Friday, August 5, 2011

Try our homemade ginger syrup

I have been asked several times recently for my recipe for ginger syrup. This was another of those things that we came up with in our efforts to avoid products with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A drink we both like is Canadian whiskey and ginger ale, and we had been buying Canada Dry ginger ale (the only soft drink we ever bought, as we're not soda drinkers) as a mixer. After trying two or three different "natural" ginger ales, we got a bit frustrated; some actually had HFCS, others had a ginger taste that was just too hot to work well as a mixer. So here it is, our homemade ginger syrup.

(Recipe yields about 6 quarts)

Prepare 6 quart-size canning jars and lids. I usually keep the canning jars hot by leaving them full of very hot water in the sink. Have 6 rings ready. Be ready to bring your canning jar lids to a boil in a small saucepan of hot water. As soon as the water boils, turn off heat and keep covered until ready to use.

NOTE: You can, of course, make ginger syrup without canning. You will need to refrigerate it, though, as it may develop mold or begin to ferment if left out at room temperature. (See below for quantities of ingredients for a 1-quart batch.)

In a stainless steel or enamel stockpot, combine:

9 cups sugar (I use organic white sugar; brown sugar gives a different flavor)
18 cups water, preferably unchlorinated
6 ounces fresh organic ginger, thinly sliced (peeled or unpeeled, as you prefer)

Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Once the syrup comes to a rolling boil, turn off heat. Leave the lid on and let steep for at least 10 minutes. While the syrup is heating, thinly peel and juice:

3 organic lemons (since you're using the peel, you really want to use organic lemons for this)

Divide the lemon peel pieces into 6 even parts. Remove ginger pieces from syrup with a slotted spoon or small sieve. Strain the seeds from the lemon juice and add juice to the hot syrup.

Taking the jars one at a time, empty out the water and put one pile of the lemon peel in the jar. Using a canning funnel, fill the jar with hot syrup to within 1/4" of the top and seal with the canning lids and rings. Let cool completely on rack.

Smaller batch quantities

To make ginger syrup one quart at a time, use the following quantities:

1-1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water
1 ounce fresh ginger
Juice and peel of 1/2 lemon

Suggestions for using ginger syrup

Canadian whiskey and ginger ale

1 shot Canadian whiskey
1-2 shots ginger syrup (2 if you like it sweeter)
About 3 ounces soda water

Variation: Try Canadian whiskey with hot ginger ale. Follow recipe above, substituting boiling water for the soda water, and serve in a mug. We love this on cold winter nights, and it's also great when you have a cold, sinus congestion, or flu symptoms.

Just plain ginger ale

2 shots ginger syrup
5-6 ounces soda water

You might also try drizzling ginger syrup over your fruit salad. And please, if you come up with any other ideas, do let me know. We love this ginger syrup, and I hope you'll try it. I suspect you won't miss the HFCS.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Yippee: The bees are back!

Swarm of bees moving into a hive in the eaves.

We are so excited: Two years after our 2 hives of honeybees were killed off by the unusual cold in early winter, a swarm of bees showed up here. I had been amusing myself by sickling down vetch, blackberries and tall grass (for the third day in a row), and when I got to a good stopping point, I decided to take a break and head back to the house for a bite to eat. I was still about 50 yards from the house when I heard a loud buzzing. I looked up and saw a large cloud of bees circling just above the roof of the house. (If you've never seen a bee swarm, believe you me, it is quite a sight; loud, too.)

At the time, David was down by the pond mowing, and although I was tired and thirsty, I ran down to give him the news, as I knew he would be excited, too. For years, there had usually been a colony of bees that had established a hive inside of the eaves on the east end of the house. This swarm had obviously located this spot and was in the process of moving in (see photo above). This is excellent news, as we have quite a few fruit trees up here, and the crop last year had definitely suffered from the lack of sufficient pollinators in the area.

The thing that concerns us is that it is now August 4, and our first frost tends to be around October 20, sometimes a week or two earlier. Once daytime temperatures start staying below 50F, the bees won't fly; they're essentially immobilized at around 45F. It's critical that they have time to build up a food supply to see them through the winter. The problem is that at this time of the summer, not that much is blooming, and even if there were plenty of sources of pollen and nectar, there isn't likely to be enough time to produce adequate honey stores. So we are "feeding" them with a heavy sugar syrup, a normal thing to do this time of year to supplement their usual food sources.

We have a ways to go before this colony is up to speed. We will give them plenty of time, a year or more, to multiply and build up a supply of honey for themselves, before we even think about harvesting honey for us. We value them mainly as pollinators here, and the honey, when it comes, will be a bonus.

For right now, though, we're just so happy that the bees are back.