A Gray Gardening Day in May plus the Parris House’s Honey Lemon (or Lime) Mint Tea Recipe

Today I put in most of the plantings for the Parris House vegetable and herb garden.  As some of you who follow me on social media may recall, around the time I was planning to start my seedlings, our local water utility burst an underground water main directly in front of our home, sending thousands of gallons of water in to the basement.  Unfortunately, this is the area where I usually have seedlings set up with grow lights.  The basement was a complete wreck and the cleanup and recovery have taken a couple of months, so…this year…no seedlings.

Fortunately, Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm in Oxford, Maine always has a huge variety of vegetable and herb seedlings, so this year, that was my solution.  I am usually picky with my seeds, selecting a lot of heirloom varieties, but this year growing my own plants was off the table and, having used Smedberg’s plants at times in the past, I know I will not be disappointed with my harvest.

I got the following in to the garden this morning, even though the weather on this Memorial Day is gray, cold, and frankly miserable:  tomatoes (three varieties), bell peppers, banana peppers, swiss chard, kale, eggplant, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, lavender, basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano.  I have a good sized spearmint plant potted and over near the kitchen door, because let’s face it, that’s an invasive and if I put that in my raised beds it will party on until it’s filled them up.  Also, our rhubarb has come up once again and it’s really time (maybe past time) to cut some of that and make something delicious with it.  There’s still work to do, even though it’s getting so late in the season.  I still plan to add some dye/flowering plants to the herb bed and also to the container area near the house.  My husband put up the electric fence for me again this year and our stalwart plastic owl is standing guard as he has for many years (successfully) now.   In looking over my plant selections I’m pretty sure my Italian DNA is showing.

Here are a few pics of the fledgling vegetable garden.  I assure you that in a month or so, this is going to be lush and just starting to put off some food, that is IF it’s ever warm and sunny for more than a day or two at a time this spring.  I’m starting to wonder.

I really couldn’t resist taking some of the spearmint, even though the plant is relatively young and small.  I love mint in my iced tea and I make my iced tea a particular way.   The recipe is right here for you, if you’d like to give it a try.  Let me put forth the following caveats.  I do not like my iced tea very sweet (sorrynotsorry to those of you in the South; I know this is considered an abomination down there).  In fact, the only reason this recipe has honey in it is because a) I like the flavor of honey and b) I have bees and am about to extract my first load of honey (it will be called Tovookan’s honey and will be for sale – watch for it) in the next few weeks.  It wouldn’t be ok for me to not use it in my tea, after all.  Since I don’t have my own yet, the honey shown in the pic is from Beekman 1802, and it’s delicious.  What I do not like is for sweetness to obliterate the flavor of a really good tea.  Second caveat is that I like my tea like I like my coffee – so strong you could stand a spoon in it.  Please adjust for your own taste.   Third caveat (hello, Canadian friends!) – I am using King Cole tea which my son James dutifully picks up every time he goes to visit his girlfriend in Nova Scotia.  This is a very popular Canadian tea that has ruined me for most other everyday teas, but if you can not procure this, just use your favorite.  Each King Cole tea bag is made to brew 2 cups, so you just have to double how many you use in your recipe.

1 half gallon Ball canning jar or a half gallon container of your choice  (but let’s face it, the canning jars are really cute)

3 King Cole Orange Pekoe tea bags OR 6 tea bags of your favorite tea

2-3 tablespoons honey or to taste (go ahead Southern friends, pour that jar upside down and count to 100)

1 lemon, cut in to quarters (lime is also tasty)

1 sprig of fresh mint, cut in to slices and put in to a tea ball

About 4 trays of ice (the Parris House icemaker broke about ten years ago, the repair guy said $600 to fix it – we use trays)

Fill your kettle with hot water and start it on the stove (or plug it in).  Meanwhile, put the honey in the bottom of the jar, and cut up your lemon and mint.  I don’t worry about the lemon seeds, but if they’ll bother you, remove them.  I put my mint pieces in to a tea ball so that I don’t have to fish them out of the tea later.  This may compromise the diffusion a little bit and you can certainly just put them in whole.  However, do NOT put them in the jar yet.

Once your water is boiling, fill the Ball jar to about a third with it and then stir the honey from the bottom until dissolved.  Add your tea bags, fill to about half with the hot water, and steep with the lid on for as long as you like.  As I said, I like my tea super strong, so I let it get plenty dark, about 10 or 15 minutes (ok, sometimes longer – yes, I know it can get bitter – yes, I kinda like that).  When steeped to your liking, remove the tea bags and add the ice.  Notice that I have not yet added the lemon and mint.  This is because I do not like the lemon to take on that “cooked” flavor that can happen when you’ve put the lemons in while the water is still too hot.  I also think it alters the freshness of the mint.  So I wait until most of the ice has melted and cooled and diluted the tea.

Once the water is not hot enough to alter the freshness of the lemon and mint (about room temperature), add those to the jar.  Let these flavor the tea for at least an hour or two.  I recommend getting them both out of the jar the same day, though, because I think the lemon starts to take on an odd flavor if left in the jar too long.   I store the tea in the fridge so that the flavors stay fresh and so that when I use it it’s very cold.

Unfortunately, today is not an iced tea day.  Today is a hot tea, hot coffee, or possibly even hot chocolate day here in Maine, replete with wood stove burning to knock the chill off.  But…I have to think iced tea days are coming, so try making it this way and let me know what you think.

Happy Memorial Day and happy hooking.

P.S.  I have not failed to observe Memorial Day; in fact, I am always deeply reverent of its origins and meaning.  If you follow me on Facebook you will have already seen a Memorial Day post I wrote for the Paris Hill Historical Society today.  Take a look by clicking HERE.  Thank you!

It's Hot. Make This Amazing Iced Tea using Society of Shakers Fruit Blend.

ShakerTea

It’s been uncharacteristically hot and humid here in Paris, Maine for the past several days.  Today, thanks to a cold front passing through, we have much cooler, drier conditions.  I’d enjoy the recipe I’m about to give you any day of the year, but it’s proven especially good when you’re trying to survive a dog day of summer.

I spent last weekend mostly at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine.  On Saturday, my husband and I taught a beginner soap making workshop, and then on Sunday I participated in Open Farm Day, demonstrating rug hooking in the historic Shaker barn.  After our workshop on Saturday, we stopped in to the Shaker store and picked up the Society of Shakers Fruit Blend Tea.  You can purchase it HERE in the on-line Shaker store, but if you are local or anywhere near local, better yet to go visit the community and take advantage of their wonderful farm and garden tours, two beautiful shops, educational programs, and inviting and peaceful atmosphere.  Lots of things in the Shaker stores would make amazing holiday gifts, so start your shopping early.

The Fruit Blend Tea is unbelievably delicious and refreshing.  In the fall, you’ll want their mulling spices, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This is how I make iced tea with it…

  • Put three heaping teaspoons of Society of Shakers Fruit Blend Tea in a 1 quart Ball jar.  I brew mine loose and then strain it, but you can use a tea ball that will fit through the opening.  A wide mouth jar is best for this.
  • Add almost boiling water to the 3 cup marker on the side.  Let brew at least 8 – 10 minutes; you want it to be strong.
  • If you need to strain the tea, now is the time to do it, but put it in to another quart sized Ball jar.
  • Add a heaping teaspoon of local honey or to taste.  I do believe at certain times of year you can purchase Shaker honey as well.  I get mine from a self serve stand on Mount Mica Road in Paris, Maine.  See the label in the pic!  Next year, fingers crossed, we will be offering Parris House Honey from our own hives.
  • Now add ice until the tea level comes to just the bottom of the jar lid threads.
  • When the ice melts it’s ready to drink!  Pour it over ice or put it in the fridge to chill.

I have been making one of these jars every morning and just about finishing it over the course of the day.  You could add lemon or lime to it, but honestly, the flavors in this tea are so perfectly blended I have found that adding fresh citrus takes a bit away from it.   Nor does it really need fresh mint as it already has some mint incorporated.

I support the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community as a Friend of the Shakers and through teaching and volunteer work at the village.  I hope you will consider doing so as well.   The Sabbathday Lake community is the home of three living Shakers, Brother Arnold, Sister June, and Sister Frances.  There is no other Shaker site in the nation inhabited by Shakers.  You may read about them in this Downeast Magazine article, aptly titled, Unshaken.  The Shakers are very engaged with the outside world lest anyone think they are cloistered, and yet they are examples of love, faith, hard work, and devotion, qualities we could all aspire to just a little more in this world of ours.

Enjoy the tea, and happy hooking!  – Beth