For many years, while our children were still small, enjoying the fruits of summer meant running through open fields in search of wild berries, or stopping at roadside farm stands for picked-this-morning goodness. Summer’s fruit meant sticky faces and hands from the juice of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and grapes.
Smiles and contentment all around, for nothing tastes better, nothing feels better than Earth’s still-warm nectar. Nothing compares to those precious memories.
But with our children now grown, the two of us have spent the last few years making a new set of memories based on Earth’s bounty plucked from dewy meadows, sun-kissed fields, and deep within the forest (and from our home gardens, too, of course). Today our passion is gathering the harvest of every season to create juices, wines, dusky meads, luscious syrups, and even pure herb and flower teas.
Life after children threw us together in Asheville, North Carolina, an enchanted city nestled in the bosom of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here, where wildflowers bloom almost all year long and the crystalline sound of falling water sparkles in the air, we learned to harness every mouthwatering bit of Nature for our daily enjoyment. We found ourselves living in the wild heart of the land, connecting with the woodland spirits and surrounded by possibilities.
One of the joys of making new friends is learning about shared interests and skills. We quickly discovered that we both loved to raise our own fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs; we also liked discovering food and drink possibilities in abandoned orchards or along city streets or hiking through the woods. We both loved the same old-fashioned domestic jobs, too: canning, winemaking, dehydrating, and cooking in general. And we had years and years of experience between us. What better way to celebrate a friendship than by creating something new and unique together, something useful to others. Together, we developed a guide to help gardeners and cooks everywhere begin erasing the industrial fingerprint from their diets, as we were doing. How about a garden cookbook?
Our professional backgrounds couldn’t have been more divergent: DeNeice a scientist specializing in earth science, the study of the planet, and Nan a no-nonsense investigative reporter with a nose for corruption and graft. But these unusual strengths meshed perfectly when it came time for us to write a garden cookbook. A scientific approach was needed to make the recipes work consistently (and deliciously), and writing discipline was necessary to organize the material and make it flow. Both of us had loads of our own canned goods on hand but we were tired of jelly and jam. Both of us, coincidentally, had begun to experiment with making fruit juices, wines, meads, and ciders both hard and sweet. And both of us had a thing for crabapples, those marvelously tasty little fruits that most gardeners and cooks overlook. So we started working on crabapple recipes—pasteurized juice and hard cider, mainly—and the project grew from there to become Drink the Harvest: Making and Preserving Juices, Wines, Meads, Teas, and Ciders. Along the way we discovered other treasures, like prickly pear cactus and birch sap.
Juices are so versatile, good for everything from making healthy kids’ drinks to signature cocktails. And juices do even more in the kitchen. They are the basis of myriad other delicacies; once you have made a batch of strawberry juice you can save it for the winter by canning or freezing, or you make dreamy wines and meads (that’s just wine made with honey instead of sugar to make fermentation go), or you can boil some of it down for syrups to use in cooking or at the table. Juices, at least those made at home, allow a cook to control the amount of sugar, salt, and seasonings used. The result is the true flavor of the ingredients, not masked by unknown additives.
Juices allow a gardener to eliminate waste from the yard, to gather up all of a bumper harvest and preserve the bounty. We abhor seeing fallen fruit rotting on the ground … and instead visualize that unrealized harvest as bottles of beverages lined up on a shelf. Most of all we love making beverages for the joy of connecting to the Earth-Mother and keeping some of summer’s essence for the rest of the year. Come join us!
SAY IT WITH HERBS
Here are some summertime herbs that add a bit of magic when combined with your homemade beverages:
MINT cools runaway summer passions and clarifies your point of view in any situation. Add a sprig of tender mint leaves to a glass of peach or other juice and inhale deeply.
LEMON BALM, as the name suggests, is a balm for the heart and eases the pain of love. Bruise the leaves of this bright green herb before dropping them into a glass of dark berry juice, and enjoy the lemon aroma.
CHAMOMILE soothes a busy brain and helps you focus on a new job at hand. A pot of chamomile tea can be sweetened with any fresh garden syrup.
PARSLEY has strong magical and medicinal powers to heal sore bones and joints and to infuse vitality. Use this flavorful herb to make a tasty garden wine.
BASIL fosters prosperity and abundance. Combine basil leaves with any fresh fruit juice for a feeling of well-being.
photography © Johnny Autry, used with permission from Storey Publishing.