain there was room for more of this season’s products. I can’t remember when the shelves filled up so fast!

There is a batch of tomato wine that has been sitting on lees since last October. It is crystal clear and in need of bottling. (Note: Lees are dead yeast and/or other particles that have settled to the bottom of your must. Must is young wine or fresh squeezin’s.)

Chilled tomato wine with a leafy-greens salad makes a delicious after-five appetizer when you just come in from the garden and need to eat something quick, healthy and tasty to hold you over until you cook your supper. That usually gets me going and then I can concentrate on preparing my meal.

People ask me all the time what tomato wine tastes like, and I tell them to just try it. For folks who don’t have easy access to fine wines in their grocers, I simply describe it as: "light in body, but with as much tomato flavor as tomato soup." It is a perfect complement to a green salad. It’s as much like drinking your tomatoes with the salad as it is eating a tomato on a burger instead of ketchup. Just try it! I’ll give you a recipe next month.

  Three-gallon carboy of 10-month-old tomato mead waiting on the bottling process.

Tomato-jalapeño wine sounds good to me and since there is also a huge harvest of chilis, I think I’ll make some.

There’s a number of one-gallon-sized jugs I use to make mead and other small-batch fermented drinkables. The other day, I got to thinking about some hard cider I made from apples a few years ago and decided to try a new version of that with a different fruit. You guessed it - tomatoes. I’m going to tell you what I did, but, keep in mind, this is an untested recipe that has not progressed enough through the proposed process to recommend it. I’ll tell you how it turns out when it’s ready. If you want to try it, you are on your own. Just let me know what your results are and we’ll trade notes.

Tomato Mead

Start with about five pounds of prime ripe tomatoes from the garden (assorted varieties) and cut them into chunks. Process the chunks through a Squeezo, or other juicer, to remove the skins and seeds. There should be nothing left except pure tomato juice.

Strain the juice through a yogurt strainer to remove most of the red tomato pulp.

Put the liquid into a six-quart stainless steel pot and bring it to a temperature of about 190 degrees over medium heat. Do not boil the juice. That could change the flavor. Bring the heat up to kill off any natural strains of yeast that may be in the air or in the tomato juice. (I did not sulfite the cider must as I do wine.) Reduce the heat immediately and add one cup of granulated sugar. Stir it to dissolve the sugar; then cool the liquid to 120 degrees. Add 1 to 2 pounds of fresh honey and dissolve it. Pour the mixture into a sanitized, food-grade, plastic bucket big enough to hold the liquid, but not so big the mix is just sitting on the bottom of a big plastic container. A local bakery or supermarket may have some four- to eight-quart buckets with lids they will gladly give to you for the asking. Cake icing containers make great primary fermenters. Fit the lid with a grommet and airlock. Scrub and sanitize the bucket, lid and airlock.

Once the mixture is in the bucket, add another half-pound or so of honey; then pitch in the yeast. One packet of Montrachet yeast should do the trick.

Cover the bucket with the lid fitted with airlock.

My mixture is now in the primary fermenter and bubbling away in a 75-degree room area of my basement. It will stay there for at least three weeks. Then it gets racked into a one-gallon glass carboy and sits for another three weeks. At that point, it will be time to bottle it. I think I’ll have to put it into another gallon-size glass bottle instead of half-liter crown-cap bottles. It’s only one gallon and, if it turns out as good as I think it will, that gallon won’t last long.

Here’s another recipe for a cool-down drink.

There is a malfunctioning spare refrigerator in the basement that freezes certain things if they are left in there too long. The other day I realized I had forgotten a watermelon that was put in the fridge to chill overnight. Well, it froze and that was the first harvest this season from some volunteer Sugarbabies that made fruits.

So, I halved the melon and dug out the frozen red goodness, put it into the Vita-Mix with a little honey and some almond milk and made a fine-tasting smoothie.

Speaking of smoothies, One day last week, I came in from the garden, and it was over 90 degrees outside that day! I needed some ice cream, but found the bananas first. I had forgotten that there were some frozen, over-ripe bananas in the freezer. Back to the Vita-Mix I went. I loaded it with the bananas and added a little sugar and almond milk and made another version of a cool-down drink. Oh, and I also added a dash of mace on top just for looks.

Try some of these chillin’ summer specialties while you have access to them fresh.

I’ll see y’all next month!

Until then, remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

Thanks for reading!

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As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.