The rooftop garden is finally set up for outdoor living and the heat has suddenly cranked up, which means it’s summer drink time. I’ve taken to making up bright red batches of roselle, aka sorrel (not to be confused with the cold hardy herb Rumex acetosa), a tangy and refreshing ginger infused hibiscus drink popular in the West Indies. I first learned how to make the Mexican version, agua de jamaica, about 10 years ago on a trip to Oaxaca City, but prefer the addition of ginger for extra zip.
Whatever the name, both drinks are made using the flower calyces of the tropical, heat-loving plant Hibiscus sabdariffa. About the closest climate for growing is Florida, so the drink doesn’t exactly qualify as local eating way up here in Toronto. If you’re making it in a tropical country then you’ll have access to fresh flower parts, but here in Toronto we’ve got a large Caribbean community so it’s easy enough to find packages of dried flowers in West Indian food shops. I get mine from a store that’s only a block away.
Optional variations on the drink include adding fizzy water (we like this best), orange zest, cloves, lime, or a couple of shots of rum to make rum punch.
- 1 cup hibiscus calyces (dried or fresh)
- 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon cane sugar, honey, or agave syrup (or to taste)
- 4 cups hot water
- Steep hibiscus calyces, ginger, and sugar in hot water for several hours.
- Once cooled, place in the fridge and continue to steep for as little or as long as you prefer (up to 2 days).
- Strain out the plant parts and serve with ice.
Makes approx. 4 cups.
More Summertime Drinks
Remember when I helped my brother make a container garden on his balcony? Behold, it LIVES!
He’s done really, really well for someone with almost no interest in gardening only a few months ago. I was concerned that I had overwhelmed him with plants through my own enthusiasm and that he wouldn’t be able to go from zero to a hundred like that overnight but he pulled it off and is obviously invested in keeping things alive. Sure, he never did get around to repotting the basil but the fact that they’re not dead yet considering those horribly undersized containers means he is caring for them. He is watering the garden every morning, the tomato is making tomatoes, the peppers are growing lots of peppers, and the herbs look really good.
He loves those herbs. I’d say they are by far his favourite part of the experience based on how much he goes on and on about all the great meals he has made from them. He even has a little stool that he brings outdoors to perch on when harvesting for a meal.
I am crazy proud! It’s almost embarrassing to admit to how much delight I am taking in this. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds next spring.
Above image is the July entry from the 2008 You Grow Girl Calendar
I LOVE tomatoes. If I had to give up growing all other crops and choose just one I would probably choose tomatoes although basil would follow as a close second. Who can imagine tomatoes without basil?
Don’t make me choose.
Tomatoes aren’t the easiest food plant to grow but they are the most rewarding. No homegrown vegetable tastes, looks, and feels more radically different to its grocery store counterpart. That watery, anemic thing isn’t a tomato, it’s an impostor, and a bad one at that.
I love the challenge in growing tomatoes. The learning about this single crop type is endless. Every variety is different from the 6 feet (plus plus) tall indeterminates to teeny little potted plants. The leaves and shapes are different, their wants and needs are varied, and their disease and pest resistance can shift radically from plant to plant. And then there’s the weather. What thrives and grows abundantly one year can melt into a pile the next. Finding more water during a drought is hard enough, but how exactly do you take it away during a flood year? My region has already far surpassed all the records for summer rainfall and the summer isn’t even over yet. If you’ve ever experienced frustration and loss as a tomato gardener do not give up. Who knows what next year will bring? That next variety might be the one that kicks ass in your growing conditions. The one thing a gardener can never control or really predict is the weather. How amazing would it be if we could? But then I wonder how interesting gardening would be if we knew exactly what was going to happen and what to do about it beforehand.
A clump of ‘Purple Calabash’ tomatoes harvested just yesterday!
A gardener could focus their entire life on just the tomato and still live a very full and varied experience. I constantly long for the space to toss in 100 varieties or more in one year and just immerse myself in it completely. Still, I try with my little roof garden and community plot, slowly inching my way through the lists of inspiring varieties one plant at a time. I had to cut back this year to give my soil a break. It’s a bummer but has made me all that much more appreciative of the plants I do have, most especially the few that have pushed on through the excess rain to bring me my first sweet, ripe lovelies.
Tomatoes are beginning to ripen in both of my food gardens which means I am indulging in all of my favourite tomato recipes. I prefer to make tomatoes the star of the show rather than hiding them in among other overpowering ingredients so as soon as the first tomatoes were ready I dove straight into the two dishes I crave most during the off months of the year: Roasted Tomato Soup and Fried Egg Sandwich. (I cooked and ate one for lunch midway through writing this post!) The egg sandwich is as simple as frying two eggs any way you like them with a light spread of mayo and a couple of leaves of fresh basil. Add a little salt to taste. My newest love is Caprese Salad. I took up cheese making last year just so I could have really fresh delicious cheese with it. When the plants really start producing I’ll be making Roasted Tomato Sauce and Blackened Ranchero Salsa and then canning for winter usage. Yum.
Amazing that this is where it all begins. This is the ‘Purple Calabash’ shortly after germinating.
This post is a part of Away to Garden and Dinner Tonight’s Tomato Week Fest 2008.
- Homesteading — the kind that involved living in tents and no machinery — was terribly difficult. I’m sure of it. Of course I already knew this, camping merely drove that point home in a new way. Simple tasks take longer, requiring more planning.
Who wants tea? Well, first you’ve got to make a fire. This might require collecting wood. It will also require making flames first thing in the morning when you are still half asleep. Then you’ve got to wait an eternity for that fire to get hot. Then you’ve got to wait another absurd length of time for the water to heat up. You will probably give up and settle for a lukewarm beverage, if you can wait that long. If there is one thing I hate to go without it is my morning genmaicha. Some campers look forward to that first indulgent post-camping meal. My favorite post-camping experience came the next morning when I got up to make my morning tea. The whole thing was accomplished in minutes with a mere flick of a button. No dangerous half-asleep fire starting required.
- Here’s something you should know before setting out to camp in the wilderness. There are these little insects called Deer Flies. They look an awful lot like regular flies with one exception: regular flies are annoying but basically harmless, while deer flies slice off chunks of your flesh using their special slicing mouth parts. I am convinced that they are collecting human meat for Satan. There is no other explanation. After suffering through five days of their menace, mosquitoes are beginning to look downright civil, polite even. Sure they leave a bump that itches for days and days but by god deer flies have left an indelible scar on my psyche that no ointment will ever heal.
- Note for the future: Do not allow me to camp with small children. Not because camping is hard (except that it is) but because when faced with legions of biting insects, strong winds, and four hours of arm-breaking canoing I am unable to prevent the steady stream of elaborate cursing that will inevitably come pouring from my mouth. Please, think of the children.
The best way to learn what makes a plant tick is to see it growing in the wild. I consistently glean a lot of knowledge from these experiences. This trip taught me tons about blackberries and blueberries. Both were in season and both were easily found just about anywhere we went. Blackberries were always fully exposed, growing where the sun shone brightly and the soil was poor or non-existent. Sometimes it grew in the sand right at the water’s edge or in open meadows sitting alongside wetlands. Blueberries tended to be underneath the shade of larger coniferous trees or just on the edge of forests. They were always found among the low, sprawling juniper bushes.
Blackberries growing out of a rock.
Check out the view behind me.
Wild Blueberries. Tasty and FREE! Foraging makes me feel like I’ve scored the most awesome deal in town. Sure I have to do the work but still…. FREE. Picking them by hand has given me a whole new appreciation for the price of a pint of wild blueberries.
Picking Blueberries. Note the coniferous trees both big and small. The ground was basically granite and pine needles.
- Here’s a tasty camp dessert that I made up on the spot utilizing our foraged berries and provisions we had on hand. Add some sugar and fruit juice to a bowl of wild berries. Break up a few slices of bread into small chunks and add to the mix. Set it aside for 30 minutes or so allowing the bread to soak up the juices. Wrap it all up in foil and set over the fire to cook for about 15 minutes. Enjoy. Go ahead and lick the foil but try to avoid cutting your tongue.
Making foraged wild berry dessert. I look high here but I promise you the only thing I inhaled on this trip was fresh, super oxygenated air. And a lot of campfire smoke. I like to make fires so fire-starter was my self-appointed role.
- Camping in the rain is another kind of tricky. Have to go to the bathroom outdoors in the rain? Try to hold it in. That’s all I have to say about that.
- I have a lot to learn about plants. And mushrooms… forget about it. Better to assume they are all poisonous.
- Camping is a reminder of how easy we have it, a demonstration in the excesses in our modern lives that we can probably do without. I learned that baking soda really is the miracle powder. You can use it to scrub dishes, wash hair, brush teeth, and remedy bee stings. It really doesn’t taste that bad when used as toothpaste.
- I can tolerate all manner of dry, bland food when forced. Being surrounded by beautiful landscape makes everything go down easier.
….‘Beaver Lodge Slicer’. Although I can’t be absolutely certain since I discovered some ripe ‘Green Grape’ tomatoes hidden beneath their foliage later that evening. We ate those straight-away before I could be bothered to get out a camera. The ‘Beaver Lodge Slicers’ were delicious on a fried egg sandwich with basil. I don’t have anything special to say about the flavour. They were your “average” incredibly delicious, homegrown red tomato.
I’m waiting for the ‘Black Brandywine’ to ripen. Those are going to be killer, I just know it.
Update: The ‘Black Brandywine’ were very prolific and did well in an extra large container, but the flavour was not very exciting.