Herb of the Year for 2021: Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), named by the International Herb Association
Flower of the Month for January: Carnation, symbolizing love, fascination, distinction
January is Hot Tea Month
January Feature: Fruit, Herb, and Spice Liqueurs
January 4. National Spaghetti Day. Easy-peasy one-pot meal, welcome after the elaborate meals of the holiday.
January 5-6. Twelfth Night and Twelfth Day/ Time to take down those holiday decorations.
January 12. On this day in 1943, the U.S. government announced that “Victory Sausages’ would replace “frankfurters” for the duration of the war against Germany.
January 13. In pre-Christian Ireland, the Feast of Brewing was celebrated about this time
January 17. In the English West Country, this is the traditional Wassail Night—time to wassail your apple tree! Blessing of the Animals Day in Mexico, in honor of St. Anthony Abbot.
January 20: Today is the feast day of St. Sebastian, patron saint of gardeners. It is also the Eve of St. Agnes’ Day, traditional night for dreaming of your lover.
January 23. National Handwriting Day
January 25. Today is the birthday of Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet. It is also National Irish Coffee Day.
January 27. National Chocolate Cake Day
January 28: National Blueberry Pancake Day
January 31: The Coca-Cola trademark was recorded on this day in 1893
These wonderful herbal liqueurs had their beginnings in medieval monastic gardens and stillrooms. Most are easy to make, but they do take time to age. If you start now, you’ll be offering your liqueurs to guests at your summer outdoor parties (we will have parties again, won’t we?) or spooning them onto ice cream for a delightful hot-weather dessert. To ensure that your liqueurs are worth the time it takes to make them, use the best ingredients, store in glass or ceramic containers, and age in a cool dark spot. These recipes use vodka and white wine; brandy or white rum are also good.
2 pints blackberries or raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup fresh rose geranium leaves
4 cups vodka
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Combine the berries, geranium leaves, vodka, and wine in a wide-mouth jar with a tight-fitting lid. Steep for one month in a cool, dark place. Open and crush the berries slightly with a potato masher and steep for another 4-5 days. Strain, pressing the juice from the berries, then filter through a coffee filter or double layer of cheesecloth. To make the syrup, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, add sugar, and stir until dissolved. Cool. Add half the syrup to the liqueur; taste, then continue to add and taste until it is as sweet as you like. Pour into a bottle, cap it, and age for three weeks in a cool, dark place. Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.
Spiced Pear Liqueur
8 ripe pears, juiced (about 4 cups juice)
2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled, sliced
1 whole nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups vodka
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
Combine the pears, ginger root, spices, vodka, and wine and proceed as above, steeping for 5 weeks. Strain, filter. Make the syrup and add as above. Bottle and age for about 4 weeks.
In case you feel like feasting on Twelfth Day, check out the Duke of Buckingham’s 1508 shopping list and a 19th-century recipe for Twelfth Cake. You’ll need nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, mace, ginger, and coriander. Oh, and a bottle of brandy. (Thanks to the Old Foodie, Janet Clarkson, for her wonderful blog!)
If you live in Zones 8 or 9, celebrate St. Sebastian’s Day by planting parsley for a spring harvest in April and May. For more about parsley and a pair of parsley recipes, listen to All About Parsley, the first of the ten podcasts in Susan’s series, About Thyme.
Did you ever wonder what people used for ink before the ballpoint pen was invented? You’d be correct if you suggested berry juice (blueberries, cherries, pokeberries, strawberries) or chimney soot. But the most important ink in Western history was made from oak galls and iron. Leonardo da Vinci invented with it; Van Gogh and Rembrandt drew with it; Bach made music with it; and the framers of our Constitution made history with it. This famous seventeenth-century recipe certainly involved a great deal of preparation.
Oak Gall-Iron Ink
To make good ink. Take 5 ounces of the best Nutt galls, break them in a mortar but not in small pieces, then put the galls into one quart of clear rain water or soft spring water, let them stand 4 or 5 days shaking them often, then take 2 ounces of white gum arabick, 1 ounce of double refined sugar, 1 piece of indigo and put in the same and shake them well and let them stand 4 or 5 days more. Then take 2 ounces of good green copperis the larger the better and having first washed off the filth put in to the rest and also a piece of clear gum, about as big as a walnut to set the colour and it will be fit for use.
Make your own Victory Sausages. In the 1940s, these sausages weren’t much liked, not even when the newfangled hot dogs bore the flag-raising slogan, “less meat and more patriotism.” These days, given the plight of our planet, your homemade gluten-free soy-free sausages will be cheered!
Read about Robert Burns and listen to a wee bit of Scottish music—bagpipes, preferably—while you sip a cup of Irish coffee. Or, if you’re really ambitious (wi’ a mickle o’ Scots blood in your veins), you could host a bonnie Burns supper for friends who share your taste. Some cullen skink, perhaps? Or haggis, bridies, neeps, or tatties?
Celebrate Chocolate Cake Day and satisfy those chocolate cravings by baking an amazing Irish Coffee Chocolate Cake. (The secret: black pepper and cloves!) Comfort your soul with the knowledge that—yes, indeed—chocolate is an herb.
Did you know that Coca-Cola was originally an herbal drink? In 1886, in a three-legged kettle in his Atlanta, Georgia, backyard, Dr. John S. Pemberton brewed a carbonated, non-alcoholic, herbal tonic to which he gave the name Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. Pemberton’s formula called for 5 ounces of coca leaf (the source of cocaine) per gallon of syrup. The cocaine’s hefty kick was boosted by a generous dose of the caffeine-rich kola nut; hence: Coca-Cola. The drug was removed from the drink by 1903, the company insisting that the “spent leaves” of coca were used for flavoring only.
Find out what Susan is up to these days by visiting her blog, Lifescapes. There’s always something interesting going on in the Texas Hill Country. She posts book reviews, bookish thoughts, and notes on the fast-changing world of books on her “other” blog, BookScapes.