Herb of the Year for 2020: Blackberries, raspberries, and their cousins (Rubus ssp.)
Flower of the Month for August: Gladiolus
August is National Watermelon Month
August’s Feature: Your Herbal Harvest
Week 1. National Simplify Your Life Week (10 good ideas! We love “If you don’t use it, lose it.”)
August 6: The Shakers (America’s premier herbalists) arrived in New York Harbor on this day in 1774, on a ship called Mariah.
Week 2. National Smile Week (Check out these family craft suggestions).
August 10: Chicago IL was incorporated as a village on this day in 1833, with a population of 200.
August 15: Today is the birthday of Julia Child (1912-2004), also known as Our Lady of the Ladle, who introduced Americans to the art of French cuisine.
August 17: National Vanilla Custard Day.
Week 3. Friendship Week (Rosemary is the friendship herb).
August 19: National Potato Day
Week 4. Be Kind to Humankind Week.
August 28: Pepsi-Cola (originally an herbal drink to treat indigestion) got its name on this day in 1898.
August 29: Just what we need! National More Herbs Less Salt Day.
An addiction to gardening is not all bad when you consider the other choices in life.—Cora Lea Bell
The peaches are ripe and luscious, the market is displaying beautiful raspberries, blueberries, and cherries, and your garden is full of fresh herbs. Use them, along with a variety of spices, to make flavored vinegars that will spark salads and fruit dishes in months to come. Start now, and you’ll have a shelf of wonderful taste-tempters (and delightfully unique gifts) all winter.
Make Fruit-Flavored Vinegar with Fresh Herbs
- You’ll need fruit and herbs (suggestions below), vinegar, and lidded containers.
- Select jars and lids (pint, quart, half-gallon: size depends on the amount of fruit you’re working with). Wash and scald.
- Pit the fruit if necessary, cut it up, or mash it lightly. Wash the fresh herbs and bruise lightly.
- Heat the vinegar to just below boiling.
- Put fruit and herbs into jars and cover completely with hot vinegar. Leave 1/4″ head space.
- Put on the lid and set the container in a dark, cool place, shaking or stirring every day and making sure that the vinegar covers the fruit and herbs. Steep as long as a month, checking for flavor.
- When the flavor suits you, remove fruit and strain through a coffee filter until vinegar is clear.
- Rebottle in washed, scalded jars. Label. Best to store in refrigerator (up to 6 months).
Use apple cider vinegar with these fruits and herbs:
- Raspberries, lemon thyme, and rosemary
- Cherries, tarragon, and anise hyssop
- Cranberries, mint, orange peel, cinnamon stick
Use white wine or champagne vinegar with these combinations:
- Peaches, opal basil, cinnamon stick
- Raspberries, fragrant rose petals, rose geranium
- Strawberries, mint, candied ginger
- Strawberries, peaches, opal basil, candied ginger
- Okay, so what’s the connection between Chicago and herbs? Well, we’re sure that you know that the onion is an herb. (You didn’t? Well, it’s time you found out! Listen to Susan’s podcast, “The Magical, Mystical, Magnetic Onion,” and she’ll tell you all about it.) But we’ll bet that you didn’t know that the place-name “Chicago” means “onion field.” The word was first recorded in a 1688 French document, where it appears as Chigagou, an Algonquian word. The document explains that wild onions and garlic grew profusely in the area. And if you’d like to try something a little different with your onions, marry them with mint, in this intriguing recipe: Roasted Sweet Onions with Mint.
- Celebrate St. Julia’s Day by reading her book, My Life in France. You might also enjoy the memoir Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell, who cooked all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking—and lived to blog about it! And then of course the blog became a book (naturally) and the book became a film, starring Meryl Streep as the irrepressible Lady of the Ladle. Cooking doesn’t get any better than this.
- Observe Vanilla Custard Day by getting better acquainted with vanilla, perhaps the best-loved flavoring of all time. Vanilla pods are the fruit of the vanilla planifolia, the only orchid to produce an edible substance—and after saffron, the second most expensive herb to grow. Go here for an overview. And if you haven’t read it yet, now is a great time to indulge in A Plain Vanilla Murder, China’s 27th mystery.For a classic plain-vanilla baked custard recipe, try this one. Top with fresh strawberries or peaches for an elegant dessert.
- If you’d rather make your vanilla custard with condensed/evaporated milk, here’s how. And while you’re at it, you might want to know how Gail Borden came to develop canned condensed (or evaporated) milk and why it was so important at the time—a bit of food history that you probably didn’t learn in school. (The Herbed Mustard Sauce recipe on that page is terrific. No fresh tarragon? Try thyme, parsley, dill.) What’s the difference between condensed or evaporated and sweetened condensed milk? Here’s the low-down.
- On Potato Day, read Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip, by Dick Burhans. The story of how the pedestrian potato (once considered medicinal) was transformed into America’s favorite snack food—and the dark side of that picture. Informative, fun.
- Learn the history of one of the most famous soft drinks of all time. Pharmacist Caleb Bradham brewed up a drink he called “Brad’s Drink,” designed to ease indigestion and boost energy. It was concocted of carbonated water, sugar, vanilla, “rare oils,” and high-caffeine kola nuts. He didn’t think his name did much to sell his product, so on August 28, 1898, he gave it a catchy new name: “Pepsi-Cola.” A main ingredient of modern Pepsi: high-fructose corn syrup.
- Find out what Susan is up to during these hot summer weeks by visiting her blog, Lifescapes. There’s always something interesting going on in the Texas Hill Country. She also has a new blog, BookScapes, where she’ll be posting reviews of books she’s read and notes on writing/publishing.