Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Coming Up: A Little Selfish Home Improvement

There’s been a whirlwind of activity around these parts. Day after day, week after week, of sifting, sorting, organizing, hauling, and unpacking.

There have been days that I’ve returned home so tired that I don’t even bother having dinner.

All the bending and lifting has done a job on my knees and ankles - to the point that they’ve required ice packs and elevation. I don’t dare add gardening work to the strain they’re already under, and the garden is clearly suffering from the neglect.

And all of this has been for the benefit of someone else.

But not this weekend. This Memorial Day Weekend we dedicate to “US” and “OUR HOME”. With luck and a bit of ingenuity and elbow grease, we will have a good start on some cool and much-needed home improvement projects.

I can hardly wait!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Proof of her Immoral Character; or Holding a Grudge for a Really Long Time is Clearly in my DNA

For this Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to honor my Great-Great Grandmother, Matilda, by making a raspberry shrub, which is a drink that apparently was trending in last year’s cooking blogosphere. Its origins date back to the Colonial Period, and my shrub is an homage to a my Grandfather’s Grandmother, who brought several bottles of the syrup with her when her train pulled into the station in Topeka in 1870, bound for a job teaching music at a small Episcopal school.

I can’t be certain where Matilda learned to make shrubs. It might have been as a young girl living in Montreal, a granddaughter of a well-heeled family whose surname is still widely known in that area of Canada. Or it might have been after her parents and only brother died. As an orphan, she was shipped off to private schools, and passed around to many aunties. Or it might have been in Kentucky where she moved to teach music in the Cumberland and Bowling Green region only a few years after the conclusion of the Civil War. (I can’t imagine how frightening and foreign that must have been for a very young Canadian woman with no family at her side.) Wherever it was, when she arrived at the steps of Bethany College, she had several bottles of Raspberry Shrub she had brought with her.

Thanks to a detailed family history her daughter, my G-G Aunt, wrote in the 1950s, I know that her shrub was made of raspberries, sugar and vinegar: “ It is delicious. You put several tablespoons of the syrup into a pitcher of water and you have a delicious drink. Mother had several bottles of this syrup, and when callers came, she often served this drink,” wrote my aunt.

The syrup (non-alcoholic, mind you) turned out to have brought a quick end to her tenure at the school. Sometime during her second year, rumors began to circulate that she was serving wine to her gentleman callers. When the Reverend in charge of the school heard them he became furious, and immediately called Matilda into his office to discuss the serious complaints he’d heard, saying he had thought she was “woman of high principles who would realize her duty to the school and to her reputation.”

Of course Matilda hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. When she discovered that there had been a misunderstanding and tried to explain what had really happened, he became belligerent and called her a liar. Well, no one shakes a fist in Granny’s face and calls her a liar, I tell you what!

She quit her post immediately, and began accepting private students. Mr. Crazy Pants (aka Reverend Crazy Pants) quickly found out the truth through the pleadings and explanations of the other teachers and her gentleman callers, and attempted to convince Matilda to return to the school. She was undeterred. She was “unaccustomed to having people shake their fist in my face and call me a liar, especially a minister.”

She was successful in acquiring students, and later met and married my Great-Great Grandfather. Since I may owe my very existence to a raspberry shrub, I think it deserves a shout out this Mother’s Day, don’t you?

In lieu of her exact recipe (which wasn’t passed down to me), I decided to closely follow this recipe, and followed the advice of this blog. Here’s some pics of the process:

I used the cold method, and placed the slightly smashed raspberries with an equivalent volume of sugar in the refrigerator for a few days.
After it had sat in the fridge, I removed the seeds by straining it through a sieve.
Then I added apple cider vinegar. Since my original raspberry measurement was 400ml, I used 400 ml white sugar, and 400 ml apple cider vinegar.
This is the final syrup mixture, though it will need to sit in the fridge a week or so longer before I try it, to allow the vinegar to dissolve the remaining sugar. The final syrup will be added to plain water. Since keeping another pitcher in the refrigerator is impractical - especially during ice tea season - I'll probably try adding a teaspoon or so to a single glass of ice water.

Matilda, it’s been three quarters of a century since anyone has wished you a Happy Mother’s Day. Here’s thinking of you, kiddo!