Monday, November 2, 2015

Bitters (wild love)

I'm excited to announce that I've got something new in the shop: bitters. They are just in time for the Holiday season and I imagine a bottle or two would make a great stocking stuffer or hostess gift. I also have sampler sets of all 5 flavors available too, which would make a lovely present! I am pre-selling them in my online store, and will have them available in various retail locations by Thanksgiving. I decided to make these after re-reading a post by one of my favorite bloggers about bitters and it inspired me to make some of my own. Rebecca goes into great detail about the function of bitterness in our life, on a physical and energetic level. She says it better than I can so I'll just include an excerpt from her here (though I recommend reading her whole post in detail!): 

"...As an instant gratification society, somewhere along the way we started rejecting the bitter, and everything that comes along with it, and picking out the sweet. Sweet is light, it’s fresh, it makes us feel good. When we eat sweet our eyes get wide and we smile and say ‘more please’ and people indulge us... 

And if sweet is nourishment, what then is bitter? Bitter stimulates digestive juices and enzymes. If sweet builds up, then bitter breaks down— it helps with the process of breaking down foods into their molecular pieces so that they can be more easily absorbed over the gut barrier. Without bitter, digestion slows, as food takes longer to break down. With slowed digestion, you have more old crap (literally) sitting in your body fermenting, creating gas, getting hard. Maybe if you want a sweet life you should avoid being constipated because few things make people as miserable; if someone walks around looking uptight and bitter one might say ‘he looks constipated’ might one not?"

As with everything in life, sweetness is a balance. Bitters allow us to process sweet foods better and absorb the nutrients from them more efficiently. And bitter is a flavor that I think we actually crave- otherwise, why would bitter foods like hoppy beers, very dark chocolate, and strong coffee be so popular? 

The more I researched bitters, the more I decided that I needed more of them in my own life. I have digestive issues and I think these could be one way to improve my quality of life doing something simple and honest. But I didn't want any old bitters- I wanted ones that tasted of the places I loved, that held onto the Terroir of the Northwest. And since I was going to go to the work of harvesting a whole bunch of wild plants in my area, I figured I might as well make a bigger batch of each and share my bounty with all of you. 

Some of the ingredients used to make my Northwest Terroir bitters: crabapples, rose petals, sagebrush (flowerheads and leaves), sweet cicily root, chokecherry bark, ponderosa bark, wormwood, pine nuts, green black walnuts, hawthorne berries, mugwort, yarrow (flowers and leaves), wild ginger leaves and root, juniper, willow bark, dried blackberries, fermented raspberry leaf tea, usnea lichen, cedar, oregon grape root, and probably a few I am forgetting as I type this. 

They are quite labor-intensive to make, which is why I'm not very worried about sharing my process and ingredients with you: if anyone is willing to go hunt down all of the exact same wild plants and make their own bitters then more power to you! If, however, you want to try the ones I made without the digging and climbing and picking and washing and sorting and scraping and peeling and slicing, you can buy them HERE

To make them, I carefully measured out the "right amount" of each ingredient, using my sense of smell to mix ingredients in a way that was pleasing to my palate. I didn't just dump things willy-nilly into a jar; I made sure that my concoctions had some balance. I added some other spices to bring out the flavors of Idaho but kept the amounts very low so the foraged ingredients could shine. 

I designed five flavors of bitters, dividing up all of my foraged goodies into the appropriate jars. Then I covered the plant material with high-grade (100 proof) alcohol. The higher the proof, the more flavors you can capture. And since these bitters aren't intended for drinking and you'll only use a few drops to flavor waters and cocktails I'm not too concerned about the high alcohol content since it will be very minimal. 
I'm quite excited to add these into my daily self-care routine, but also to play with them creatively in the kitchen:

I made 5 flavors, shown here with a variety of drinks you can make with any of them. Scroll down for recipes!
One of this year's foodie trends is the use of bitters in cocktails. I wasn't too sure of the importance of bitters in my mixed drinks when I was first introduced to the idea, but then I tasted an Old Fashioned made with bitters next to one without. The one sans-bitters was almost undrinkable for me: cloyingly sweet and overpowering. But the one next to it was balanced and delicious and convinced me that  bitters are something I should experiment with! If you want to try this at home, scroll down for recipes using bitters as well as detailed descriptions of each flavor of bitter to try. 

Meadow Bitters:

An infusion of: mugwort leaves*, sagebrush flowers*, yarrow flowers*, wormwood*, cardamom pods, food-grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me.

If you're looking for BITTER bitters, this is your brew. These bitters are strong and really pack a punch. They taste like a sagebrush meadow after a rainstorm, with a pot of cowboy coffee on the fire. They are woodsy and sagey with a pleasant spicy-floral overtone that you can't *quite* put your finger on. (Probably the slight hint of cardamom.) They will make their presence known in any cocktail in a delicious, savory way. If you are looking for crazy dreams try some of these bitters in soda water or hot tea before bedtime. Mugwort and wormwood are known to promote intense, sometimes lucid dreams. I can't guarantee anything, but I can attest to these powers personally! 

Recipe: Bittered Soda Water
Fill a tall glass with ice and top with club soda. Add 3 dashes bitters, or to taste. Garnish with fresh herbs or a lemon slice. Sip after a heavy meal to aid in digestion or to help with a hangover. 

Forest Bitters:

An infusion of: Sweet cicily root*, yarrow leaves*, juniper leaves* and berries*, cedar leaves*, usnea lichen*, anise shelf mushroom*, food-grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me. 

I designed these bitters to taste like a dark, moist forest. They are super earthy and complex with base tones of chewy licorice and notes of conifer spiciness. They'll remind of you days spent mushroom hunting in old growth forests dripping with lichen and rain. The usnea lichen in their composition lends a crispness to these bitters that I find very refreshing. It's also used to help the immune system fend off colds and flus, so these bitters are wonderful added to hot water with lemon at the onset of a cold. 

Recipe: Whisky Ginger
Combine 1.5 oz whiskey (I use Canadian blended so as not to overpower the taste of the bitters) with 4 oz. ginger beer and 2 dashes bitters. Pour over ice and garnish with a lime wedge. 

Woods Bitters

An infusion of: ponderosa bark*, chokecherry bark*, oregon grape root*, pine nuts, sarsparilla root, vanilla, maple syrup, food grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me. 

Have you ever hugged a big stately Ponderosa and inhaled the smell between the cracks in the bark? It smells like warm, earthy vanilla and is one of the most comforting scents I've ever smelled. These bitters were designed to evoke that peaceful warm nuttiness of sunshine on tree bark. These are sweeter, with hints of maple and cherry on a toasty "dry" base. Try them in soda water for a low-sugar faux root beer, or add them to any rum or whiskey cocktail for a woodsy flavor. 

Recipe: Old Fashioned
This is *the* classic recipe to showcase good bitters. In a rocks glass, soak a sugar cube in 3 dashes of bitters. Crush cube with a muddler and add ice. Pour in 2 oz. whiskey (bourbon is nice) and top with soda water. Garnish with an orange peel and cocktail cherries. 

Marsh Bitters:

An infusion of: horehound leaves*, fermented raspberry leaf tea (dried)*, wild ginger root*, blackberries*, wild rose petals*, cloves, golden syrup, food-grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me. 

If you dipped fragrant rose petals in spiced caramel sauce, that would be halfway to describing what these bitters taste like. You first encounter the floral scent of fresh rose, then taste a pleasant tea-like bitterness with a hint of rich caramel. A lingering aftertaste of subtle spices finishes the experience. Green, grassy notes are also present in the flavor of this bitter. Imagine a warm cup of spiced tea on an early morning hike through dew-covered rose bushes and soggy grass underfoot. The fermented thimbleberry-leaf tea in this blend is especially helpful for womens' pains. You know when everything is swollen and painful and your stomach is a little upset and you just want to relax and feel better? Try adding some of this to your tea to soothe your stomach and relax your muscles. 

Recipe: Negroni

Combine 1 oz. dry gin, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, and 1 oz. campari in a mixing glass with 3 dashes bitters. Add ice and stir gently for about 10 seconds. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon slice or orange peel. I added some lavender to mine to hint at the spicy floral tones in this bitter's blend. 

Orchard Bitters

An infusion of: hawthorne berries*, crabapples*, green black walnuts*, organic orange peel, candied ginger, unsulfured molasses, food-grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me. 

These bitters bring to mind heavily-laden trees, dripping with fruit. They smell like apples and gingerbread and make me think of fall days spent climbing trees and baking pie. The complexity of the spice flavors in this blend is magnificent- you'll be convinced that I put in far more flavors of spices than I actually did. ;) The green black walnuts give a spicy "green-ness" while the molasses in the formula gives a chewy sweetness with notes of licorice. This blend is particularly good to warm up on a cold day as it helps with circulation and blood flow. Hawthorne is known to help blood-related ailments while ginger is warming and invigorating. The molasses in this blend also has the added benefit of being very high in iron; I've actually taken molasses as medicine during periods of anemia in my life when I was too sick to stomach iron supplement pills. Try some in a hot toddy or tea after a day in the snow or rain! 

Recipe: Long Faced Dove

Combine the following in a mixing glass: 1 1/2 oz. silver tequila, 1/2 oz. campari, 1 oz. grapefruit juice, 1/2 oz. lime juice, 2 Tbs.  simple syrup, and 2 dashes bitters. Add ice and stir, then strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lemon or lime wheel. (I used a pink lemon slice because I wanted to try it!) 

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