How About Hops?

The following is an article I wrote for the September/October 2016 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine.

How About Hops?

I planted my first hops more than 20 years ago.  At the time, I was a young, budding herb enthusiast, not entirely aware of the plant’s place in the herb garden. I planted it for the ignominious reason of covering an old rusty fuel tank sitting right in the middle of the farmyard.  The only thing I knew about it was that it was used in beer.  That was the beginning of a long relationship with the bitter herb.

 

I’ve since come to know hops in great variety.  A number of years ago, before the craft beer revolution became the craze it is today, I was introduced to the then small world of craft beer. It was there that my hops education began. I’ve traveled the country in search of beer, tasting 77 different styles of beer from a total of 648 different breweries, from all 50 states, and 56 different countries.  I’ve obsessively taken notes and recorded more than 3600 reviews of the beer I’ve tasted.  In that time I’ve learned that all hops are not created equal. The number of hop varieties used in brewing is more than 170, with several new varieties being developed every year.

Hops (Humulus Lupulus), a hardy climbing perennial, produces annual bines (yes – bines not vines) reaching up to 25 feet a season.  Each fall the plant dies back to a crown of rhizomes, from which the plant can be propagated.  Hops are dioecious, male and female, the female plant producing the flowers, also referred to as cones. Hops are native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, and were first noted in history by Pliny the Elder during the first century.  Despite this early mention in history, hops didn’t make any notable appearances until the eighth century in France, and again in the twelfth century in Germany when hops began to be used in the making of beer.  Prior to its use in beer, hops was a wild plant used as a vegetable and for its medicinal properties.1

Hops is a relative newcomer to the world of traditional medicine, Historic references to its medicinal use aren’t found until around the fifteenth century. After that time, we begin to see it referenced for use as a digestive aid, diuretic, cleansing the blood, liver, and spleen.  As history progresses into the nineteenth century, we also see it used as an antibacterial, a tonic for digestion, for inflammation, restlessness, as a sleep aid, and for a whole host of other minor complaints.   There have been a few modern studies conducted on the medical efficacy of hops as a sedative, and quite a bit of anecdotal evidence of hops being effective as a digestive bitter, and for possible estrogenic activity. 2

From a personal standpoint, I’ve had good results using hops as a mild sleep aid, along with passionflower.  I prefer to use it in tincture form, but many herbalists make dream pillows, stuffing small pillows with hops.

If you were to do a quick internet search for hops’ use in beer, you’d end up with information overload.  Looking up its use as a folk remedy would yield some quick results also.  However, you would find very little on its use as food. To the best of my knowledge, there are no hops cookbooks on the market, and I’ve only run across one mentioning hops as a vegetable.

With interest in craft beer gaining momentum, driving the growth of new breweries and hops farms at a staggering pace, home brewers, breweries, gastro pubs and chefs alike have begun looking to hops for new uses.   As a local chapter leader of a national women’s craft beer organization, Girls Pint Out, I’ve had the opportunity to become acquainted with many of the hop growers, brewers, and bar and restaurant owners in my local community.  It was at a recent Purdue University hops growing workshop, that a group of us discussed the potential of using hops in food.  Having experimented with hops in my own kitchen, I was able to share some of my own experience, and also walked away with quite a bit of new information and plenty of ideas for further experimentation.

Three parts of the plant can be used in food: tender young shoots in the spring, tender young leaves, and the cones, which ripen in late summer or early fall, depending on the variety.  To date, I’ve not run across any use of the rhizomes in cooking.

In the spring, the first few bines to develop are bull shoots.  Bull shoots do not produce high yields of cones, so are trimmed out within the first couple of weeks.  The shoots that develop after the bull shoots are trained upwards, and produce flowers more heavily.  However, it takes a lot of shoots to have enough for a recipe.  The home grower, with only a few plants, is going to be hard pressed to gather enough for more than one meal, and would most likely need to harvest more than just the bull shoots.  Hops shoots have been pronounced the “the world’s most expensive vegetable”, coming in at over $1000€ per kilo – that’s about $500 per pound!  Some sources cite hops shoots here in the States at $128 per pound, but I’ve never seen them in my grocery store or farmer’s market.

Tender young hops shoots are much like asparagus, and can simply be sautéed with a little olive oil or butter, garlic, salt and pepper.  Hops shoots can also be pickled, included in egg dishes such as quiche or frittata, or rice dishes like risotto or pilaf.

So far, my only experiment with hop leaves has been using tender young leaves for stuffed hop leaves, as opposed to stuffed grape leaves.  I did find one recipe online for hop leaf pasta dough. I’ve made green pasta from chlorophyll extracted from spinach leaves, so I find hops leaf an intriguing possibility.

The bulk of my experimenting has centered on using hops cones as a flavoring.  Without getting bogged down in the science, hops flowers are divided into two categories:  bittering (high alpha acid) and aroma (low alpha acid). For the sake of cooking, I suggest the use of aroma hops (ie. Amarillo, Saaz, Willamette), which will impart a bit less bitterness, and more aroma and flavor than bittering hops. The flowers can be used in several forms: fresh or dried cones, tincture or infusion, or hop pellets from your local home brew store. Because the season for hops flowers is short, I preserve them by making tincture, and drying. The oils in the flowers are volatile, so store the dried flowers in a zip bag in the freezer to extend shelf life.  I do have some hop pellets, and am experimenting, but not yet entirely comfortable making recommendations for their use.

Use a light hand when cooking with hops flowers.  The flavor can be incredibly strong and bitter, so think of it as a spice or a seasoning.  The point is to enhance, but not overpower. Also, the alpha acids in hops flowers are hydrophobic and bond with fat molecules, so the flavor is easier to manage in fats.

Try infusing honey and honey mustard with hops, or using hops tincture as a bitter in cocktails.  I love homemade lemonade with hops. I add a little more hops than in the following recipe, and drinking a glass usually makes me feel sleepy.

Lemonade

¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 ½ cups water
¼ cup simple syrup
2 teaspoons hops tincture

Hops Ice Cream

3 cups half and half (or 1 ½ cup cream and 1 ½ cup milk)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Handful of fresh hop cones

Combine half and half, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a heavy bottomed pan.  Gently heat the mixture over medium, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Heat until mixture thickens slightly, but don’t bring to a full boil.

Place hops into the hot mixture to infuse.  This next step is important.  At about 15 or 20 seconds, taste the mixture.  Continue tasting until it reaches the desired flavor, and then immediately remove the hops.  The cream mixture pictured took about 30 seconds to attain an herbal hoppy flavor without any significant bitterness. The exact time is going to depend on personal preference and the variety of hops being used.

Cool mixture in refrigerator until 40°F or below.  Churn according to ice cream machine directions.  Ripen ice cream in freezer overnight for best texture.

 

  1. The Short and Bitter History of Hops, David Martorana, Philly Beer Scene, April/May 2010 Edition.
  2. Hops (Humulus lupulus): A Review of its Historic and Medicinal Uses, Uwe Koetter, Martin Biendl, HerbalGram. 2010; American Botanical Council

 

Why I’ve Neglected My Blog For Almost 2 Years

It’s really simple.  We bought a wreck of an 160 year old Victorian farm.

We moved into it, and we’re renovating it while we live in it.  A little over a year into tearing it apart, replacing old knob and tube wiring, running new duct work (the previous owner allowed renters to have cats, who decided the registers were a good place to pee), cutting down trees, tearing out brush, fixing up the barn so the animals had a place to live, and trying to establish my gardens, I’m finally beginning to feel like myself again.

I think I may be ready to attempt some blogging again.  I did write a few articles for an herb magazine in the last year, so I’m going to add those over the next few weeks, and then I’ll try to work on some new material.

This is what the place looked like in 1899.  I wish it still looked like that, but alas, it never will again. With our boys grown and moved away, we needed something to do.  I suspect we’re going to be working on the place till the day we die. We’re taking it one project at a time, saving and paying for each project as we go.  I have been taking pictures since we started working on it, and will eventually get around to sharing.

For now, I just wanted to come out of hiding, offer my excuses, and let you know I’m not gone forever.

 

Wonton Soup

 

Wonton soup is one of my favorite comfort foods.  I think of it as Asian chicken noodle soup, and it’s what I want on those rare occasions when I’m sick. However, I eat it a lot, sick or not. Because I feel like crap on toast when I’m sick, I freeze trays of wontons, as well as containers of broth made from my old stewing hens, so soup can happen with minimal effort.  Everyone knows good old chicken soup is just what’s needed for a cold, but how much better, when you throw in garlic and ginger?

The recipe I give will make approximately 40-50 wontons. This is more than you will need to make a batch of soup. Freeze what you don’t use for later. The wontons can be added to the cooking broth fresh or frozen.

 

 

Wontons
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 or 3 cloves finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
1 package wonton wrappers

Combine ground pork, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil, and mix well.  Fold using any number of different folds. I use a tortellini fold, because it’s an easy fold that allows me to crank out a batch of 100 quickly. Place a small amount of pork mixture in the center of a wonton wrapper. Moisten outside edges of the wrapper with a finger dipped in water. Fold in half to form a triangle, and press the moistened edges together to seal. Pull the outside corners of the triangle towards the middle. Moisten one of the corners with a little water, and press the corners together, and then flip the main part of the wonton over the top of your thumb while pinching the corners together, as pictured.

 

 

Wonton Soup
1 quart (32 ounces) chicken broth
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 or 3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 to 2 cups chopped bok choy greens and stems
Salt to taste

To make the soup, place the broth, ginger, garlic, and fish sauce in your soup pot, and bring up to a gentle boil.  Add your wontons to the broth (fresh or frozen), and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add chopped bok choy to the soup, and take it off the heat. The heat of the soup will wilt the greens, but they will still maintain a satisfying crunch.

This is a versatile recipe. You can use more or less broth and greens as you like.  I prefer more greens and load it up with wontons.

 

Handmade Vs. The Wal-Mart Mentality

 

cowl

 

I finished knitting up a cowl for myself, and had uploaded this picture to my facebook page, offering to make another for the low, low price of $75.  It resulted in a conversation between a couple of my knitting friends.

convo

 

The timing of the conversation coincided with my train of thought while working on a pair of fingerless mitts.  I no longer depend on income gained from handmade items.  However, I do make a living selling supplies to those who earn a living selling handmade items.  I’m very familiar with both ends of the stick.

When I first went into the handcrafted soap and personal care products business 15 years ago, the running rate for a 4 ounce bar of handmade soap was approximately $4-5 a bar.  These days, the cost of raw materials has more than doubled, but I still see some of my long time customers selling bars for nearly the same price, and it breaks my heart.  I’ll never forget an old farm wife stopping at my soap booth, looking longingly at the selection I had on display.  She told me she really wanted to buy some, but if she did she would have to hide it.  When I asked her why, she told me her husband would blow a gasket over the price, when she could buy a 10 pack of ivory soap for $2.

If I had a nickel for every person who has taken a look at one of my handmade items, and said, “That’s so cool! You should really sell your ________.  If you do, I’ll be your first customer!”,  I’d be a wealthy woman.  The cold hard truth is that makers and artisans usually struggle to get a fair price for their work. I have tried to sell some of my handmade items, and guess what?  Most of the people who told me they would buy never have.  The subject of pricing among my maker and artist friends is a hot topic. It’s not a subject taken lightly, and most agonize over it.

I have a question for you.  How much do you earn for putting in a 12 hour shift at your job?  I’m going to use my fingerless mitts as an example, although they are a gift, and not for sale. They are rather complicated, and the pair will take me approximately 12 hours to complete. If I were to charge $10 an hour for my time and the cost of the yarn, the mitts should have a minimum price tag of $120! Needless to say, I’m probably never going to use this particular pattern for selling.

 

 

 

Beetroot & Feta Salad

winter-harvest

Winter gardening here in Northeastern Indiana has been more fun than usual this year, thanks to an unseasonably long and warm fall. One of the tricks of maintaining a winter garden in our northern climate is careful planning so that plants are well enough established to hold well in cold weather. This year, it’s been mild enough that I haven’t had to cover anything with mulch or protective row covers. This morning’s harvest, pictured above, came out of the garden in beautiful shape.  As the colder weather of December and January move in, things won’t look quite so vibrant, but will still be perfectly good for the kitchen.

Lunch today was beetroot and feta salad, close to the last one I’ll have.  I should have planted an additional row of beets, because I’ve only got enough left for one more meal. I didn’t spend much time trying to get a picture, because I was hungry.  I’ve noticed a lot of beetroot salad pictures online, and want to know how they manage to keep their feta perfectly white?  Beetroot is messy, and colors everything it comes in contact with. I’ve got the purple fingers to prove it.

beetroot-feta-salad

 

I’m not going to give exact amounts, because I only ever make this to serve one.  My husband hates both beets and feta. You can’t really mess this one up, because the ingredients are so simple.

Beetroot & Feta Salad with Parsley
A few beetroots, boiled, peeled, and cubed (about 1 1/2 cup per serving)
A big handful of parsley, chopped
Feta, cubed or crumbled
Fresh lemon juice
Olive oil, amount equal to lemon juice
A couple of garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste

The easiest way to cook beetroot is with the skin still on. Trim the tops and bottoms, and boil them whole until fork tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let them sit in the pan with cold water, and they will be easier to handle.  Slip the skins off and cube.

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper into a vinaigrette.

Combine beetroot, feta, and parsley. Drizzle with vinaigrette.

No, I Haven’t Quit My Day Job

cream-soap

 

Apparently, a little clarification is needed. Yes, some of my friends and family have been wondering about seeing me peddle wares on Facebook and Instagram. No, I have not closed up my 9 to 5 business of the last 15 years.

Here’s the deal.  I like to make stuff. The problem is I make more stuff than Bart and I can use.  You only need so many scarves, which is a problem when you’d like to keep knitting, but you’re hooked on high-end handspun, hand dyed, really super expensive art yarn made by your dealer talented friend in Iowa.  Then there’s soap.  I usually make batches of soap that result in about 14 bars, and I don’t like to limit myself to just one scent.  Are the 5-10 different bars of soap in my shower really necessary? Bart produces gallons of maple syrup each spring, and it’s more than we can eat by ourselves, so we get rid of some of it.  I collect herbs and spices like some women collect shoes and purses. I grow them, buy them, pickle, infuse, and smoke them.  No, no!  Not that kind of smoke!  As in, I put them in the smoker with wood chips, and make them taste smoky. The list of stuff I make is mind numbing. It’s getting out of control, but I really don’t want to stop.

Anyway, I decided the solution was to revamp my old Etsy store, and try to sell my surplus, so I can justify continuing to make more stuff.  I hope it works, because I really don’t want to curb my hobbies. You can find a tab for the Etsy store at the top of the page. I’ve got more stuff to list, but I still need to take pictures.  Mulled maple syrup will be added shortly.

So, yeah, to answer the question, I still have my day job.

 

scarf-1

Ancho Chili Powder – Seed to Jar

poblano-powder

 

Technically, this is easy peasy. Throw dried ancho in a grinder and pulverize. Viola! Chili powder! I hope I never have to resort to store-bought powder again.  I wish you could smell it! It has a wonderfully fruity pepper aroma, like nothing I’ve ever found in a store.  I opened the grinder, took a big sniff, and immediately did this weird sneezy cough thing.  There is so much more going on in this simple powder than I could have imagined.

As far as easy peasy goes, I’ve decided to give myself a little more credit. This was a project that took some time, patience, and a little elbow grease.  I chose an heirloom poblano seed last winter, and planted the seeds back in early March.

 

sprout

 

pepper-seedlings

 

At the end of April, I turned over a cover crop of rye and vetch in my raised beds.  I hand dig all 4 of my raised beds, and by the time the cover crop had decomposed into the soil enough that I could plant, I had dug each bed a total of 3 times.  It’s a great way to start getting back into shape in the spring, and I’m usually a little sore at first. By mid May, I had transplanted the poblano pepper seedlings in the ground.

 

cover-digging

 

By the beginning of August, I was picking and roasting green chilis for the freezer

 

poblanos

 

Here I am in September, and the peppers have finally ripened to a beautiful chocolate.

 

anchos

 

This past weekend, I halved and seeded them, and put them in my dehydrator. After a couple of days, they were shriveled, semi-crisp, and almost black.

 

polanos-dried

 

I’ll admit, I had my doubts when I put them in the grinder.  Who would have believed the powder would come out looking like this? One smell. One taste.  THIS is why I bother to do so much of what I do. This is what knowing where my food comes from is all about.  Now, whenever I cook something using this powder, I’ll be reminded of 7 months, from seed to jar, of what’s involved in producing a simple staple spice I keep in my cupboard.

 

poblano-powder

 

Now that I’ve finished this post, I’m off to use my spectacular ancho powder to make up a batch of my Tex-Mex blend.

 

taco-seasoning

Food Traditions

harvest

This isn’t exactly a rant.  More random musings from the garden and kitchen. Plus, I’m writing this more for the sake of journaling, than thinking anyone is going to benefit from anything I have to say.  It’s a very hot muggy day, and I’m trudging back and forth between the garden and kitchen, taking breaks to cool off while I finish planting my fall garden – peas, beets, carrots, spinach, pak choy, lettuce, cabbage.  If I don’t finish planting this week, it’s going to be too late.

It always feels a little strange to be planting at the same time I’m dealing with the glut of a late summer garden.  I’ve got a bumper crop of poblano peppers and eggplant this year.  Once it cools off this evening, I’ll fire up the grill and get the peppers charred, and will work till bedtime getting them peeled, seeded, packaged, and in the freezer. This is just the first batch. There are more left on the plants than the number I picked this morning.

poblanos

Anyway, back to my musings. While I’m taking my indoor breaks from the garden, I’m going through old cookbooks and a few articles, planning a couple of new ways to preserve my red roasting peppers and eggplant.  As I’m reading about making Serbian Ajvar, I find myself comparing my new fangled American preserving to Old World  preservation. Old food traditions exert a strong pull on me.

As much as I love modern conveniences and technology, my heart thrills to explore old forgotten, labor intensive methods of food preparation.  I prefer my mortar and pestle to my food processor, my big chef’s knife to about any gadget you can name, and I never recoil from a recipe that calls for 30 minutes of slow heat and stirring, or something that requires several stages of preparation over a period of days, or even weeks.

Another aspect of old traditions that appeals to me is community.  My time spent preparing my harvest is solitary, and I know it can’t be helped, but something inside me screams that this isn’t right!  This isn’t the way it should be done.  Historically, communities have come together to harvest and prepare the fruits of their labor. Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters, passing down recipes and methods from one generation to another, sitting together talking, sharing stories and wisdom as they snap, peel, chop and grind.

I’m conflicted. Sometimes I think I’d give up this world I live in for an older way.  And I don’t mean that in a “cranky-old-lady-reminiscing-about-the-good-old-days-like-they-were-better” kind of way. I think  something’s been lost that we’ll never be able to get back.  But, this is the world I’ve been given, so I’ll just keep learning what I can about old methods, and choosing to do things the hard way.

A Cautionary Tale

latch

 

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing. Life is messy, and sometimes blogging falls by the wayside.  This morning I feel like writing, because the house is quite, I have no one to talk to, and I just scared the crap out of myself.

My husband, Bart, was out till the wee hours of the morning bowfishing with our son, Kuyler, who came home to spend some time with his dad on Father’s Day.  They will be sleeping in quite late today.

I was up bright and early with the sun, and went out to do my morning chores in the barn. While I was feeding chicks and changing water in the brooder, I pulled the door closed behind me, so no chicks would get out. I stood there looking at the door feeling stunned.

I never pull the brooder door completely shut, because there’s a latch on the outside. It’s a very sturdily built cage about 4’x10′, about 6′ tall, enclosed with 1/2″ hardware cloth.  I was locked inside with 25 baby chickens!

I had no idea when the guys would be waking up. And even when they did wake up, they weren’t going to be looking for me, because I’m always off doing my own thing.  I don’t carry my cell phone around the farm with me, so it was in its usual place on my desk in my office.

I stood there in my cage, contemplating several hours keeping company with the chickens. I’m not sure I can describe those first few minutes while I was still absorbing my situation, before my head started working out possible solutions.

 

brooder

 

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of trying to kick out the hardware cloth. When Bart builds something, it doesn’t come apart easily, and the hardware cloth wasn’t simply stapled in place, but fastened with heavy-duty U nails.  Then I noticed the piece of wire I use to hold a gate shut (pictured on the right hand side of the cage).  The wire is threaded through the hardware cloth, and then wrapped around the wire of the gate. I have the gate in place to prevent the hens from trying to nest in that corner.

It took me about 10 minutes, but I was able to pull the wire through, and then use it to jimmy the outside latch.  For a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off.

The moral of this story?  I’m still thinking about it.  I have looped a piece of wire through the latch, and run it inside the cage for now.

 

latch

Fire Cider – A Traditional Herbal Remedy

fire cider

 

Fire cider is a mainstay in my herbal arsenal against winter crud. I toss back a shot glass of this immune system boosting tonic every day.  On those occasions when I can tell my immune system is messing around with a bug, I tend to toss back more than one shot a day.  Made with raw vinegar, honey, and pungent herbs and spices, it’s a spicy, tangy, savory, sweet and sour concoction that’s tasty, as well as good for you.

A couple of points of interest, if you’re like me, and like more than less information (otherwise, just skip the next few paragraphs to the recipe below):

Earlier this year, the University of Nottingham in the UK published an interesting experiment. They reproduced an ancient medieval remedy containing ingredients similar to those used today in fire cider – garlic, onion, wine. Wine in medieval times tended towards the sour, acidic end, and wasn’t what we are accustomed to in modern times. The microbiologists conducting the experiment were “genuinely amazed” by the results, and many modern folk herbalists felt vindicated.

Also of interest, is an unfolding legal drama surrounding fire cider.  In a nut shell, three small business owners, all herb farmers, have been sued by Shire City Herbals over the use the name “Fire Cider”. If you read about the background of fire cider, you’ll understand why herbalists (myself and my business included) have rallied in support of the three women being sued. Back in 2004, my business was served a cease and desist over an herb I was selling as a soap making additive. Not in a financial position to be a part of a class action lawsuit taking place surrounding the herb, I quit selling it.  I’m happy to say, the class action lawsuit was won, and the name “rooibos” is now public domain.  As a long-standing traditional remedy, I hope fire cider will enjoy the same outcome.

It’s not uncommon for herbalists to add their own twist, and there seem to be as many recipes as there are herbalists. The basics we all seem to stick with are garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger, vinegar, and honey. Many add hot peppers.

I’ve put a few twists of my own on the recipe.  I use my own homemade raw kombucha vinegar in place of cider vinegar. For a little brightening flavor zing I like to add lemon slices. I’m dealing with osteoarthritis, so I’ve added turmeric for its many health benefits. I also throw in two or three astragalus root slices. Astragalus is effective against viral infections, helps boost the production of white blood cells, and promotes interferon production in the body.

I don’t measure, and honestly, I don’t think it matters for a recipe like this. I tend to throw something like equal-ish amounts of the onion, garlic, horseradish, and ginger into a big jar.

Fire Cider
Onion
Garlic
Horseradish root
Ginger root

Optional Ingredients:
1 or 2 cayenne or other hot peppers
1 or 2 tablespoons turmeric powder (or chopped root, if it’s available to you)
1 or 2 sliced lemons
2 or 3 astragalus root slices

Raw apple cider vinegar
Raw honey

Peel and chop onion, garlic, horseradish, and ginger.  Place in an appropriate sized jar. I make mine in a gallon jar.  Add optional ingredients.  Add enough vinegar to cover ingredients by 3 or 4 inches.  Cover with a non-reactive lid (line metal lid with plastic wrap), and let the whole mess sit for about 4 weeks. Strain and mix the resulting liquid with honey to taste.

fire-cider