Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Prairie Yard and Garden tapes show at Leatherwood

We had a great time yesterday when the host and taping crew of Prairie Yard and Garden came to do a segment here at Leatherwood.

Host, Larry Zilliox, is the well informed host of the show. He even told me how to deal with my tomato wilt while we were waiting for the cameras to get repositioned. Camermen Roger and Mike knew their stuff, too. Roger's been with the show since its inception 23 years ago. Mike and Roger both offer their technical expertise at the University of Minnesota Morris. Larry is a retired extension agent, Master Gardener and owner of a B & B near Alexandria.

Nature provided a sunny afternoon as we had hoped for. The cameramen liked the bright sunlight and positioned us facing the sun for the best lighting. It was a little tricky for Roger and Mike to stand the cameras in amongst the herbs. I wish I had had my camera, then, to photograph the cameras standing in the mugwort and anise hyssop.

Larry and I talked about herbs, their traditional and modern uses, and how we use them to flavor the vinegars. Ron showed Larry details of the wine and vinegar process and demonstrated acid titration, his method for determining the acid content of finished vinegars.

By late afternoon we were ready for a little break. I brought out some hummus and salsa verde, both made with lovage / chive in grape Leatherwood wine-vinegar and Ron opened a bottle of Leatherwood wild grape wine. The crew enjoyed the break (we did, too) and then Mike and Roger did some close-up shots of the herbs while Larry and I got better acquainted. Ron had to head back to work since he's helping a friend with his potato harvest.

The Leatherwood Vinegary segment of Prairie Yard and Garden will be aired sometime between January and August of 2010. I'll try to let everyone know when the exact date of broadcast is determined and how to find it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The sour cherries are ripe in Central Minnesota. We have the best crop ever and will continue to pick for a few days.

Traditionally, cherries have been used as an effective treatment for gout so they have medicinal properties as well as the delightful flavor we enjoy in a variety of recipes. Most people appreciate cherries for the flavors they impart to pies, jams and for us here at Leatherwood Vinegary, wine and vinegar.

My son-in-law, Jim, was here for a few days last week and when I mentioned something about the cherries being nearly ripe he said that our friend Laszlo, of Hungarian Goulash recipe fame (visit's Minneapolis Herbal Kitchen Examiner-June 8), makes a seasonal treat called simply Sour Cherry Soup. Jim was busy doing professorly things on his laptop in the gazebo when I went to see just how soon the cherries needed to be picked. I selected a lovely ruby trio and dropped them off in the gazebo on my way to pick raspberries.

Sometime later, after the raspberries were harvested, I went back in the house and checked my e-mail. There was a message from Jim. The subject title was, “Wow.” The message said, “They were great.” He’d added a link to a sour cherry soup recipe. I e-mailed him back, though by leaning to the left I could see him outside my office window, and proposed that we would have Sour Cherry Soup before dusk fell on the land.

Jim was an accomplice to the plot and picked the pound of cherries the recipe required. I made it early in the evening and it was still a little warm when Dawn and Hilary arrived for the weekend. We ate it anyway and put the leftovers in the refrigerator and ate it again, properly chilled, the next day.

Sour Cherry Soup is a refreshing cold soup served as a first course or a dessert. It doesn’t have any herbs in it but I suppose you could try sweetening it with stevia instead of the sugar. We talked about artificial cherry flavoring in the July 7 entry. Be assured Sour Cherry Soup has plenty of natural flavor, and a beautiful pink color. Your difficulty might be in finding sour cherries. Don’t use sweet cherries; you’ll want the tang of the sour ones.

Wash and pit a pound of sour cherries. This is about four cups. To pit the cherries, use a knife and cut the pit out, use the dull end of a skewer to push the pit through the stem end, or use a cherry pitter. No matter how you do it you’ll lose some of the cherry juice as it’s inclined to drip down to your elbows as you work. We’ve found that placing an old bath towel on your lap is a good way to catch the drips. Cherry juice stains so it’s a good idea to wear an old shirt when you pit the cherries.

Put the cherries in a four-quart saucepan along with six cups of water and ¾ of a cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for about ten minutes or until the cherries are cooked through.
Stir 2 tablespoons of flour, 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar and ¼ teaspoon of salt into 1 cup of sour cream. Add some of the cooked juice to this and whisk together. Then add it to the cherries in the saucepan. Simmer for five minutes. Cool by immersing the pan half way in a container of water and ice cubes. Then transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator. Serve as a first course or add a dollop of fresh whipped cream and serve as a dessert.

Two days later we picked about 50 pounds of cherries. There are many more still on the trees since they don’t all reach the perfect stage of ripeness at the same time. Hilary took enough back with her to make a couple of cherry pies. We’ll freeze some for similar uses but most will go into the wine and vinegar process.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Edible Flowers

Walking a tour group through the garden yesterday, I noticed the yellow water iris are blooming. I probably wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t been pointing out the useful plants in the landscape. Sometimes we’re just too busy to stop and smell the flowers. When we do, we might consider that they’re also edible. Not all of them, of course, so it’s important to know which ones are and which ones aren’t.

A friend once mistakenly served her family tulip bulbs. Her mother-in-law had given her a bag of bulbs and onions. She didn’t know the difference and saved the onions to plant in the fall and served the tulips in the Swiss steak. They suffered no ill effects other than missing out on the blooms the next spring.

The flowers of many herbs are edible and that fact should be fairly obvious since many of them are made into teas. Think chamomile, hyssop, bee balm and mints, just to name a few.
Marigolds, carnations, Johnny Jump-ups, violets, bachelor’s buttons, nasturtiums and clover are common flowers that are edible.

Marigolds add their golden color when sprinkled on soups, pasta and rice dishes. They taste spicy to peppery depending on the variety and can be used to jazz up herb butters, salads and scrambled eggs.

Johnny Jump-ups have a mild wintergreen flavor and look lovely sprinkled in salads, adorning frosted cakes or accompanying soft cheeses in appetizers.

Violet flowers and leaves are both edible as are nasturtium’s. Violets can be compared to spinach and nasturtiums sport a peppery flavor. We had a limited supply of nasturtium vinegar a couple of years ago. Blossoms added to those bottles made them extra special.

Carnations, clover and bachelor’s buttons all have sweet petals and can be used accordingly. The bases or bud ends of these flowers are often bitter so separate the petals from the base before using.

Be sure to use flowers that are free of pesticides or other contaminants. Wash as you would any other food.

Eating flowers is a trend that comes and goes. It’s back, now, so don’t be surprised if your entrĂ© in a favorite restaurant is garnished with flowers. Brighten up your home cooking, too, and surprise your family.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fresh rhubarb pie

Move over Pie Princess Savannah; Lady Vinegar just made a fresh rhubarb pie!

I may have robbed the rhubarb cradle with the stalks only four to eight inches high. But, rhubarb isn't fussy that way since it's useable if it's above the ground. No need to wait for it to ripen, turn color or the seeds (what seeds?) to turn brown. I gathered a small amount for a small pie. I cut the leaves and left them in the rhubarb patch but left the root end on to trim carefully once they were washed. I cut the 3/8" to 1/2" diameter stalks into 1/2 inch pieces and then made the crust.

With 3 1/2 cups of rhubarb, I made an 8 inch pie. Below is the recipe for the filling, and yes, I did put vinegar in it:

3 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon grape wine vinegar.

The phone rang while I was in the middle of mixing the filling. Hilary had news of her last day of classes at MCAD and her request for us to come get her stuff the next day. The summer job issue is still up in the air so she may, or may not, be home for the summer.

While I was talking with her, Ron stopped home from his trip to Alexandria to get building materials for the potato farm and some for the new wooden stairs to the loft above his wood shop. He poked his head in the door to tell me what he was up to, but Mr. Pie Lover didn't notice what I was making.

The pie is in the oven and the aroma is beginning to waft through the house. Ron will notice when he stops home for lunch. But no sampling until dinner.
Ta da! The first pie of the season!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting green

It's a rainy day, washing off more of the winter dirt and making the grass grow. The herbs are poking up through the leaves that still cover their winter bed. Tarragon, oregano and the first dark purple leaves of the anise hyssop have made their appearnace. The lovage sprouts, too, one of the first herbs to offer up its fresh celery flavor, are four to six inches high. The rhubarb is nearly tall enough for a first harvest. It's wonderful to once again go outside to find food and flavors to spice up the everyday menu.

It might be premature to declare the garlic experiment a success but after raking off the layer of leaf insulation from the garlic bed last week, I can see that the green spears are poking up. The shallots are coming up, too.

I've spread many of last year's leaves on the garden with the intent of mowing them into leaf mulch before tilling them in. Ron tried mowing them but that was on a windy day, as many of them have been lately, and the wind threatened to spread them back across the lawn. He mowed some of the sage, and the thyme, a little closer to ground level than I would have liked, but we'll see in just a few more days if that was wise or foolish. The last time I did that to the sage I was afraid I had killed it; but it came up and flourished.

I planted seeds in flats three weeks ago. The necked pumpkins are already of a size to plant out in the garden but it's too soon. They have amazing root systems. The peppers and tomatoes seems to be off to a slow start but are getting their true leaves. The brussel sprouts and cabbage are looking good as are the two melon varieties. The family salsa pepper that we've saved for several years are growing again as are little hot peppers that Laura received from a neighbor at her apartment in St. Paul. I had hoped to have proper greenhouse shelves and a lighting system set up this year. It didn't happen but have rigged an extra light to give the plants a boost on these gray days.

Recent tours have gone well in spite of relatively little to see in the yard and garden. We hope they'll come back and visit again as the growing season progresses.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Thawing out and greening up

The ice is finally gone from the koi ponds and though Ron found frost only four inches down in the garden, some of the herbs are sending up shoots. Tender shoots of tarragon and oregano are up as well as rosy rhubarb whorls. We're watching for the lovage and when it's up, things will move quickly.

We had a great time talking about vinegar at the Women's Wellness event at Arrowwood, the West Ottertail Horticultural Day and the K.C.'s monthly dinner. Savannah used her computer skills to make a powerpoint presentation and it debuted at the Arrowwood event.

The first tour bus of the season ( a Girltime Getaway group) zipped right on by on Saturday. Mapquest gives some odd directions for finding us. The tour coordinator called to clarify directions and I guess the four miles from Long Prairie went quickly with all the girl chatter going on. The bus turned around and came back and we had a nice visit with 40 ladies on a mystery tour. It was a chilly day so Ron and I hopped on the bus and chatted about our enterprise so we could abbreviate the outdoor portion of the tour. In another two weeks the gardens and orchard will be a different place than the brown leaf-covered area that it is now. The vinegary is always cozy and inviting and Ron made a fire in the wood stove in the retail shop so no one was cold for very long.

We have two more tours scheduled in the next two weeks so we can officially say the tourist season is up and running.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beginning a new season

We participated in the first speaking engagement of the season, today, with a vinegar presentation at the Women's Health event at Arrowwood, north of Alexandria. We showcased our new power point presentation created by Savannah and our new taller bottles. It was a beautiful setting and we made new friends among the class attendees. We hope they'll all come to visit.

Through exposure for this event we have been invited to appear on Patti Wicken's radio show on KXRA 1490 AM. Listen for us on Apr. 23 at 9:05 a.m.

Next Saturday, Apr. 4, we'll be talking about vinegar and selling it at the West Ottertail County Horticultural Event in Underwood.

We continue to use vinegar in new ways. Last week I made vinegar bread using my triple wheat recipe and substituting 1/2 cup of vinegar for a portion of the water. The bread was heavy since the acid of the vinegar may have inhibited some of the yeast action. It had a tangy flavor reminiscent of sour dough bread. Definitely a recipe to try again, perhaps with a little less vinegar.
Another development: my foodie watercolors can now be found in a shop on Etsy. Search for the "leatherwood" shop or look under art and watercolors.
We're looking forward to getting our local retail space spruced up and then getting the yard and garden in shape. I've ordered seeds from Pinetree Seeds and hope they come soon so I can get the tomatoes, peppers and a few other early vegetables started indoors.
Happy spring!

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Very soon after the vinegary was established, visitors came, wanting to know what in the world a vinegary was. That was a legitimate question since we had actually coined a logical word. What intrigued me was that so many people had no idea how vinegar was made. It apparently mystified them and they wanted to know.

The first tours we gave were of the vinegary only. Ron explained the process and showed the primary fermenters and carboys for making the wine. He usually had a piece of mother to show as he explained the steps in converting wine to vinegar. He often had a gallon or two of herbs infusing in fresh vinegar. He always gave tastes of the vinegars at hand.

When we started giving sample tastes, we used little glasses but Ron found it difficult to pour from the bottles into little glasses without spilling. Also, a tablespoon of vinegar was far more than the average palate could handle. People weren’t accustomed to tasting straight vinegar and it was overpowering. When we located a source for small bottles with dropper tops, we switched to using spoons and mere drops of vinegar which was enough for all but the true vinegar lovers.
When we found that people were intrigued by what we were doing, we connected with the local tourism committee, a group with which I had worked for several years. Local tourism was interested in promoting sites of interest for bus tours. That brought the first buses to our door.
Buses carry far more people than the average car or SUV and we needed a way to deal with larger groups with the vinegary only a small 10’ x 18’ room filled with stainless steel tables, a triple sink, and supply racks. It could hold, at elbow to elbow capacity, 12 average sized people. Buses often brought 25 to 50 visitors.

We found an effective solution, at least during the warmer days of spring, summer and fall, by dividing groups in two. Ron took half directly to the vinegary and I led the other half through the herb garden and orchard, usually passing by the koi ponds and the vegetable garden which also has herbs.

We provided chairs scattered throughout the tour path for anyone less able to handle the terrain. Some sought shelter in the flower enhanced gazebo, listening to the waterfall and the various songbirds with hummingbirds flitting in and out to feed from the feeder hanging nearby. Occasionally I’d bring the herbs to the group with the pond and the fish lending ambiance to the herb talk. We’ve been generally lucky with the weather and only twice did I bring herbs into a bus to fill the time while the visitors waited their turn in the vinegary.

We always share what we’ve learned about growing grapes, apples, cherries, plums and rhubarb. I’ve grown many many varieties of herbs over the last 30 years. I usually highlight those that we use in the vinegars as well as some medicinals that I’ve grown for years and find particularly interesting. When garden clubs visit, many of the members grow herbs and are familiar with them. On the other hand, when a military reunion group, as an example, comes to see the garden, they may be less familiar with herbs. I always give nibbles of French tarragon, anise hyssop, lovage, mint, oregano, basil, sage, cilantro, thyme; whatever is fresh an abundant. Many people have never tasted fresh herbs and are amazed and delighted by the variety of natural flavors.

When we have master gardeners and those who have gardened for many years, we learn from them, too. I love this exchange of information. If a spring or summer rain has resulted in mushrooms springing up in the lawn, we talk about them. If visitors are interested in medicinals, I point out the uses of mullein, plantain, yarrow and others. Many ask if we make dandelion wine and the answer is still, no, not yet.

We talk about the black walnut trees, the overgrown bittersweet vines on the back porch, and of course the leatherwood growing in the yard, from which our business was named. Leatherwood is a flexible twigged shrub that at its tallest is only six feet. It has small yellow flowers in the spring before it leafs out. It doesn’t seem to bear fruit from them but may need a companion shrub in order to reproduce. The leaves are oval and usually among the first to fall in the fall. Leatherwood grows on rich soil and is considered to be found in a widespread area of North America and yet is relatively uncommon. It’s native to this area and we’re pleased that for us it represents this quality of being uncommon but springing up in a healthy place, a metaphor for the creativity we bring to our business.

After giving tours for a couple of years and handling vinegar sales in the small display corner of the vinegary, we decided that we needed a bigger retail space. We added the vinegar and wine and beer making supplies and equipment to my art gallery in Long Prairie. That worked fine for a few months but when that summer arrived and with it the numerous tour buses and groups, we felt it would be far better to have everything in one location. We had built a pine paneled shop space on our property in 1985. It had become a storage area but with a little scrubbing and added shelves it became an ideal display area for the vinegar with adequate space for the other supplies, as well as paintings, pottery, note cards, and consignment space for Amish baskets and locally woven rugs.

We decided to just have it open for tours, groups and by appointment. That allowed us to keep abreast of the vinegary, garden and orchard work while still having a retail space.
Heated by a small wood stove, the shop could only be open in the warm months. We move everything that is in danger of freezing into other heated spaces during the winter. We still maintain the small display of vinegar in the vinegary.

As things are arranged now, we can accommodate most any visitors. When we had a group of fifty people we had to do some creative group dividing and do the tasting outside the vinegary. We’ve found that guests are quite willing to take us as we are and we’re all richer for it.

We'll soon be planning our tour schedule for the upcoming season. Call 320-732-2879 for tour information.