You can use them on pancakes or drizzle them on deserts. They make refreshing beverages and can even be used to make cookies and pies. One of the handiest uses for California native fruits and berries is flavored syrups.
But why discuss syrups in January, when fruits mostly ripen in summer or fall? First, there’s still time to plant native berry and tea plants this year. Perhaps this posting will inspire you. Second, syrups are particularly useful right now, when fresh fruits – at least those from home gardens – are scarce.
A third reason is that some syrups can be made right now. Fruits/berries are the most common flavoring agents; but syrups can be made from anything used to make a natural tea as well. If you love mint tea – and your mint patch is flourishing – now might be a good time to make mint flavored syrup.
Conditions have been perfect for Hummingbird sage this winter (see http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2014/03/plant-of-month-march-hummingbird-sage.html). You may be enjoying fresh tea and drying leaves for later use. You might also make a batch of Hummingbird sage syrup. It’s easy, cheap and a wonderful treat that can be used in many ways. We’ll post recipes featuring flavored syrups in the next few months.
Flavored syrups are essentially ‘simple syrups’ made with fruit juice or natural tea. You can make as much or as little as you want; and you can use them immediately or process them (like you would jelly) for future use. The flavors are unique to your garden – whether you make syrup from plums or nectarines or from the native fruits. The syrups make unique and wonderful gifts.
Making the juice/tea
The main ingredient is either juice or natural tea. You can make juice from just about any fruit: berries, grapes, strawberries, stone fruits, citrus, manzanita fruits, etc. Just wash the fruits, cut and remove the pit (from stone fruits) or slice the citrus thinly. Place fruit in a saucepan/pot and barely cover with water.
Heat to a near-boil; then let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes. The liquid should be colored and well-flavored; smaller fruits will have burst their skins. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, then strain out the pulp/seeds. Use a jelly bag or line a sieve with several layers of cheese cloth. The resulting ‘juice’ should be colored but relatively clear, with no visible particles.
If using natural tea, follow the instructions on making tea from our June, 2012 posting (http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2012/06/making-tea-from-california-native-mint.html ). You might want to make the tea a little stronger than normal if using it for syrup-making.
1 cup prepared juice or tea
1 to 2 cups sugar
Other flavorings (optional): lemon juice; cinnamon (stick); other spices
You can make this syrup in any amount – just use equal amounts of sugar and juice. A thicker syrup (good on pancakes or desserts) can be made by increasing the sugar up to a 1 to 2 ratio of juice/tea to sugar (e.g., one cup juice to 2 cups sugar). Experiment to get the consistency and flavor combination you prefer. You can also combine several types of juice/tea if desired.
Place sugar, juice and spices (optional) in a heavy saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until mixture boils. Lower heat and continue to simmer 5 additional minutes. Remove from heat.
Process syrup with a boiling water bath* (as for jelly) if you want to store the syrup for up to a year. Or cool and store in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.
* A good way to preserve syrups is by canning them, using the sterilizing effects of heat. This time honored method allows you to store syrups, in canning jars, at room temperature. You need to be sure that you follow recommended methods exactly to insure that your food is canned safely.
If you’re new to preserving using a boiling water bath, we suggest reading a good basic reference on home canning. A classic reference book is the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving. Some good on-line resources are:
We encourage you to send us your questions, comments and recipes (either comment below or e-mail to us at : firstname.lastname@example.org