Earlier this year, in the middle of summer as I was harvesting some of my many lavender bushes, an idea popped into my head to one day extract my own essential oil from the flowers. I dreamed up so many ideas of what I could do with the resulting essential oil and hydrosol, that I knew it was something I wanted to do in the future.
I had done this many times before in the lab when I worked as a plant biochemist, but back then I had a lab full of equipment at my command, but now, not so much. I couldn't exactly call up a local lab supply place any longer, since I didn't belong to a scientific group where this was thought of as an appropriate use of said equipment. So I had to come up with better idea. I did come across alembic stills for sale in New Zealand, but the stills were very large, and there was no way I could fill up any one of their stills.
Then I came across a small pot still from Still Spirits called the Air Still. With a big base like a kettle, and an air cooled distiller on top, it was perfect for me in home use. It is typically made to make and distill alcoholic beverages like gin and rum, but the instructions also include a method to distill essential oils and hydrosols from plants. After waiting for a while, one was finally available for sale on special, and I ordered one for us. Unfortunately by this time it was the middle of winter, and there was nothing to distill yet.
When it arrived, I was quite happy with it. I did the first cleaning, and then did a trial run by making distilled water, which could potentially be helpful in a natural disaster when water is contaminated. Ever since then I've been waiting impatiently for some plant material to be ready.
And our growing peppermint plant was the first plant material ready to actually try the Air Still out on. I started by harvesting a big bunch of peppermint leaves from the edge of the plant. I washed them in water to clean them, patted them dry, and then cut them up into smaller sections to fit into the still. The total weight of the peppermint plants going into the still was 234 grams.
I popped them into the still pot, and then boiled up 3L of water in the kettle. Once I added the boiling water, I inserted the still head, and turned it on. It
was less than 10 minutes before the liquid began to come off the still as the water boiled, and there on top of the hydrosol was a fine layer of peppermint essential oil. I was so excited.
The peppermint and hydrosol came off at a decently fast rate, and it wasn't long before I had 0.6L of combined peppermint essential oil and hydrosol.
All that there was left to do was separate the hydrosol from the peppermint essential oil. I bought a chemistry separator funnel online, and was able to separate out the hydrosol on the bottom of the liquid, from the essential oil on the top.
In the end I got about 0.5 mL of peppermint essential oil, and 0.6L of peppermint hydrosol.
Considering that I only added 234 grams of plant material to the still, I thought that it was a pretty good harvest rate. It didn't take a lot of effort and time, and it's a fun project to do. I will definitely be repeating this method with my lavender and rose harvests in the future. I will be using the essential oils and hydrosols in my home, and my sister as also requested some for her to use at home as well.
Have you ever done something so completely geeky around the home, that it makes you really happy to see the results of your endeavors? I'd love to know...
Have a wonderful day
Yes, I've been buying more plants, and I know I don't have anyone to blame but myself.
I've been looking to buy a Camellia sinensis bush, aka the plant Tea comes from, ever since we moved back to Dunedin. I've always wanted to grow, process, and then drink my own tea. Except I've never found the plant for sale at all in my many trips to local garden centers over the past four years. It finally came to the point that I started looking online, and luckily I found that The Plant Store did indeed stock them. So I handed over the expensive shipping fee, and within a week my new tea plant arrived. It's not very big at the moment, but it's now happily sitting in the area of the garden where my fruit trees live. I'm hoping in the coming years that I can indeed enjoy a cup of my own tea.
I also have recently bought two more dahlia plants...and they arrived by courier this week. Yes, I have no where to grow them at the moment, but I will squeeze them in somewhere I'm sure. I totally blame the email from Bulbs Direct which arrived in my inbox last week. They had just restocked their most popular dahlia bulbs, and I managed to get two of the dahlias that I missed out on earlier this year.
The first one is dinner plate dahlia Arthur Hambley:
And the second one is dinner plate dahlia Cafe De Paris, a sport of Cafe Au Lait:
I also wanted the dahlia bulb Cafe Au Lait Royal to add to my collection of Cafe Au Lait dahlias, but it had sold out in the minute between the email arriving, and me getting onto the website. Maybe next year I'll get one...
Have you been plant shopping recently? I'd love to know what plant goodies you've picked up.
Have a wonderful day
Today I'm going to share with you Grandad Bob's Christmas cake recipe, which is a big favorite among our family and friends. Each Labour Weekend in October when I was a child, I used to go over to his home and help him plant out his vege garden, and then after that assist him in making the Christmas Cake. His house would smell amazing as it baked, and he'd spoil me with all sorts of treats as we waited for the cake to be ready.
When hubby and I got married, he made this cake for our wedding cake, so it's a really special recipe for us. Before Grandad Bob passed away he passed his recipe onto me, and now each year hubby and I make his Christmas cake, and then on Christmas day we cut up the large cake into many pieces for all the family to take home with them.
Please feel free to try making Grandad Bob's Christmas cake yourself.
2 Cups of Water
2 Cups of Brown Sugar (We used some of our own sugarbeet sugar that we made this year.)
225 grams of Butter
1 Teaspoon Mixed Spice
1 Teaspoon of Baking Soda
1 - 2 kg of Mixed Fruit
2 Tablespoons of Citrus Peel (I make some from our citrus peel)
1 Tablespoon of Golden Syrup
1/2 Cup of Brandy
3 Cups of Flour
2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
2 Tablespoons of Apricot Jam
2 Tablespoons of Boiling Water to dilute the apricot jam
750 grams Premade Almond Icing
750 grams Premade Royal Icing
1. Place water, brown sugar, butter, mixed spices, baking soda, mixed fruit, citrus peel, and golden syrup into a sauce pan and heat slowly.
2. Stir occasionally until the butter melts, and then increase the heat and bring to the boil. Boil the mixture for 3 minutes. Cool to room temperature (we place the pot in a sink of cold water to help cool the mixture faster).
3. Beat eggs lightly, and then add to the fruit mixture, along with the brandy, and mix well.
4. In a separate bowl sift flour, baking powder and salt. Fold the flour, baking powder and salt into the fruit mixture until mixed well.
5. Place cake batter into a greased and lined 23 cm square cake tin.
6. Bake in an oven at 150˚C for around 1.5 hours, or until a skewer comes out clean when testing the cake.
7. Allow the cake to cool, and then remove from the cake tin.
8. Flip the cake over so that the bottom dries out. Then store the cake in a sealed container in a cool, dark place until a week before Christmas.
9. Dilute 2 tablespoons of apricot jam with 2 tablespoons of boiling water, and mix into a thin paste. Brush half over the cake.
10. Roll out 750 grams pre-made almond icing, enough to fit over the cake, cut off any excess. Place over the top and press down lightly so it sticks to the apricot jam.
11. Repeat this process with the royal icing, using the other half of the apricot jam mixture between the two layers.
11. Store the iced cake in a dark, cool place until Christmas Day. Decorate, and enjoy.
I hope you enjoy Grandad Bob's Christmas Cake, if you decide to make it. Do you have any family baking traditions? I'd be keen to know.
Have a wonderful day
It's now the part of spring where everything is growing quickly, and unfortunately that also includes many weeds. The good thing though is that we finally have stuff to harvest in the garden.
Our rhubarb plant has shot away and has produced many leaves, so it was time to harvest the first of the stems. We mostly use our rhubarb for our rhubarb and ginger meringue pie.
I pulled a bunch of rhubarb out off the plant, cut off the leaves,
and then cut the stems up into pieces to freeze away in our chest
freezer. I find that six stems of rhubarb are enough to make one rhubarb
and ginger meringue pie, so I freeze them away in batches of those. The good thing about freezing them is that the process turns the rhubarb into mush, which makes them easier to cook with afterward.
The next thing to harvest is peppermint. I like to harvest our peppermint in early spring for making dried peppermint leaves for peppermint tea. Our peppermint patch pops up everywhere in the herb garden, and beyond, so I just find whatever is on the edges, and then harvest them. It's really easy to do, just pull out any rogue peppermint stems, rinse them, and then pull off the leaves to slowly air dry, or by putting in the dehydrator. I dehydrate ours, and it doesn't take very long at all.
The first harvest of calendula flowers was also ready, and it is one of my favorite plants. Not only do bees love it, but you can use it in all sorts of products around the home.
I just pick the flowers when they're fully open, and then rinse and pat them dry before putting them in the dehydrator along with the peppermint leaves.
The last thing to harvest was the first of our strawberries. They weren't the most prettiest strawberries in the world, but they were good enough to put in the chest freezer for making strawberry jam later on in the growing season.
Are you harvesting anything in the garden yet? Labour weekend is this weekend, and it's a pretty busy time in the vegetable garden. All the garden beds have been dug, and I can't wait to get stuck in and plant everything currently sitting in our glasshouse.
Have a wonderful day
I was in the Mosgiel shopping area two weeks ago to go vote in the NZ general election, and walked past one of the local op shops, the same one that I found my pumpkin ceramic casserole dish back in February this year. There in the window was the most amazing 9 piece white ceramic soup tureen set with lion faces embedded into each of the pieces.
I walked inside, saw that the whole set was in pristine condition, and that it was for sale for an amazing price of $45. I whipped my bank card out so fast, and within five minutes it was all bundled up in wrapping paper inside a ginormous cardboard box, and on its way back to our car. Hubby, who happened to be in the local post office while all this was going on, took one look at me, and said, "what did you buy this time"...
And here is the set in it's entire glory. I'm so happy with this purchase, and not only because I'm totally a crazy cat lady, and wanted this lion's head set in our home. I was very soon on the internet looking up the bounty I had just found, and saw that what I bought is an antique style French Lions Head White Ironstone tureen and 8 piece bowl set which is worth at least $350 if I were to buy it new, and I definitely never would've justified buying it new.
For now I'm very happy to have it safely sitting inside our buffet hutch, but I soon plan to make some french onion soup to make inside it...
Have you ever found an absolute gem of an op shop find? I'm curious to know what you've found.
Have a wonderful day