22 August 2019

Some Like it Hot, A Love Affair with Hot Peppers

I have had a life long love affair with spicy food. Not just spicy, but but the kind of spicy that could peel paint. I have to have an impartial taste tester (read Still Waters my husband) to verify that what I prepared for a dinner party isn't going to set someone on fire... Since what I think is mild, would be agony to those who are uninitiated.

For many years, about the only "hot" pepper you could find in the grocery store were very sad, slightly shriveled jalapeno peppers. So I had to grow my own peppers to get the burn I wanted in my spicy dishes. Although it has been too long ago to remember, my passion for fiery peppers may be the reason that I began to garden in the first place... But in 2019 it is possible to find a variety of hot peppers in higher end grocery stores and there are a number of ethnic markets who cater to cultures where spicy food is a way of life, so don't despair if you can't grow your own peppers to meet your needs. If to look around you will probably find a local source of fresh hot peppers!

In my garden I have two 3 ft. by 25 ft. beds of peppers. One bed is filled with a variety of sweet bell peppers in an array of beautiful colors ranging from yellow to deep purple, along with some banana peppers, paprika peppers and pepperoncini. The other bed is filled with  "Hurts So Good Peppers" that I cautiously pick while wearing nitrile gloves. In this bed I have a spectrum of hot peppers, jalapenos, serrano, Thai bird chiles, cayenne, habanero, and ghost peppers. Next year I will add Carolina Reapers to the line up, since I waited too late to order and I couldn't get my hands on seed this past spring.

I think this Ghost Pepper just looks spicy...

So how do I use all these hot peppers? Well, there are many ways to prepare these bad boys for use in cooking. Fresh peppers don't have a long shelf life, so I chop and freeze them for a just picked taste to add to raw salsas and other dishes where fresh is best. I make a cooked Habanero Mango Salsa when mangoes are in season and the India market has a good price on them. This salsa is good for knocking the chill off when the weather goes cold. It is delicious with chips, but also adds delightful personality to a humble bowl of black beans and rice.

I have to make this salsa in bulk. It is a household favorite
and we burn through a lot of it

Some of the peppers lend themselves well to drying, but to keep my dehydrator from infusing pepper oils on my dried apples and other dehydrated foods, I never put hot peppers in my dehydrator: instead I use my Stack!t , if the Stack!t is full of drying herbs, I lay them out on screens in the shade to air dry when weather is fine. I often string cayenne peppers on threads with a needle on one end, that hangs in the kitchen where I can add them to the string as I bring them in from the garden day by day.

I keep a thread and tapestry needle hanging in the kitchen
to string on excess cayenne peppers to dry.

I waited too long to order my Carolina Reaper seeds this year,
but not to worry, my son generously shared some of his stash of his with me!

 I smoke many of the peppers and freeze them on trays then put them in doubled freezer bags. These can be taken out one at a time to use in cooking. I also combine these with other peppers that have spent 3 months fermenting, to make a "curl your hair" hot sauce. This sauce is sublime with high notes of orange peel and the deep rich flavors of hickory, mesquite  and cacao. I also ferment the Thai bird chiles whole to use in Thai food or to add some heat to my raw, fermented, mixed vegetable Chow Chow.

I smoke habanero peppers and freeze them on a tray
to keep them separate, then package in small freezer bags.

Some peppers have a great taste, but can over power the flavor of a dish with their heat. To have the greatest control over their contribution to a dish, I tincture these peppers in grain alcohol for a month or so. When they have infused their essence into the alcohol, I strain and bottle the tincture. I wear a mask, safety goggles and heavy chemical grade rubber gloves for this process, since even vapors can burn soft tissues and you definitely don't want to accidentally get any on your skin! I bottle this tincture in amber bottle (recycled beer bottle work great!) and cap it with a crimp style bottle capper. This tincture will last forever. For use in the kitchen, I have a 2 oz. amber dropper bottle that I keep with my spices so that I can add a drop or 2 to a pot of chili, Indian food or other dish that calls for some real heat and authentic ethnic flavor.

I tincture Habanero, Ghost and Carolina Reaper Peppers in
190 proof grain alcohol to  use drop by drop in cooking.

Extreme care should be used when decanting this tincture.
 It could injure eyes and soft tissue, and you would experience
 an uncomfortable burning sensation for hours if you get it on the skin.
 Use safety glasses, heavy gloves and a face mask when
pouring the tincture off into bottles. But don't let that put you off...
the results are worth the caution you need to take!

The use of hot peppers has benefits beyond taste and an endorphen induced sense of well being, they can be used medicinally as well. The capsaicin, a constituent of all hot peppers, has many medicinal purposes. Most commonly, the cayenne pepper is used for skin applications, since it is less likely to be irritating to the skin. Cayenne capsaicin is used topically to treat Psoriasis and to reduce the pain of are muscles, R. arthritis, O.arthritis and Fibromyalgia. Capsaicin can reduce the incidence of cluster headaches, and help ease the pain during an episode. Scientific studies show undeniable evidence that capsaicin is effective in the treatment of cancerous tumors and aids in the apoptosis of cancerous cells, which would prevent cancer from occurring in the first place. It also causes an increase in metabolism which is helpful in weight loss efforts.

My passion for spicy food and my desire to use the peppers for medicinal purposes has led me to find many ways to preserve and use hot peppers. I hope that this post will inspire you to give hot peppers a chance or to try some new ways to use them!

 I love comments and would be happy to hear from you, so please feel free to leave a comment!

*As a note of caution, spicy peppers are able to burn soft tissues, eyes and skin; they should be treated with respect. They can also  can cause uncomfortable digestive distress for the uninitiated. Please don't try to prove how much fire you can take by ingesting a pepper or produce made with them, you could live to regret it.

06 August 2019

Now That's My Kind of Jelly! How to Make Low Sweet, No Muss, No Fuss, Set Every Time Jelly

Jelly making has been a traditional fall event at Heart's Ease Cottage for many, many years. When the children were small it was a late night venture, when I didn't have to worry about "littles" under foot. Once the kids were grown it was easier to make it a daytime project. No matter what the time of day it is, or time of year for that matter, setting the mood is an important part of the process. I fling the windows open, turn the ceiling fans on high, crank up the tunes and make a lovely mess out of my kitchen.

 I freeze fruits from our gardens over the summer to use in the fall. I also look forward to harvesting apples and pears from the mountain farms in the fall for jelly and other thing like fruit leathers and dried apple rings (but that is a post for another day). Many times I will cook down fruit and extract the juice for jelly, putting it in freezer bags to be made into jelly at a later date. This cuts the jelly making time down and decompresses the whole process a good bit. In recent years, I haven't often had a whole day to devote to a kitchen project, so breaking the process into smaller pieces makes it more likely that I will actually get all the way through to jars of jelly sitting on the shelf.

In the past, homemade jelly required more cups of sugar than cups of fruit juice in order to get the jelly to set. Our diet does not allow for much refined sweetener so a lot of the jelly was made for gift giving and not for our consumption. The exception would be Still Water's personal blackberry jelly stash, which he guards jealously and is reluctant to share even within the household...

But then one day I made a discovery that changed what we could keep in our larder for our own use. Traditional pectin gels by a sugar/pectin/acid trifecta that can be a bit unpredictable and requires a huge amount of sugar to get the jelly to set. But much to my delight I discovered a citrus pectin that gels due to a reaction between the pectin and a solution of calcium carbonate. No sugar is required to get a gel and it's set is very consistent and reliable. The fruit juice sets to jelly as the mixture cools; no spoon testing required to determine if it will set!

So rather than talk about how to make traditional apple pectin jelly, I am going to walk through the process of jelly making using citrus pectin and calcium carbonate. The product that I use is called Pomona Universal Pectin. It is a little pricey, but when you consider how much sugar can be eliminated from a recipe and the fact that you can get 22 cups of jelly out of a box, it is really quite a good deal!

For our family wholesome and nutritious is tantamount. What we put in our body needs to nourish and strengthen us. We like sweets as well as the next person, but not at the expense of our health and immune system. So I was thrilled when I found a pectin that doesn't require sugar to set the jelly! (Ball makes a no sugar needed pectin, but it has dextrose in it and I am not a fan so I won't use it, and the set was never spectacular in my experience). Now I can have lovely fruit spread for bagels and sandwiches without having to poison myself with sugar!

The name of the pectin is Pomona's Universal Pectin. It has been around awhile, but the price always put me off and after my experience with Ball's "no sugar needed" pectin, I was reluctant to give it a try. Then Healthy Home Market went out of business and was selling everything a 75% off so I bought a box. I used it  the next day and was so thrilled with the results that I went back and bought every box that was on the shelf!

What makes Pomona so great?  No sweetener is necessary, since the jelling action come from a combination of citrus pectin, calcium and citric acid. Of course, you can sweeten the jelly to your personal taste with the sweetener of your choice. The directions cover a number of different ways you can sweeten your jelly, everything from no sweetener to stevia, agave, honey and yes should you choose to do so, sugar.  It also can be used to make jello. But hold on! There is more good news! You can make as many batches at once as you like!  Ball pectin cannot be doubled, but must be jellied one batch at a time because of the fickle nature of apple pectin. But Pomona Universal Pectin is made from citrus pectin and uses calcium to create the jell so it will consistently jell no matter how many batches you put in the jelly pot. Also one box of pectin will make 22 8 oz. jars of jelly, where Ball pectin renders only 8- 8 oz. jars per box. And if that isn't enough, there is no need for a jelly thermometer, no boiling to the jelly point and testing for set, you just add the directed amount of calcium to the fruit juice, mix the pectin with the sweetener and when the juice and calcium come to a boil; add the sweetener/pectin blend stir until dissolved and return to a boil for one minute. No need to check for set, just ladle into sterilized jars, clean rims, adjust lids and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. The jelly will set when cool.

So now that I have expounded on the virtues of Pomona pectin, I will share my recipe for Blueberry Lime Jelly!

                                                     Blueberry Lime Jelly

One recipe makes 4 cups of jelly.

4 cups of rendered blueberry juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
the zest of one lime (I always use organic limes, conventionally grown citrus is sprayed with a fungicide that won't completely wash off)
1/2 cup honey
4 tsp. pectin
4 tsp. calcium

For each batch of jelly that renders 4 cups, use 3 cups of mashed fruit and extract the juice by boiling the fruit with 1 cup of bottled apple juice or other juice that won't compete with the flavor of your fruit.(I use organic fruit and organic apple juice but the choice is yours).

Crush the fresh berries and add apple juice. Cook over medium heat to extract the juice from the berries.
I only use organic citrus zest since commercially grown citrus is
 sprayed heavily with pesticides and fungicides that won't come completely
off the skins when washed.

I have a plane zester that I swear by. The zest comes off the fruit in fine strands
and leaves all the white pith on the lime. 

I use organic apple juice, but any juice flavor you want can be used, just
 be sure that the flavor of the juice compliments the fruit.

I usually make 3 or 4 batches at a time since the pectin works on multiple batches. Really, who only makes 4 jars of jelly at a time? I usually make enough jars to fill the canner.

Once the juice has been extracted, ladle the cooked fruit pulp and juice into a strainer lined with cheese cloth.
Strain cooked fruit pulp and juice through a double layer of
cheese cloth suspended over a pan by a mesh. strainer

 Allow the juice to drip into a bowl or pan until it stops actively dripping. Then pull up the corners of the cheesecloth, twist the drawn up corners until tight against the pulp and twist and squeeze the remaining juice through the strainer until all the juice is out of the pulp. The total amount of juice needed is 4 cups of juice per batch.

Allow the juice to drip until it slows perceptibly
When the juice stops dripping by itself, draw up the corners of the cheesecloth
and twist tight against to pulp. Twist, press and squeeze until all the
 possible juice is removed then compost the pulp.

Remove the pectin and the calcium from the box, (the smaller packet is the calcium). In a small jar put the contents of the packet and add 1/2 cup water, put on a lid and shake until powder is completely dissolved in water.  You will be using  4 tsp. of calcium per batch of jelly.

Mix the packet of calcium with 1/2 cup water and shake until dissolved.
Any leftover calcium liquid should be stored in the fridge.

Put the juice in your jelly pot, add 4 tsp. calcium, 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice the zest of 1 lime, per batch, and heat to a boil. While the juice is heating, mix together well, 1/2 cup honey per batch of jelly  ( you can add up to 1 cup of honey if 1/2 cup, isn't sweet enough) and 4 tsp. pectin.

Bring the juice to a full boil, add sweetener/pectin mixture and stir vigorously 1-2 minutes until dissolved. Once the liquid is at a full boil, take the pot off the heat an ladle into sterilized jars. using a spoon carefully remove any scum or bubbles from the surface of the jelly.

 Clean the rims with a clean cloth, adjust lids and process in a water bath canner in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove jars with a jar lifter and place on the counter to cool. The jelly will set once the jars and liquid are completely cool. Could take overnight to set.

Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean damp cloth, then apply the flat part of a
two part lid that has been in boiling water. Add the band and adjust to just finger tight.

*Note: If you are used to regular ball pectin you will be surprised at how few jars of jelly you get per batch. The reason is that you aren't using 7 to nine cups of sugar per batch, so you are basically getting one cup of jelly per cup of juice. It is healthy and practically guilt free!

All the jelly I have made with this pectin has come out perfectly. There has been no loose or runny jelly, just firm spreadable jelly that is lightly sweet so that all the lovely fruit flavor comes through. If you try the pectin, or the recipe, please pop back to my blog and tell me what you think!

27 June 2019

What 40 Years of Growing Tomatoes has Taught Me

Everyone has their own way of growing tomatoes. There those who trellis or stake, some that use store bought cages and others who make their own. Everyone has their own special way of feeding or caring for the plants once they are planted. I have no intention of telling people that they are not growing their tomatoes the "right way" way, but there are a few things I see people doing which limits their tomato production. So in this blog post I am going share a few of my tomato growing secrets and talk about some important things to know about growing tomatoes.

Since it is past seed starting time I will skip past that in this post and go straight to getting them in the ground and caring for them. Every year at tomato planting time I break out my fishing gear and head to my favorite spot to fish for fertilizer. I don't care what I catch, but I don't take large or desirable fish out of the lake. I will let someone who will eat them have those. What I want are the small guys and bottom feeders that no one will miss. Pumpkin Seed, small bluegill and catfish are what I hope to catch. Once I have a bucket full of fish I will head home and begin to plant my tomatoes. I dig a deep hole and place a piece of fish at the bottom of the hole. Then I trim off the bottom set of leaves or two depending on the size of the tomato seedling, and plant the tomato in the ground   on top of the piece of fish then I cover them with dirt above where I trimmed off the leaves. Tomato can be planted deep in the soil. They will grow roots all along their stems which will  help to anchor it and draw up more nutrients making for a stronger tomato plant. The fish is easy to access nutrition for the tomato while it is establishing in its permanent location.

Readily available natural fertilizer to give my tomato the best start in life possible.

Half a Pumpkin Seed fish at the bottom of the tomato hole will provide easy to access nutrients and help prevent transplant shock.

This seedling is ready for planting. It is large enough to stand up to some wind and driving rain and has plenty of leaf branches.

Here I have removed the bottom couple leaf branches so that I can plant it deeply in the soil.

The plant is deeply planted and will grow roots all along the stem under the soil to provide stability and better uptake of nutrients.

Here is what the plant looks like 6 weeks after planting. Healthy and laden with ripening fruit.

Once the tomato is given a nice deep hole and some easy to access nutrients, the next thing to consider is how to keep the plant healthy. Here in North Carolina, Early Blight is a real problem. Early Blight is a soil borne fungus that causes the leave to yellow and wither and will reduce the plants production substantially

Early Blight fungus takes a perfectly health plant and reduces it to yellowing leaves and bare vines.
(Photo from Google search no photo credits given)

Early Blight will also reduce production and cause misshapen  or small fruit
(Photo from Google search no photo credits given)

It is very simple to prevent Early Blight. Since it is a soil borne fungus, all that must be done to prevent it is to provide a deep mulch or ground cover  under the tomato plants that keeps soil from splashing up on the leaves.  I use a landscaping cloth that easily passes water, bu prevents splash. It has the added benefit of suppressing weeds. Most years I also put a layer of wood mulch on top of the cloth to further prevent splash and help to hold in moisture.

Tomatoes prefer to be watered at their roots. Although this isn't always possible, if it is it will help to prevent fusarium wilt and powdery mildew. If you have these problems, then it is important to water at the roots and never touch the leaves of the plant when they are wet. 

Tomato Hornworms can wreak havoc on your plants as well. There are a few tried and true organic ways to eliminate them. You can spray your plants with Bt, (Bacillus Thuringiensis, trade name Dipel) at the first sign of damage. It is a naturally occurring bacterium, that paralyzes the digestive system of leaf eating caterpillars. It is safe for humans animals and beneficial insects with the exception of butterfly caterpillars, so be sure to avoid getting the Bt on the plants where butterfly caterpillar feed, like dill, parsley and milkweed. I don't use Bt on my tomatoes, but I do use it on anything in the cabbage family since looper worms are difficult to control any other way. The reason I choose not to use it on my tomatoes is because it is easy to see where the worm are at work and pick them off and destroy them,. This given me one less area I need to spray. The only time I leave the caterpillars alone is when they have little white cocoons on their backs. The natural predator of the Tomato Hornworn is a parasitic wasp that lays its young in the back of the Hornworm. The young feed on the caterpillar, killing it and creating more predators for the worms. 

Tomato Hornworm
(Photo from Google search no photo credits given)

Remove but do not destroy the caterpillar that has these cocoons on its back.
(Photo from Google search no photo credits given)
Now that the tomato is protected from disease and pests, the next concern is how to increase productivity and quality of the tomato fruits. Tomatoes are heavy feeders so I feed mine a side dressing of compost when hey begin to bear fruit and feed them with a diluted solution of fish emulsion as a foliar feeding and at the roots every few weeks. Feeding is important, but the plants will really excel when they are judicially pruned to channel the strength of the plant to fruit production instead of spending energy on foliage. It also helps light reaches the fruit and helps the bees to find the flowers to pollinate. 

I know that there is much talk in gardening circles about pinching "suckers" to increase production. But it is important to understand what the sucker really is. It is said that little leaflets that appear in the crotch of the stem and tomato branch are the "suckers" that tomato growers are encouraged to pinch, but if you pay attention to the habits of the tomato plant you will see that this in incorrect. In truth, the leaflet in the crotch will become a fruiting branch and the leafy branch that it is attached to to the stem of the tomato is actually the part that need to be removed.  If you look closely you will notice that as the leaflet in the crotch grows, the leafing branch below will bend downward. This leafing branch will never produce flowers and should be removed, not the leaflet.

 In the following series of photos I will plead my case and you can see if you agree with me. Below is a photo of the stem and leafing branch with the "sucker" growing in the crotch. 

It has been said that the "sucker" should be pinched, but in doing so you are actually removing the fruiting stem and leaving an non producting leafy branch.
The leafy branch, "non bearing "sucker" that is pointing down will never produce fruit. It should be removed to allow for the fruiting branch to have the energy to produce more fruit.

When the leaflet in the crotch is a couple inches tall and the leafing branch is beginning to point downwards it is time to prune off the leafy branch leaving the center leaflet to become a fruiting branch.

The bottom circle shows that this is the leaflet growing in the crotch, the top circle shows the forming flower spurs. If you had pinched this as a "sucker" you would have reduced your production by 4 to 6 tomatoes for each one you pinched out.

The proof is in the pudding... What was originally thought of as a "sucker" that takes strength from the plant and reduces production, is actually a fruiting spur and the leafy branch that would be left if you pinched the spur is what should be removed to give strength to the spur.

Hopefully this is not confusing. I have tried to lay it out clearly, but if anyone doesn't understand, leave a comment and I will try to clarify.

Well I have probably talked enough about tomatoes today so I will stop here and continue next time with how I increase productivity in Determinate tomato varieties. Hope to see you then!

As always I love comments. They help me to feel like I am not just talking to myself :) Please feel free to ell me what you think or just to say "howdy!"

Some Thoughts on Tomato Varieties

This post is overdue. My spring was full and blogging unfortunately took a backseat to an array of other things. So here we go, better late than never...

Tomatoes are serious business here at Heart's Ease Cottage. We only eat fresh tomatoes in season, since in the off seasons even the organically grown tomatoes at the store are a sad lot. So we really  look forward to the day we can eat our fresh, homegrown, warm off the vine 'maters.

We start our tomatoes from seed in our indoor seed starting system. I have my favorites that I plant every year and usually try a new variety or two in search of new favorites. There are 2 kinds of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties ripen heavy flushes of fruit at once and then after a few flushes will die off. Indeterminate varieties will produce less fruit at once, but with proper pruning and feeding will produce consistently over a long season.

For preserving I stick with the meaty Roma style tomato. San Marzano and Amish Paste tomatoes are my stand-bys. San Marzano is a determinate variety, as all Romas are, so they put on a lot of fruit that ripens in flushes, usually 2 large flushes and one smaller one and then the plants are done. You can eek out a few tomatoes from there on but it is really not worth the bother or the garden space to try and squeeze any more out from the vines. San Marzano is a heavy yielder of uniformly sized fruit, that is great for drying, canning as sauce and stewed tomatoes, and also works very well for salsa and relish. Amish Paste tomato is determinate, with thick, blocky tomatoes that have dense flesh and very few seeds. They make wonderful sauce and paste as well as dried tomatoes. Their one draw back is that they do not produce as many tomatoes per plant as the San Marzano. This is probably because the dense fruit takes longer to ripen. You will get one solid flush and a smaller second flush and then the plant is done. I would have to plant about twice as many Amish Paste Tomatoes to get the same amount of fruit as I get from San Marzano. So I use the Amish Paste tomatoes for specific purposes, paste and dried tomato powder, and grow San Marzano for the bulk of my preserving needs. I do have a way to extend the growing season of a determinate tomato variety, but I will have to write another blog post on that to keep this post from becoming a book. I promise I will share this technique in a future post!

San Marzano is a good Roma Type Tomato for sauce, paste and drying
(Photo from Google search had no Photo credit posted)

Amish Paste Tomato is a blocky, meaty tomato good for paste, sauce and drying
(Photo from Google search had no photo credit)

Indeterminate tomatoes do not make very good candidates for preserving. They have too much water and too many seeds. But they make great tomatoes for slicing and fresh eating. There are some indeterminate, open pollinated slicers, but I usually don't grow them. I grow heirloom and open pollinated varieties for many of the vegetables in our garden so that I can save seed, but since I grow a lot of varieties of tomatoes, I can't save the seed, so I grow a mixed bag of hybrid and open-pollinated tomatoes for fresh eating.

Many of the open pollinated and heirloom tomatoes are large, juicy fruits that can weigh a pound or more a piece and take forever to ripen.  I don't like wet tomatoes for sandwiches because I hate soggy bread, so I prefer to grow a smaller 4-6 ounce hybrid tomato that gets ripe fast, fits neatly on my sandwich without overhang and won't make my bread soggy. I do grow heirloom varieties for eating straight off the vine like and apple or for slicing as a side dish with a sprinkle of basil strips and some freshly cracked pepper.... my mouth is watering as I type... but most of my slicing tomatoes are hybrid. Hybrids are also less prone to Cat Facing, and splitting since they don't suck up so much water.

So what varieties of indeterminate tomatoes do I grow? I am very fond of Celebrity (hybrid) for sandwiches, it is a nice 4-6 oz. tomato with a thin tender skin. I also grow German Pink (Open Pollinated), Black Cherokee (Open Pollinated) and some variety of orange tomato. Of course there is the Sweet 100 (heirloom) cherry tomato that produces quantities of sweet, "pop in your mouth while weeding goodness" (only need one of these babies...), and Yellow Pear (heirloom), and the Rutger (Open Pollinated), an 8 oz determinate slicer  that is has good flavor and not too many seeds. Others that I adore but haven't planted this year are the Currant tomato, which is a slightly larger than a pea sized tomato that is a powerhouse of tomato flavor in a tiny package. Warning this volunteers prolifically and where ever you last planted it is going to have a mass of volunteers the following year, brace yourself and treat them as weeds except for the one or two you want to transplant for this years consumption). Indigo Rose for it's beautiful almost black color and anathocyanins that have proved to help prevent cancer, I also really enjoy the heirloom Pineapple tomato. It is delicious, but often split and beaks on the vine because they take up so much water, so I only grow it on occasion.

Celebrity is a hybrid, 4-6 oz. slicer with good taste and thin skin
(Photo found on Google search not photo credit given)

Rutger is a determinate  open pollinated slicer. It has a good flavor and size but is not a long season variety
(Photo found on Google search no photo credit given)

Indigo Rose_ lovely and delicious 

Tomato varieties I don't bother to grow: Mortgage Lifter, it is so huge I can't get it out of my tomato cage without great effort and it is sloppy wet, mealy and won't keep, I don't grow Beefsteak for the same reason. Big Boy isn't prolific enough to give it garden space. I don't grow Grape tomatoes because they are shaped like a torpedo and are a choking hazard, (personal issue...).

So what do I do with all these tomatoes??  I will tell you in an upcoming post that will include some of my favorite fast and easy recipes.  But for now I am trying to catch up on overdue blog posts so I will end this here and start my next post and what 40 years of growing tomatoes has taught me.

21 June 2018

Taking Care of Hummingbird Visitors

I look forward to the return of our hummingbird visitors every May. We usually see a hummingbird scout once or twice in late April flit in and check out the offerings and then dart way. The others show up consistently to visit the Cottage's gardens and feeders in May.

Since today is the day that I clean and refill the feeders, I thought I would chat about the care and feeding of hummingbirds. First and best for feeding hummers is to provide them with flowers that offer them ample tasty nectar. Trumpet vine, fuschia, nicotiana, salvia, honeysuckle, petunias, coral bells, daylilies, yarrow, to name a few. In our gardens, the hummers also regularly visit the paintbox colored zinnias and baskets of geraniums. We have so many flowers here and often see the hummingbirds darting and squabbling over the flowers all over the yard. But I love being able to hear the beat of their wings, their little chirps and see their brilliant colored plumage, so I put feeders close to the places we sit outside so we can have a front row seat to enjoy them!

These feeders are visible from the veranda and the patio 
The veranda offers us a clear view of the hummers
while keeping us out of their flight path.

Feeding hummingbirds is easy and fairly inexpensive, all you need is sugar and water. The ratio of sugar to water is one part sugar to four parts water (example: 1 cup sugar to four cups water). I boil it for 5 minutes and then cool completely before filling the feeders. Use plain white sugar, not turbinado, or any other kind of sweetener, since these have properties that are not in their natural diet. Please, please, please, don't add red food dye to the sugar water. The dye is very bad for our little friends and it is unnecessary since the feeders are colorful and are attractive to them.

There are a few other things that I would like to mention about the feeders. Drawing hummingbirds to the feeder is a great way to enjoy a charming bit of Creation, but it is important to make sure that what is being offered will be healthy and safe for them to eat. Flower nectar is fresh and mold free, so what is offered in the feeders should mirror nature. Sugar water will ferment while sitting in the sun and mold will grow on the inside of the bottle and will hide in the flower shaped feeding receptacles. Fermented sugar water isn't healthy for the birds and mold is down right toxic to them. So if feeding them is something desirable, then going the extra mile to make sure it is healthy and safe for the hummers is important.  I fill the feeders a couple times a week, especially when the weather is very hot.  It will ferment and go cloudy in about 3 days, so to avoid waste I only fill the feeders about half full when it is really hot.

It takes 3 days or less for the food to ferment in hot weather
Once a week I take them all down, scrub, bleach and rinse them very well before refilling them to make sure that there is no mold growing in the containers.

Once a week I bleach and scrub the feeders and then rinse them well in clear water
 to make sure there is no bleach residue.

Crystal clear and safe for the birds to eat.

 That way when I see the little guys zipping around the feeders I know that what they are eating is tasty and wholesome.

04 February 2017

Fire on the Mountain Tonic, the Natural Flu Shot

This post was originally on my other blog... www.aprepperspantryjournal.blogspot.com, but since this is cold and flu season, and some of the readers of this blog don't follow my other blog I thought I would repost it here. There has been news of a new outbreak of  bird flu, that has been causing deaths not only in birds, but cats and then humans... so with the possibility of a new flu  being on the loose, it is important to protect yourself before the flu strain reaches the USA. Since this strain is new, there is no pharma synthesized flu shot to protect you from it or other new strains of flu that will come down the pike. 

I don't take flu shots...  Someday I will write a post on why, but for today I just want to talk about what I do instead of introducing heavy metals,(Thimerosal/ethyl mercury) and live (although "weakened"), virus into my system. There are natural ways to make it through cold and flu season without succumbing to every bug that is being passed around the office and lurking on every shopping cart handle.

To start with, it is important to be diligent to thoroughly and frequently wash your hands when in public places. Keep your hands away from your face and your fingers out of your mouth. Use a non alcohol based hand sanitizer when you can't wash your hands. I use lemon essential oil that I keep in a key fob case with 7 other essential oils. I just drop a drop or two on my hands and rub them together front and back. Then I breathe deeply from the bottle to get the lemon vapors up into my nostrils. Lemon will kill many pesky germs on contact and is much safer to use than the alcohol based sanitizers. Be mindful that there are a lot of people who take no precautions when they are sick, don't cover their mouth with their forearm instead of their hands when they cough or sneeze, come to work with a fever, sneezing and coughing, go shopping and touch shopping carts with hands that they just sneezed into, eat out and use their germ infested hands to serve themselves from the salad bar or drink dispenser.... all while spreading the wealth of their illness with everyone who may come in contact with them or things that they have touched. So whenever possible, avoid public eating and other potential harvest fields of germs like public bathrooms. I know it isn't possible to avoid all public contact, especially if you work in a place that wants you to show up for work, sick or not... but taking precautions like hand washing and avoiding what contact you can with the public at large will cut your risks of infection down a lot.

 Besides exercising diligent germ fighting hygiene measures, there are some very effective proactive natural medicine routines that you can use to fight off illness. All of my family has their own bottle of Thieves, (Young Living, good but very pricey), or in our case 4x, (Secrets of Eden, it is the same thing as Thieves but a lot more affordable). We take it a couple times a day proactively, and use it more frequently if we are in public or feel like we are coming down with something. We have a infuser for our car that plugs into the cigarette lighter. We keep either 4x or lemon essential oils going in the car infuser so we are breathing it into our nostrils and into our lungs where it can kill bacteria that we may breathe in while in public. I also brush my teeth with it, using a drop or two on my tooth brush along with my home made toothpaste, or a drop or two in the water receptacle of my Waterpik. This kills germs as well as promotes good oral health. 

While practicing health hygiene and using essential oils to stave off infection is effective, we go one step further and our version of a flu shot... Fire tonic. This tonic is a powerful tool against flu virus' and bacterial infection. Unlike the
flu shot which is made in a lab using live virus or virus byproducts, and stabilized with heavy metals like ethyl mercury, Fire Tonic is made in your kitchen, using fresh, living. organic (where possible), ingredients. The flu shot  must be administered by a "medical professional", where you can take the Fire Tonic at home with no co pay. I will warn you that it takes some getting used to, but the benefits far outweigh its fiery personality. There are many recipes for tonic out there, but for the most part, the basic ingredients are the same, raw organic apple cider vinegar with mother, (from now on referred to as ACVM), horseradish, ginger, garlic and hot peppers. My recipe takes things a step further, to bring in some other germ fighting immune strengthening components. This tonic is taken daily, a shot glass full as soon as the tummy is ready for it. Once you get used to the fiery jolt, you will start to look forward to your daily "shot", and will enjoy the mood elevating, endorphin buzz you will get from it...

There are two basic ways to make this tonic, one is to put the fresh ingredients together in a blender, put the blended ingredients in a 1/2 gallon jar and let it steep in ACVM for several weeks. Then strain and press all the ingredients through cheesecloth, to derive the fiery liquid gold. The other way is to arrange the ingredients in a jar, add water and salt and let it ferment naturally for 4 weeks, then strain, press and bottle. Each has its own virtues, the ACVM has many health benefits, and the fermentation of the other adds much needed probiotic bacteria to the mix. Either one is effective against virus and bacterial infections. I have decided that for my family, it is best to make both. The vinegar based tonic stores for the long term, very well, the fermented tonic requires refrigeration, or if not refrigerated, to be used up in a week or two after full fermentation ceases, so when possible we use the fermented version daily and keep the vinegar version on hand for times when we don't have the fermented version available and for longer term storage.

In my recipes I use these basic tonic ingredients:

Horseradish- which is full of vitamin C and B complex, minerals, potassium, calcium, iron and enzymes. It prevents scurvy, is an expectorant, can treat tonsillitis, and is a natural treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, as well as many respiratory ailments. It can kill the bacteria that causes bronchitis, strengthens the heart, increases resistance to cancer, is a powerful antioxidant and detoxifies the liver to eliminate carcinogens. 

Ginger- a natural blood thinner, reduces cholesterol, lowers fever, is sedative and antibacterial, anti-fungal, and settles the stomach and soothes intestinal distress. Contains gingerol a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. May reduce muscle pain and soreness. Lowers blood sugar levels and improves heart health. Improves brain function and may guard against brain degradation and dementia. Reduces menstrual pain. The substance called 6-gingerol aids in the prevention of some kinds of cancer, (pancreatic, colon, breast and ovarian cancer, testing and research continues).

Onion-A potent diuretic, it is antibiotic and anti-inflammatory, it is an effective expectorant, making it useful for use colds, flu and persistent coughs, Onions are rich in quercetin, which has been shown to prevent heart disease, by stopping cholesterol from attaching to arterial walls and prevents blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots.

Hot Peppers- contain capsicum which supports the immune system. It also acts as a natural decongestant and has warming properties that alleviate chills. It has anti- inflammatory and analgesic properties which make it a useful pain killer. Helps treat cancer, peptic ulcer, menopausal problems, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Relives the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Is good for the skin and treats psoriasis.

Raw Apple Cider Vinegar- is a natural antiseptic, anti-fungal, is great for digestion, detoxifying, lowers blood sugar levels. It can help with weight loss by promoting satiety and lowering glucose and insulin levels. Helps reduce blood pressure. Has been observed to reduce the size of cancerous tumors and can kill cancer cells. It can cut down on  nighttime leg cramps, (an indication of a potassium deficiency), When coupled with honey, apple cider vinegar helps relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis pain in part is caused by metabolic waste that is stored in the connective tissue, the pectin, acetic acid and mallic acid in ACVM absorbs toxins and helps to flush them from the body. It alkalinizes the body and clears out acid crystal build up in the joints. It is a great source of the nutrient potassium, which is often in low levels in RA patients.

And I add to the basic ingredients:

Turmeric root-  An effective anti-inflammatory. Low level inflammation is in large part responsible for almost all chronic illness, including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer's, and other degenerative and auto-immune conditions. Curcumin is the substance within turmeric root which has most of the medicinal properties. Curcumin reduces inflammation at the molecular level. It is an antioxidant, so it eliminates free radicals and stimulates the body to increase production it's own antioxidant enzymes. It improves brain function by boosting BDNF, the body's neurotrophic factor, thus improving brain function and lowering the risk of brain disease.The molecular changes caused by cucurmin prevent cancerous cells from forming, having an affect on active cancer as well as preventing the division of cancerous cells. Curcumin can cross the blood brain barrier, a rare attribute, and is able to interrupt the progression of Alzheimer's and help the brain to heal. Arthritis, in some cases is more effectively treated with curcumin than with pharmaceuticals. It has a profound affect on depression, actually proving more effective in clinical studies than Prozac for alleviating the symptoms of depression. It does this by boosting the BDNF levels and increasing the body's ability to produce it's own serotonin and dopamine. It is hard for the body to absorb turmeric, but with the addition of piperzine, a substance found in black pepper corns, the absorption rate can be improved by 2000%. so turmeric should always be used in combination with black pepper. Do not use if pregnant!! Can cause uterine contractions.

Lemon-Although lemon is acidic outside the body once it is in the digestive tract it becomes alkaline. So lemon is a good ph balancer for the blood. Lemon is high in vitamin C, increasing the immune system's ability to fight off infection. It increases the production of bile aiding in digestion efficiency and dissolves uric acid which causes joint pain and is a component of some kinds of kidney stones. It can aid increase the body's ability to burn fat. Helps to maintain eye health. Detoxifies kidneys and liver.

Rosemary-Is a powerful detoxifier and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Rosemary contains rosmarinic, a compound that improves blood circulation, increasing the flow of oxygen rich blood to the brain. This improves concentration, alertness and promotes relaxation. It is anti-microbial. Rosemary contains components that fortify the immune system. It stimulates the adrenals, providing more energy while it elevates mood and calms nerves. Inhibits the growth of bacteria like e. coli. Protects the lungs from irritation and inflammation from environmental toxins.

Black Pepper- It is useful in fighting the common cold, constipation, indigestion, anemia, impotency, muscular strains, dental disease, pyorrhea (a dental disease), diarrhea, and heart disease. It contains manganese, iron, potassium, vitamin-C, vitamin K, and dietary fiber. Black pepper is also a very good anti-inflammatory agent. It aids in digestion by increasing the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, will detox the body by promoting sweating and urination. The outer shell of the pepper corn breaks down fat cells so that they are more easily accessed by the body , thus aiding in natural weight loss. So be sure to use whole pepper corns, cracked with a blender or mortar and pestle, to gain all the benefits that black pepper has to offer. But most importantly, it is necessary to use turmeric and black pepper in combination so that the body can take up the health benefits of turmeric. Without using black pepper with turmeric most of the healing properties of the turmeric pass through the body without being absorbed.

All ingredients that can be organic should be... I know that it is hard to find some of these ingredients in organic.

Fire on the Mountain Tonic # One



2 cups of habanero peppers, 
split, (for those who are able to take the heat)or 3 cups of jalapenos, cut into 1/4" rings. If using jalapenos, then omit the next ingredient in the list, they are added to this amount for a total of the required peppers.
1 cup fresh jalapeno, cut into 1/4" rings
6 whole bulbs of garlic, cut in half through the equator, reserve two halves to be kept intact break apart the rest and bruise/mash with the flat edge of a knife. (No need to peel the cloves)
12 inches of fresh horseradish root, Scrub with a brush but do not peel, cut into 1/2" cubes 
1 large hand of fresh ginger, or enough ginger root to equal 2 cups sliced ginger, washed and sliced into 1/4" thick slices. Do not peel.
1 cup sliced turmeric root, (10-12 rhizomes of fresh turmeric)
1/4 cup black peppercorns, bruised and cracked in a mortar and pestle or given a quick whirlin a bullet blender, you don't want it powdered just bruised and cracked.
1 large onion, root end and tip end cut off, loose skin removed, (leave the rest of the skin on), then cut into thin slices
2- 6" sprigs of rosemary
4  1/4" slices of lemon, (wash lemon well before slicing)
1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 capsule of probiotic acidophilis, (optional)
Purified water to fill jar


Sharp knife
Mandolin with slicing blade, optional but makes things more uniform and goes faster
1 half gallon Mason jar

4 oz. mason jar
Plastic wide mouth Mason jar lid (can be found at Walmart in the canning section, or purchased on Amazon,com), or a piece of plastic wrap and a two part metal Mason jar lid, ( *Due the fact that metal that is not stainless steel can taint the fermentation process, it is necessary to use a plastic lid or put a piece of plastic wrap between the rim of the jar and the two part wide mouth mason jar lid.)
Glass craft beads to fill the 4 0z. jar Mortar and pestle or bullet-type blender
Plastic sandwich bag Nitrile or latex gloves
8"square pyrex dish or comparable sized plastic container with 1 inch sides
16x16" square of cheese cloth
Quart sized Mason Jar or two or glass bottle with tight fitting lid that will hold the volume of rendered liquid Wipeable,impermeable tablecloth


Cover your work surface with wipeable tablecloth. Why? Well, the turmeric root will stain whatever it touches and it will not come out. Don the apron and make sure to put on your nitrile/latex gloves. If you have sensitive skin, double glove your hands.

Sterilize both 1/2 gallon and 4 oz.jar by pouring boiling water to the brim and leave sitting until cool enough to handle. Pour off water and dry jar with a fresh, clean towel. Lay the 1/2 gallon jar on its side and place lemon slices around the walls of jar on 3 sides, then take a couple of handfuls of horseradish cubes and place them in the jar to hold lemon slices to the sides. Set jar upright and place last slice on the forth wall of the jar. Place remaining horseradish in the jar. Then put in a layer of turmeric root, and then the onions. Place two halves of garlic bulbs, cut side out against the side of the jar on opposite walls of the jar, on the other two walls place the rosemary sprigs, then back fill with a layer of ginger, then jalapeno slices, and habaneros (if using), topping off with the layer of freshly cracked black pepper and the garlic. Press down on the veggie in the jar firmly.

Dissolve the salt in 2 cups of water, pour into the jar and then fill the jar the rest of the way with water to just cover the top of the veggies. The veggie and water level should come to just below where the neck of the jar begins to taper in some, (This will leave you room to put the smaller 4 oz. jar and glass weights in.)

Take the plastic sandwich bag and place it over the mouth of the 1/2 gallon mason jar, with fingers press down gently, arranging the plastic bag so that it is in contact with the entire surface of the vegetables.

 Take the 4 oz. jar filled with glass beads and place it in the mouth of the jar, on top of the plastic bag.

 Place 1/2 gallon jar in a casserole dish or in the sink then press down on the smaller jar, some liquid will flow out of the 1/2 gallon jar, (which is why it is in a casserole dish or in the sink). Take plastic lid that fits a wide mouth Mason Jar  and put it on the 1/2 gal. jar and screw down tight. If the lid won't go on, it may be necessary to take the 4 oz. jar out and press the veggies down harder to make room for the weight jar, (some fluid is sure to go over the edges so make sure the 1/2  gal. jar is on the plate or in the sink) , then replace the weight and screw plastic lid on firmly.  Invert the jar once or twice to dislodge air bubbles and look to make sure the veggies are completely submerged. If not, take the lid off, the weight jar and sandwich bag out and top off with a little water. replace, sandwich bag weight and lid, then invert again.

At this point, place the 1/2 gallon jar in a casserole dish or other plastic container to catch any liquid that might bubble out of the jar during the fermentation process and place out of the way, in a quiet corner of the kitchen counter. Invert at least twice a day for the first week, then once a day for the next 6 weeks. 

At the end of the fermentation pour off the liquid from the veggies into a bowl and place the veggies in the blender. Pulse until the veggies are well broken up, but not a puree.

 Pour the veggies and liquid back in the 1/2 gallon jar or into a bowl or other receptical that can hold it all if you are using the 1/2 jar as the storage container, and place a strainer lined with a layer of cheese cloth in the bowl that held the liquid previously. Stir the contents of the jar well and then slowly pour through cheese cloth, a little at a time. When the liquid level begins to approach the bottom of the strainer, stop and pour liquid off into the storage bottle. Continue to pour off and decant until the jar is empty.

There will be solids left in the cheese cloth that still have liquid in them, so using a pair of latex gloves, (remember there are hot peppers in this mix and they will burn the skin on bare hands), gather up the corners of the cheese cloth and twist them together until they begin to apply pressure to the contents of of the cheese cloth, then gently twist and squeeze the  cheese cloth "bag" until no more liquid will drip out.

Deposit the contents of the cheesecloth into the compost container and set the cloth aside on a plate or in a bowl to be dealt with later.

Once all the liquid is squeezed out and in the storage container, cap it tightly and store in the refrigerator.

* Note about clean up...Carefully rinse the cheesecloth, being sure not to get the residue left in the cheese cloth on your skin, clothing or stainable surfaces. and then submerse in a pan of hot soapy water, leave to soak for a couple of hours and then with latex gloves,  hand wash cloth and hang dry. Reserve this cheese cloth for this particular process since the turmeric will permanently stain it and no matter how often you wash it, the pepper oils will linger in the cloth fibers.

 To use: 

Measure 1 - 1 1/2 ozs. in a shot glass,( a good place to start, but eventually you want to be up to 2 oz. per dose), and drink in 6 oz. of water, add a little honey if necessary to get it down, (or do what I do and just throw it back it one mouthful and swallow...not recommended for the uninitiated or faint of heart...), and oh yea... best taken on a full stomach.... This tonic will cure what ails you and will keep your immune system strong so that you don't catch every bug that is floating around out there. How does the old saying go...? "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger..." Really, I am not trying to scare you off... this stuff is great for your immune system and will strengthen you, protect and heal you from so many ailments it is worth the effort to make it and acquire a tolerance to it's fiery nature, but you will need to take it slow and build up to the recommended dose. Drink it mixed with as much water as necessary to make it comfortable for you, but you want to get the whole dose down, so don't put it in so much water that you don't get it finished.

Fire on the Mountain Tonic # Two


2 64 oz. bottles of organic apple cider vinegar with mother, 
(Braggs make a very good one, but it is expensive. I have found a very acceptable option at Sam's, Nature's Intent organic apple cider vinegar with mother. It is much more affordable and I can't taste a difference. The important part is that it is organic, raw and has "mother" in it, which is a collection of living organisms composed of a form of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria that develops on fermenting alcoholic liquids, which turns alcohol into acetic acid with the help of oxygen from the air).

2 cups of habanero peppers, split, (for those who are able to take the heat)or 3 cups of jalapenos, cut into 1/4" rings. If using jalapenos, then omit the next ingredient in the list, they are added to this amount for a total of the required peppers.
1 cup fresh jalapeno, cut into 1/4" rings
6 whole bulbs of garlic, cut in half through the equator,reserve two halves to be kept intact break apart the rest and bruise/mash with the flat edge of a knife. (No need to peel the cloves)
12 inches of fresh horseradish root, Scrub with a brush but do not peel, cut into 1/2" cubes 
1 large hand of fresh ginger, or enough ginger root to equal 2 cups sliced ginger, washed and sliced into 1/4" thick slices. Do not peel.
1 1/2-2 cups sliced turmeric root, (12-15 or so rhizomes of fresh turmeric)
1/4 cup black peppercorns, bruised and cracked in a mortar and pestle or given a quick whirl in a bullet blender, you don't want it powdered just bruised and cracked.
1 large onion, root end and tip end cut off, loose skin removed, (leave the rest of the skin on), then cut into thin slices
2- 6" sprigs of rosemary
4 1/4" slices of lemon,(wash lemon well before slicing)
1/4 tsp. salt


Sharp knife
Mandolin with slicing blade, optional but makes things more uniform and goes faster
2 half gallon Mason jars

2  4 oz. mason jar
2 Plastic wide mouth Mason jar lid (can be found at Walmart in the canning section, or purchased on Amazon,com), or a piece of plastic wrap and a two part metal Mason jar lid, ( *Due the fact that metal that is not stainless steel can taint the fermentation process, it is necessary to use a plastic lid or put a piece of plastic wrap between the rim of the jar and the two part wide mouth mason jar lid.)
Nitrile or latex gloves
9x13" pyrex dish or comparable sized plastic container with 1 inch sides
16x16" square cheesecloth
12x16" or larger piece of cheese cloth
1/2 gallon mason Jar or glass bottle with tight fitting lid that will hold the final volume of liquidWipeable, impermeable tablecloth


Cover your work surface with wipeable tablecloth. Why? Well, the turmeric root will stain whatever it touches and it will not come out. Don the apron and make sure to put on your nitrile/latex gloves. If you have sensitive skin, double glove your hands. 

Sterilize all jars by pouring boiling water to the brim and leave sitting until cool enough to handle. Pour off water and dry jar with a fresh, clean towel. 

Place all ingredients except for the lemon slices in a blender in batches and blend with just enough vinegar to get things moving in the blender. Divide the blended ingredients equally between the two 1/2 gallon Mason jars and drop 2 lemon slices in each jar. Fill to the top with the apple cider vinegar.

 Cover tightly with the plastic lids or with a piece of plastic wrap and the two part mason jar lids. Place in a tray or on a plate so that anything that might leak out drips on the tray and not your counter top. Place in a quiet part of your counter top where you will see it and remember to invert the jars twice a day for a week and then once a day for 4-6 weeks. 

When ready, extract the tonic using the technique in the recipe above. Decant into storage container, just make sure that the tonic will fill the container leaving as little airspace as possible, to prevent any oxidization. This tonic is shelf stable and does not need to be refrigerated, although it does go down better if it is cold. Since this tonic takes awhile to make, (6 weeks), and will last indefinitely. It is a good idea to double or triple the recipe, to make sure you have plenty on hand and don't have to make it very often.

To use: 

Measure 1 - 1 1/2 ozs. in a shot glass,(a good place to start, but eventually you want to be up to 2 oz. per dose), and drink in 6 oz. of water, add a little honey if necessary to get it down, (or do what I do and just throw it back it one mouthful and swallow...not recommended for the uninitiated or faint of heart...), and oh yeah... best taken on a full stomach.... This tonic will cure what ails you and will keep your immune system strong so that you don't catch every bug that is floating around out there. How does the old saying go...? "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger..." Really, I am not trying to scare you off... this stuff is great for your immune system and will strengthen you,  protect and heal you from so many ailments it is worth the effort to make it and acquire a tolerance to it's fiery nature, but  you will need to take it slow and build up to the recommended dose. Drink it mixed with as much water as necessary to make it comfortable for you, but you want to get the whole dose down, so don't put it in so much water that you don't get it finished.

A note or two, A recipe and some serving ideas:

Virgin Mary
3 stalks celery including the leaves, plus extra for serving
several dashes Worchestershire sauce, * vegans be aware Worchestershire has anchovies in it!! There are brands of vegan Worchestershire that can be purchased your local natural food/gourmet store.
1/8 tsp. or less to taste, celery seed
2 limes, juiced
48 oz. good quality tomato juice
Blend together all ingredients and store in a closed container in the fridge. For each beverage to be made, measure out 6-8 oz. of Virgin Mary blend and add 1 1/2 - 2 oz. shot of Fire on the Mountain Tonic. Stir well and enjoy with a celery stick swizzle stick.  If you have had a particularly hard day, throw in a shot of good quality vodka, and have a Bloody Mary instead, relax and enjoy the burn!

Just a few other ways to get your tonic dose in...(besides just gripping the counter and throwing it down... wheezing and gasping until the burn stops... (just kidding... kinda...).

Mix a shot of tonic in with an individual serving of salsa and eat with chips.
Add to salad dressing for a taco salad, or top your tacos with a blend of tonic and salsa
Add to a rice dish once it is not piping hot from the pot. 
Add to non-mayonnaise based cole slaw or cucumber salad

*Note#1- Since the whole idea behind this tonic is to consume the raw, living, fresh juice of the vegetables full of vitamins an enzymes, cooking with the tonic would defeat the purpose, so if you are adding this tonic to a food preparation, make sure the tonic is not cooked.
**Note #2- While there is an initial burn when consuming the tonic, at first their may also be a burn on the way out... uh... how do I say this delicately... have you every hear of Mexican Heart Burn?? Anyway, the burn that you may experience initially when going #2 will stop once your body is used to the tonic.
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