Month: August 2014

Growing Merriment (i.e., Borage) in the Garden

Despite how easy it is to grow Borage in the Southeast, not many people think to include in their yard.  I grew Borage this year somewhat by accident, as it was (unbeknownst to me!) in a wildflower seed packet we sprinkled along the side of the yard to attract pollinators (which it did), and then it outgrew just about everything but the sunflowers!  With all of this Borage, I decided to see if more than just the bees could benefit from it, leading to the Borage G&T featured in our last post and at the Cocktails & Mayonnaise Picnic.

Borage Blossom

For us, Borage grew like a weed.  You can grow Borage from seed or, occasionally, you’ll see transplants of it at garden stores among the herbs.  I recommend growing it from seed, as you can get more of it for less money, and it will grow bigger and stronger than from a transplant, which is likely to be spindly and go straight to flower without producing many leaves due to the shock of replanting.

The best times to plant Borage are in the spring after the average last frost (April 5 for the Piedmont) for a summer harvest or in late summer (now!) for a fall harvest before the average first frost (November 5 for the Piedmont).

To plant, dig or rough up the soil of the area you want to plant in a flower/vegetable bed or a pot.  Borage does well in poor, clay soils (good news for North Carolina!), so you don’t even need to add any soil amendments.  Then sprinkle on your Borage seeds and rake them in so that they are buried just slightly under the soil.  Keep them well watered (keeping the soil like a damp sponge) until seedlings emerge.  Once they are up and growing, they shouldn’t need much care.  Mulching around them will help the soil retain water to prevent plants from wilting.

You should see large fuzzy cabbage-like leaves within a few weeks, and then bloom stalks opening into clusters of bright blue star-shaped flowers within about a month.  Pick leaves and flowers as needed.

Young Borage plants.

Young Borage plants.

Borage is an annual, so the same plant won’t come back next year.  BUT, it is also VERY likely it will reseed itself, dropping seeds from its spent flower blossoms to return next year.  I had some of mine reseed itself within the same year, with a fall crop coming up on its own now that the spring crop has died back completely.

Borage reseeded itself even in unfriendly rocky soil.

Borage reseeded itself even in unfriendly rocky soil.

The large black Borage seeds form inside of the spent flower heads. They can be collected or allowed to self-seed.

Seeds saved from this year's Borage harvest.

Seeds saved from this year’s Borage harvest.

Get yours in the ground now to squeeze in a fall crop of Borage!  If you didn’t receive seeds at our Cocktails & Mayonnaise Party, you can purchase a packet here at our Etsy store.  Available in bulk if you are looking for a good “merry-making” party favor!

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Borage: Nature’s Merry Maker

One of our other favorite inspirations for drinks at the Cocktails & Mayonnaise Picnic was the herb Borage – featured at the picnic in our Borage G&T.

What exactly is Borage?  

Borage is a plant that will grow in a cabbage-like shape with fuzzy green leaves that give off a cucumber-like smell and taste.  Eventually the plant will yield an 18-inch tall flower stalk of clusters of striking blue, star-shaped flowers that taste like honey.

Borage_in_Hand

The Borage flower is a five-pointed star and one of the only true blue plants found in nature.

Historically, Borage was much more commonly used than it is today.  This was, in part, due to the belief as far back as the height of the Roman Empire that consuming Borage could raise your spirits – making you merry and pulling you out of the doldrums (i.e., nature’s prozac).  Borage was also believed to have a cooling effect on the body, making it particularly popular in hot summer climates in salads and beverages.  Additionally, Borage was commonly found as an ingredient in Pimm’s Cup and was, at one time, often used as an ingredient in the making of gin.

As you can see, even when trying to frown while drinking Borage-infused cocktails, it is impossible due to its merry-making qualities.

As you can see, even when trying to frown while drinking Borage-infused cocktails, it is impossible due to its merry-making qualities.

Using Fresh Borage

So how do you use this plant in your kitchen?  The Borage leaves have a distinct cucumber taste, maybe even stronger than a cucumber itself.  Some people use them in salads, but their fuzzy exterior quickly put me off that use.  What is a way to enjoy the flavor of something without having to chew it?  Why, muddled in a cocktail of course!  After reading that Borage was historically often used as an ingredient in making gin, we thought this might be an ideal pairing, and the Borage G&T was born.  [If you can’t get your hands on Borage just now, cucumber or other herbs could make a good substitute, but try to get some Borage or grow it yourself if you can!  ]

Borage G&T

Daily dose of Borage to keep you merry.

Daily dose of Borage to keep you merry.

Ingredients:

-Fresh Borage leaves

-Ice

-Limes, cut in quarters

-Gin

-Tonic Water

Muddle Borage leaves in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.  Fill the shaker with ice.   Add 1.5 jiggers of gin.

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Squeeze one lime quarter over the top and throw in the lime.

Lime_Squeeze

Shake it up!  Pour into a tumbler glass, top with tonic, and enjoy!

[These also worked well made up by the pitcher ahead of time at the picnic.  Good to know for parties!]

For an added touch:  Freeze the Borage flowers (said to taste like honey) in ice cube trays to serve in your Borage G&T.  Fill the trays halfway with water and add the flowers to each cube.  Freeze.  Once mostly frozen, fill the tray the rest of the way with water and finish freezing.

Later this week, check back in for information on growing and preserving Borage – especially if you got one of our seed packets at the Cocktails & Mayonnaise Picnic!  

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Cobbler–Not Just for shoes (or pies)

So, remember when you used to get so frustrated getting the last sips out of a tall glass because you couldn’t reach the bottom and straws weren’t invented yet? Or when you really wanted a cold drink, and ice was only for fishing under in the winter? Or how hard it used to be to ride your horse-drawn carriage over the unpaved streets before cobblestones were invented?

Okay, maybe these problems were all addressed quite a few decades before you were born, much less drinking out of cups on your own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate their eradication today!

The drink in question that brings all these elements together is the cobbler. First mentioned in print in 1809 by Washington Irving, and rocketing to popularity by the 1830s, the cobbler at its most basic is made of sherry, sugar, and fresh fruit, poured over cracked ice, and drunk through a straw. It is an American invention, using an alcohol that was readily available at the time. Straws made from reeds were growing as a novelty (paper straws would not be patented until 1888), and New Englanders were shipping their ice to wider markets. (The name cobbler comes from chipping off bits of ice in shapes similar to the cobblestones paving streets, actually. ) These simple ingredients combined to blow the minds of drinkers in the United States and across the Atlantic to England too, well into the 20th century.

Because we thought this was a cool origin story, and because we had a ton of fresh fruits handy, we decided the cobbler would be a good addition to our inaugural Piedmont Picnic menu. Because you’re special, and because we like to make our friends work a little for their rewards, we decided you each had to make your own, crushing ice with a mallet included.

Felix testing out his mixing skills

To meet demand, here’s the recipe we used for the most popular DIY drink at the inaugural Piedmont Picnic:

Picnic Cobbler

  • bourbon
  • honey
  • lemon
  • fruit (blackberries, peaches, watermelon, etc)
  • ice
  • tonic water (optional)

Muddle fruit and honey in bottom of mason jar, and squeeze lemon over. Crush ice in a cloth with a mallet, and pour into jar over fruit. Add 1-2 oz. of bourbon, and top off with tonic water, if desired.

IMG_5721

We didn’t let the rain spoil our view

Same basic idea of an alcohol, sugar, and fruit, just updated with some of our favorite local ingredients. Also, bourbon’s a lot stronger than sherry, so the tonic helped us not get daydrunk quite so fast.

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Enough writing–go drink!

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Launched.

We are happy to say that we had a great time this past Saturday at the Piedmont Picnic Project’s official launch picnic – Cocktails & Mayonnaise!  Our guests braved the rain to get out there and smash ice, plunge mayo, and mix up drinks.

Wood Sorrel Lemonade

Because this party embodies so much of what the Piedmont Picnic Project is about, we are planning to use it as the inspiration for the next month of blog posts.  What about this first picnic so resonates with what we hope to do here?

It’s participatory – We didn’t play bartender.  Folks were involved in creating their own unique dishes and drinks.  This empowers people to do the same thing at home and gets them interacting with each other.

It’s historical – We think history can be fun, and using it to inspire food and drink is one way we are going to try to prove it.

It’s local – We tried to keep ingredients as local as possible and use local history and flora to inspire our menu.

It’s sustainable – By keeping things local and bringing back traditional recipes we can be more sustainable.  We also hope to show how using decorations and table settings full of reused and compostable items can actually make your event more unique and more cost effective.

It’s simple – Picnics are meant to be casual!  We tried to focus on the experience, not the appearance and build an atmosphere that felt welcoming to all – not stuffy or exclusive.  Our drinks and dishes are meant to be something someone could easily recreate at home.

During the month of August, we’ll unpack each item from our first picnic one by one and go over why we chose them, what the historical background is for them, how you can grow, forage, or source their ingredients locally today, and how to make them into delicious dishes and drinks!  You can look forward to the following:

  • Fruit Cobbler Cocktail.  Ice and Straws as the Wave of the Future – making countless variations
  • Borage.  History’s Prozac – how to grow it, muddle it, steep it, freeze it
  • MayonnaiseCheap, Natural, and Traditional – how to make it, where to source it, what to do with it
  • Wild Bergamot.  A Revolutionary Tea – how to grow it, dry it, infuse it, drink it
  • Wood SorrelEat your Yard – where to forage it, how to use it

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