Friday, July 15, 2011

Beating the Heat: Summertime Beverages

Homemade Limeade
If ever there was a summer from hell, I think this may be it! Here in North Texas, we’ve been hitting triple digits since June and further west into the Panhandle, they’ve experienced 113-118 degrees. I expect that kind of thing in late July and into August, but I was ready for summer to be over with before it even officially arrived!

Added to that the fact that we’ve had little precipitation here since November and this has been one of the worst summers I’ve ever experienced for homesteading and gardening. The cost of hay is outrageous right now and I doubt many ranchers are letting go of much of theirs no matter the price. I was told that over in the Abilene area, round bales are going for $90-$120 apiece.  Our county hasn’t been hit as hard as some by drought and I’ve noticed most ranchers have gotten at least one meager cutting, if not two. In any case, we rake our hay by hand to use as garden mulch and there hasn’t been enough of it to go around. I have soaker hoses running 24 hours a day and still can’t keep everything watered.

Over the last ten years I’ve gotten in the habit of growing larger crops on 3-year rotations for canning and dehydrating so I don’t have to grow large amounts of EVERYTHING every single year. That’s especially true for corn, tomatoes, peppers and green beans. My last big planting of both sweet and dent corn was back in 2008 and we’re running low! The Hickory King dent corn I love so much for cornmeal, hominy and masa flour is stunted and may not make it. We may manage a meager crop, but it won’t be the big, beautiful, 12-inch ears I’m used to. I’m pretty well stocked on tomatoes and peppers from last year, but if I don’t get a decent crop of sweet corn and green beans this fall, we’re going to be in dire straits!

The normal summer schedule has always been trying, but the alternating periods of frenzied activity combined with boredom this year have gone on longer than usual and I’m ready to be done with them! We do not keep our house excessively cool during the summer, so indoor activities have to be planned as carefully as outdoor activities. What that means is I’m usually up by to get housework and baking done while the house is cool, then I head out at first light and work until 10 a.m. Our biggest meal is always at on weekdays, followed by a nap or down time until about I head back out between 5 and to get chores done and usually don’t wrap that up until at least , sometimes later. Afternoons are the worst – it was 105 at today!

I haven’t had much of an appetite lately. Mostly I find myself reaching for raw fruits, salads, lightly-cooked vegetables, yogurt, chicken and fish. In Chinese medicine, there’s a special category of foods and herbs specifically for “clearing summer heat”. These foods are also known as “refrigerants” because of their ability to cool the body in hot, humid conditions. Cucumbers and melons are two of the best sources of these foods, and Hibiscus tea (recipe to follow) is one of my favorite old standbys.

Another class of herbs and foods are known as “surface-relieving”. They cause us to sweat and thereby force heat out of the body. Many common herbs are included in this category – sage, oregano, marjoram, basil, savory, sassafras and ginger. (Sassafras and ginger are the key components in those two old summertime favorites – root beer and ginger beer. How convenient is that?!) And let’s not forget hot peppers – a little will keep you warm in the winter, a LOT will make you sweat like a maniac and cool your body off in the summer. Isn’t it amazing how all of these foods and herbs reach their peak during the summer when we need them most?

A quick word here about sugar. I do not partake of any of form of artificial sweetener and I think people were a lot less obese when we didn’t have diet sodas to guzzle all day long. I would much rather have a little sugar, brown sugar, honey or molasses than put those artifical poisons in my body. Sugars are an instant energy boost during intensely hot weather and as long as you aren’t diabetic, a little goes a long ways. Even better than granular and liquid sweeteners for energy are the natural sugars found in fresh and dried fruits. Dates, figs, raisins and dried fruits are an excellent high-energy snack.

Hibiscus Tea
There are several hundred varieties of hibiscus in the world. My “Planetary Herbology” book (by Michael Tierra) lists the common garden hibiscus (H. rosa sinensis) as the basis for this tea, which is popular all over the world and has been for eons. However, the more usual variety of hibiscus used in the drink is commonly called “Roselle” or “Sorrel Blossoms” (H. sabdariffa and not to be confused with common sorrel). The unsweetened tea is a proven anti-hypertensive for diabetics, meaning it will lower blood pressure. (However, it’s pretty tart without some type of sweetener, so I would add some stevia if you’re diabetic.) It is delicious served sweetened over ice and is excellent with hot, spicy foods. (It’s also great with rum and vodka, but best save that for when the weather turns a bit cooler!) The dried blossoms can be found in Asian and Latin markets, health food stores and on-line. If anyone out there has seeds to share, I’d love to have some!

To make the tea, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add 2 cups of Hibiscus blossoms and 1 tablespoon of grated ginger. Turn off the heat, cover and steep for 4 hours. Strain and add sugar to taste, about a cup. Chill and serve over ice.

Homemade Lemonade/Limeade
When’s the last time you had REAL lemonade, as in NOT from a powdered mix? I’m super jealous of you homesteaders out there that can grow citrus. I always put a few lemons and limes on the shopping list because I’m an iced tea-aholic and they keep well for several weeks in the fridge. (And they're cheap here in Texas.) This ade is special because of the method of extracting the juice and oils from the rind. It is INTENSE and perfect for a hot summer pick-me-up. The original recipe calls for 4 large lemons. I don’t buy large lemons and use 6-7 of the smaller lemons or limes.

Wash and slice the fruit thinly into a heavy, durable bowl or crock. Sprinkle with ¾ cup of sugar. Mix together and let stand for about 10 minutes. Press the fruit firmly with a potato or bean masher to extract the liquids and oils. Add a quart of water and mash a little more until the liquid is well-flavored. Serve immediately over ice, or strain and chill for later. (The limeade makes for an excellent margarita on the rocks and the lemonade is excellent with a shot of melon liqueur added, but only if you partake of such things, of course…) J
Making Lime Syrup

There are so many variations on this recipe I’m not going to list them here, but do take a moment and check some of them out. A friend passed a recipe along to me recently and I remembered I had seen it in a couple of my Amish cookbooks. The origins and history of this beverage are fascinating and it’s been around a long time. Laura Ingalls’ mother would have used candied ginger in it, as she wouldn’t have had access to fresh. I don’t find it quite as delicious as others claim, but it’s probably an acquired taste and I’ve only tried one version. Here are several recipes for it:

Homemade Yogurt
And let’s not overlook homemade yogurt. I make it by the gallon and can go through that much in a week. All by myself. J Mixed with a little honey, it’s an excellent salad dressing on fresh greens or fruit slices. It pairs well with cucumbers, cilantro and mint – all summertime favorites. It’s a good marinade for fried chicken and fried fish. I have a glass of it every night before bed – it aids in digestion and the calcium helps me sleep. And the best thing about it is that you don’t need any special equipment for making it this time of year – you can use the summer heat to your advantage.

There are plenty of tutorials on the net for making it, so I won’t repeat such simple instructions, but I would like to add the following: 1) Bring your milk to 112 degrees in a double boiler. It’s amazingly fast and keeps it from scorching. I use a 12-quart stockpot sitting in my smaller water bath canner for that. 2) Do add a couple tablespoons of powdered milk per quart of milk to get a thicker product. 3) If you’re already in the habit of canning your own milk using the “ultra-pastuerization” method (as opposed to high pressure canning which makes it taste like canned milk!), it’s super easy to heat up a quart to 112 in the microwave, add your starter and powdered milk and incubate.

The picture shows my preferred incubation method. I drilled a hole in the top of one of the screw-on lids to insert an instant response thermometer. It’s not necessary, but will give you peace of mind that you’re holding the product at the right temperature. I don’t use an additional heat source. I put the 110-degree jars in a warm (80-90 degree) area, wrap a towel around all of them (leaving the thermometer showing) and leave them for 8-12 hours. The biological activity of the bacteria will hold the jars well within the 95-100-degree temperature range. That’s it! What could be easier?
Homemade Bulgarian Yogurt

No comments: