Sunday, July 22, 2012

Food Dehydrator Experiment

I’m trying a little experiment today.




I am using our food dehydrator to try to recrisp some strawberries that got squishy (because someone didn’t seal the bag properly).




In the past we have done this with crackers and cookies, and it has worked great. I’m not so sure that it will work with the strawberries though, since they were actually freeze-dried.

I guess we just have to wait and see. If they do not return to their original crispiness I'll probably just use them in a shortcake. 




Thursday, July 19, 2012

Making Peppermint Infused Oils


We grow an abundance of herbs and flowers during the summer months. Most of them we harvest and process in our food dehydrator for winter use, including coneflower, lavender, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and calendula.

With mint we prefer to use it fresh, or make our own peppermint infused oil to be used for homeopathic purposes and soap making. 

This post will explain how our family makes peppermint infused oil. It's a relatively simple process that anyone can follow. 




MATERIALS
carrier oil
safflower
jojoba
sweet almond
fresh peppermint 
glass container with secure lid
muddler


It is essential to have a good stock of mint in order to successfully make peppermint infused oil. We grow our own mint from organic seedlings that are planted in the spring. Some of the mint is grown in containers for easy access while cooking, some is grown in our flower garden. 

A word of caution, mint is considered an invasive plant, a somewhat aggressive. It spreads by sending out runners that take root. Unless it is kept in check, it can easily overtake a garden and get into unwanted areas. We don't mind the mint in our garden, it helps to keep ants at bay and acts as a good ground cover, keeping out weeds.

PROCESS
I harvest the mint in the early to mid-summer, when the plants are abundant with oil. It's the oil in the plant that lends the distinctive aroma and taste, and it must be extracted from the leaves. The more mint that you use, the better results you will have. 
I use a kitchen shears to take cuttings from the plant. 



Fresh mint cuttings.

I wash the mint with cold water and then pat it dry with a cloth. I do this gently so as not to bruise the mint and prematurely release the oils. I let the mint air dry as well. Sometimes if I am in a rush I use our dehydrator to speed this up. It's important for the mint to be completely dry to inhibit the potential for mold growth.



Mint cuttings laid out to dry.

Once the leaves are dry you can set up your container and carrier oil for processing. We try to recycle as much as possible, so most of our infused oils are contained in empty pickle jars or pasta sauce jars. You can use pretty much any glass container for this, as long as it has a tight sealing lid. It's important to thoroughly wash and dry your containers before use. We even sterilize them by boiling the jars in water for 10 minutes. 


Recycled pasta sauce jar.


Your carrier oil is the oil that you will be infusing with mint. We vary our carrier oil depending upon its intended purpose. For soapmaking we often use jojoba or sunflower oil. We also use safflower, sweet almond and grape seed oil. You can also use olive oil. We always use organic oils when making infused oils. The amount you use depends on how much end product you want. We don't have a specific set of measurements, and much of what we practice has been born of trial and error. So experiment with your oil to herb ratios, and tweak things as you go along.


Carrier Oil.

We start out by pouring about a quarter cup of oil in the bottom of the container. This way when we muddle the mint, there is already some oil in the jar to 'catch' the oil that is expressed from the mint as it is bruised. Then we start to add small amounts of mint to the jar, and go to town muddling it. We use the leaves and stem together. You may wish to pick the leaves from the stems and discard the stems, it's your preference. We find that it's easier to remove the entire stem and leaves from the oil after it's done infusing if left intact.


Begin muddling the mint in a small amount of carrier oil to release the mint oils from the leaves.

Continue in this manner until you've used up all of your mint cuttings. If necessary, add some more carrier oil to your container to help with the muddling process as you add more and more mint.


Adding more mint to the container.


Once you have thoroughly bruised your mint leaves you can fill the jar with more carrier oil. I don't fill all the way to the top so that I can shake and mix the oil and mint while it is infusing. 


Muddled mint and carrier oil.

Secure your lid, give the container a good shake to make sure there is oil coating all parts of the mint that you muddled and get ready to wait.



Lid is screwed on tight and we are ready to begin infusing.


Now comes the most difficult part of this process: waiting. Stick your container in a cool, dark place (ours is in a cabinet specifically designated for oils and vinegars) and let it sit there for a few weeks. On average we have found that it takes about 3-4 weeks to get a fully infused container of oil. However, this will depend on the amount of mint that you used, the carrier oil that you used, and how well you muddled the mint leaves. 


I periodically check on the container during the infusing process. I look for signs of mold growth (which has never happened so far, but I like to check), and give the jar a shake every few days to stir up the oils and combine them.



Peppermint oil infusion in process, under the counter in a cool dark place.



What can you do with your newly infused peppermint oil? 

In our home the oil is primarily used for soapmaking. In addition to using essential oils (which are more concentrated oils) in the soapmaking process, we also like to use herb infused carrier oils, which intensify the aromatic and homeopathic properties of the herb. We use coconut oil infused with peppermint to make lip balm. 

Peppermint oil is also great for easing headaches (rub a little on the temples), muscle aches (add some peppermint infused oil into a warm bath or massage into sore muscles), and minor skin ailments such as sunburn. Just keep it out of the mucus membranes (eyes), as it can cause irritation. I personally use it on my feet after a long day of teaching, and on my hands when I've been knitting too much.

Peppermint oil that has a food grade carrier base (olive oil, safflower oil, coconut oil and sweet almond oil) can be ingested. We've used small amounts to ease stomach indigestion and bowel issues, although I've found that eating a few fresh leaves is actually more effective.