I have a few small areas in front of my house where I have planted herbs I like to use in cooking: rosemary, chives, tarragon, oregano, sage, marjoram, and thyme. The rosemary is supposed to grow into a big beautiful bush, but mine usually dies over the winter even though the nursery assures me that it won’t. My chives have been doing well, but I’m not as diligent as I should be at using them, and I get a lot of nice purple flowers that, I’m told, mean I should have cut them off long before now. The other plants are not beautifully shaped like the plants in my neighbor’s garden, rather mine are tall, leggy, and quite honestly, pretty pathetic.
Every spring I visit the nursery to purchase basil, more rosemary, a couple of tomato plants, and some flowers. Every year I plant these in pots on my patio or in the few little flowerbeds surrounding my house. Every year I get one or two tomatoes if I’m lucky, enough basil for a Thai curry, and maybe a mozzarella and tomato salad. I’m not quite sure why I go through this yearly ritual, except that I remember my Mom and Grandma did it, so I do too.
There is one plant that does well in my garden, however, and that is my mint. One article I read said that mint is “invasive,” which is probably why it actually grows for me. The mint spreads underground via rhizomes, and is apparently very difficult to get rid of. Actually, there are 25-30 species of mint, which is a perennial herb; the family includes oregano, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme. My garden has peppermint, spearmint, and my newest plant, chocolate mint. The more I cut the mint, the thicker and better it grows, so I’m always looking for new ways to use it.
A few years ago, I made several dozen jars of sparkling emerald mint jelly, which is still sitting on the shelf in my basement food storage. I know that I’m supposed to serve it with lamb, but nobody in my family will eat lamb, so until I find another dish to serve it with, it will continue to sit. Since the mint smells good, I line baskets with it for catering jobs and fill them with fresh fruit. I also use it to garnish desserts and lemonade. Mint is used a lot in Middle Eastern cooking, and I’ve found a few good recipes which I will post on this site, including a wonderful Lebanese salad called Fattoush, and a yogurt sauce for meat and chicken. Be sure to sign up for the Quick Cooking Newsletter to be notified when these recipes post.
Last year when I was testing recipes for a picnic class, I came across a strange drink which called for a few sprigs of mint along with vinegar. I couldn’t resist trying it, and after making a few adjustments, I taught my class to make the following Tart and Sweet Mint Cooler.
This refreshing drink is perfect to serve on a hot day, or take to a picnic. It has become the favorite drink of my Granddaughter, Bella, and is requested often at barbecues and family outings. It is quick and easy to make, can be made ahead, the syrup will keep indefinitely, and it will use up lots of that mint that could be taking over your yard. Please don’t let the vinegar scare you—it adds the wonderful tartness that will send you and your guests swooning.
Tart and Sweet Mint Cooler
About 12 Servings
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup water
A large handful of fresh mint, washed and dried
In a small saucepan bring the sugar, vinegar, and water to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and simmer gently until the mixture is a very thin syrup, about 15-20 minutes. Remove it from the heat and add the mint, stirring until the mint is submerged in the syrup. Let the syrup cool thoroughly, then remove the mint and pour it through a strainer into a small jar for storage.
For an individual serving, pour about 1/3" - 1/2" of the syrup in the bottom of a glass, then add ice and water to fill; stir. Garnish with more mint if you like.
Note: to fill a gallon jar, double the recipe.