Sunday, October 4, 2015

Keeping the Damp Out - Homemade Split Pea Soup

Last weekend, after a veritable drought this summer, my son was supposed to have his 6th birthday party outside at a putt putt park. We had a the first real rain we'd had since early July. And it was a cold, windy, rain-coming-sideways rain that eased up at times, but fell in absolute sheets moments later. Fiddlesticks.

One day of a break between that system and the next. And we got hit so hard with the second system that flooding became an issue. So much so that after school activities were cancelled several times, and we got out of school early on Friday. 

This second system was to blow through just as Hurricane Joaquin was then supposed to hit. Joaquin has not turned out to be the beast initially expected, but we're still recovering from floods and the skies have not cleared. It's dank, gloomy, and the perfect day for a bowl of soup.

Growing up, my Mother used to make split pea soup on a regular basis. As a child, I hated it. Something about the texture just turned my stomach. Or maybe it was because she blended everything and it had only one texture - I'm not entirely sure. But as an adult, I tried it again and fell in love with it. Thankfully, my husband enjoys it as much as I do. 

My recipe is very easy - it can effectively be made with nothing more than the peas, carrots, and ham. However, I also add onion, garlic, and basil. I use plain water, not stock, as the salt in the ham is usually enough to flavor the soup, and any added salt can make it too salty. It is very healthy and filling, too.

Homemade Split Pea Soup
Start with a bag of dried peas. Slowly pour the bag into your hand, allowing the loose peas to slide through your fingers, keeping watch for stones or clumps of dirt. The peas are sorted in the warehouses, but it never fails that the time I think I don't need to look through the peas are the times I later find a clump of dirt or a pebble the same shape as a pea.
Add about 6 cups of cold water and bring to a gentle boil. At this point, you want to get the peas to begin to open up.
When the peas look like this, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for about an hour. The foam will dissipate somewhat, but after the hour passes, rinse the peas and drain, stirring up the peas to release the hidden gasses and the greenish foam. When the peas are relatively clear, add more cold water and put the pot back on the heat.
I add about a shot glass of flax seed - flax is very good for your health, but it is a hardy seed, not releasing the healthy oils unless chopped up or boiled for a long time to open the hull. Something like this soup is a perfect way to release healthy oils. I add about a cup of chopped carrots, 2-3 cloves of garlic, about a tablespoon of basil, and, in this case, about 1/4 of an onion. My husband doesn't care for the texture of onion but I love the flavor. I usually use dried onion for that reason, but my 1/4 onion was beginning to look a little sad, so I chopped it very finely.
Add the ingredients, and bring back up to a gentle boil. You may be tempted to taste the soup here. That's fine, but focus on the flavors of individual ingredients, not the need for salt. It will need salt, but the ham will add what you need.
While the soup warms up again, cut up the ham. I buy a single slice with center bone. Trim the fat, but make sure you put the bone in the soup. The marrow is very healthy and adds a nice richness to the soup.
Make sure you stir regularly. After the peas begin to thicken and break down, turn down the soup to low. I half cover the pot with the lid to allow it to cook down but also keeps it from splattering the stove. When your soup looks like this (see below)...
...begin to stir on a regular basis. This is where you have the possibility of the soup burning. The peas thicken up and clump on the bottom, and require diligent supervision. I don't mean that you're a slave to the stove, stirring constantly, I just mean that as you putter around, or, as I made drop biscuits to accompany dinner, I would pause every once in awhile to stir up the clumps.
The soup is ready when the peas show very little form individually. Taste it to make sure it suits your palate. The process takes some time, but I promise you won't be disappointed.
If you make this recipe, I'd love to hear whether you like it!

Homemade Split Pea Soup
1 bag of split peas, examined
 -Gently boil the peas for about 10 minutes, then cover and let sit for an hour. Rinse well and refresh     with cold water (about 6 cups).
1 cup of chopped carrots
1/2 an onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
 -Chop the vegetables and add to the peas. Bring it all to a gentle boil.
1 slice of ham, fat trimmed, chopped. 
  -Add the ham to the soup and let the entire mixture cook down

Low and slow is the way it goes from here on out. Stir frequently and turn down the heat. 

It is perfect on a day like today, dank and gloomy, or even better in mid-February when the wind is blustery and cold. Enjoy your soup!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Making My Witchy Brew - Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Approximately two years ago, trying desperately to find something that would help my son breathe better and survive seasonal allergies, I heard about elderberry syrup. Now, I was raised in a home that practiced some herbal homeopathy. My mother is a very good cook and she would not only make teas and poultices for illnesses and injuries, but would also use herbs in cooking that served many purposes. I have continued that tradition.

Elderberry syrup was something I had not heard of before, which surprised me, but I researched it and found quite a bit that seemed to validate the fact that elderberries had medicinal qualities. I then began to look for recipes, knowing I was merely gathering ideas and that the final result would be my own.

I found one that seemed to suit my wants and needs. I followed the recipe the first time, and found the result to be delicious. Consistent use while coming down with a cold, or after suffering from one also showed that it worked. And this past fall's horrendous ragweed season proved the point even further, when I made it and gave it to the entire family on a daily basis. Within two days, we were all breathing much easier.

Ironically, last November, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a talk at a local college to hear Dr. Michele Tarter, a professor at The College of New Jersey, speak about Witchcraze - the history of witches. Essentially, the original definition of 'witch,' prior to 1486, is something to be proud of - it is merely a wise woman who helps others - either medically, emotionally, etc. The original witches were doctors and teachers. They cooked and counseled. They used homeopathy and lent a shoulder to cry on and offered hugs and hot tea.

I am a witch. As a teacher, I counsel, I educate, I offer hugs with advice. And, some days, I even offer hot tea. And at home, I certainly use healthy cooking and lots of love, listening, and herbs to try to take care of my boys. I am proud to call myself witch, and found great delight in having my students who accompanied me to hear Dr. Tarter call me a hag - a wise woman who offers advice.

That being said, I am making use of my 'witchy wiles' to share my recipe for homemade elderberry syrup. It seems proper that my first blog in the month of October be about a brew that anyone can make, and that can help you survive the re-awakened ragweed after Hurricane Joaquin passes us.

You can buy elderberry syrup in your local health food store or co-op. But it is ridiculously expensive, and if I make it homemade, I can use local, raw honey, which  provides increased protection against our local pollens.

You first need to obtain elderberries. I did some research, and found these to be priced well, organic, and the customer service is consistent. I buy in bulk, which will last us a few months, depending on colds and viruses we bring home to each other.
Put about 1 cup dried berries into a large pot. I am really tempted to buy a cauldron to make my elderberry syrup, but haven't given in, yet. I add 2-3 cinnamon sticks, 2-4 pieces of ginger, and approximately 8-10 dried cloves. All these spices have known antimicrobial or antibiotic properties, which can help a great deal if you're drinking this to get over a cold or the flu.
Add about 6 cups of water and bring to a soft boil. Simmer for at least 40 minutes.
Here's where you need to take note - Elderberries naturally have cyanide in them. Boiling the berries for this length of time removes the cyanide present in the berries. Just make sure you keep away from the steam when the mixture first begins to boil.
I tilt the lid, leaving space at the back of the pot so the steam is never in my face. And I do not allow my 6 year old near the stove when I first start making the syrup. After it has boiled down, allow it to cool. I have begun boiling in the evening and letting the pot sit overnight with a lid. By day, it has fully cooled and any other nutrients have leached out of the spices and into the water. Then, use several layers of cheesecloth to strain the liquid. Squeeze the detritus to get as much "good stuff" as possible. The remains can either then be composted or put in the trash.
Rinse the pot to make sure no pieces of berry or cloves are left, and pour the liquid back into the pot. Add local, raw honey to taste - I used approximately 1/3 of a cup to sweeten the mixture. One would think the berries would add some sweetness, but it is actually quite bland until the honey is added.
Store in the refrigerator. I give everyone about 1 tsp (using the medicine cups that come with children's medicines) once a day when you're treating allergies or protecting everyone from illness. I usually give 1 tsp every 6 hours when I am actively treating a cold or viral infection.
If you'd rather not take a teaspoon directly, it can be used on ice cream, pancakes, within tea, etc.! Happy brewing, my little witchy friends. If you try this recipe, please let me know how it turns out!
Elderberry Syrup
1 cup dried elderberries
2-3 sticks of cinnamon
2-3 pieces of ginger
8-10 cloves
6 cups of water

***Update: I now also add dried Thyme and dried Hibiscus flowers - both are very good for upper respiratory infections. I also have begun to make honeysuckle syrup and can that, and I use the honeysuckle with the local honey to sweeten the elderberry concoction. Honeysuckle is also very good for upper respiratory infections. 

-Bring the ingredients to a boil, but stay away from the steam, as elderberries contain natural cyanide that will cook off.
-Allow the mixture to cool. 
-Strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth.
-Stir in local, raw honey to sweeten (about 1/3 cup)

Store in a large jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. And I still make ready use of western medicine when symptoms and common sense tell me it is time to go see a doctor. Use your head! Seek professional help for any questions to be safe!