Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Drunken Botanist

My wife, jewelry artist Sarajo Wentling, has a habit of getting involved in online jewelry design challenges.  This works for her and often acts as inspiration, sparking some of her more creative pieces.  I envy this aspect of her craft.  Check out her jewelry blog HERE if you want to see what I'm talking about. 

One interesting group that Sj has been involved with is the Inspired By Reading Book Group, started by the talented Andrew Thornton.  Like any book group, each month has an assigned book to read, but instead of just talking about it, these artists work the book into their respective artwork.  While the majority of the group are jewelry designers, other types of art are included as well. 

This month's reading was The Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart.  This book is more of an encyclopedia than a novel, including chapters on various spirits, mixed drinks and history of the flora and fauna that flavor those spirits!  While reading this book, Sj would frequently read aloud passages for me or fill me in on little snippets of information.  After a while I realized I just needed to read the book for myself!  Occasionally snatching the unguarded book from Sj's clutches, I would read a few passages.  I have still not read the entire thing, but the way the book is set up, reading bits and pieces works fairly well. 

If I had had more time, I would have used my main hobby of homebrewing to use some of these interesting herbs to make a gruit or herb-bittered beer.  But the discussion/blog-hop is already upon us and brewing would have taken a few weeks at the least.  Not to mention that no one but Sj and I could sample the results, since this is a virtual book club!  Wracking my brain, I finally realized that I could use my new camera and budding photography skills to attempt an entry for this challenge.  Much like Sj when she started to make jewelry, I certainly don't feel like an "Artist" yet, so it really didn't occur to me until late in the game.  Oh, well, why not give it a shot

Reading/skimming around the book, I spent a fair amount of time reading about the herbs, flowers and spices that were involved in many spirits and tinctures.  Saint Germain elderflower liqueur is intriguing, and I've even thought about doing an elderflower beer after tasting one in Belgium.  I have tasted saffron beers before but find I'm not very sensitive to that expensive ingredient so it just isn't worth the money.  This past weekend we were up at the family cottage on Ottertail Lake for a reunion weekend.  My cousin Kathleen is an amateur photographer as well and the two of us took off to find some likely things to photograph.  We were driving past Lake Country Gardens, a family run landscape and nursery place, when Kathleen suggested we see if they would allow us to take some pictures there.  The kind staff had no problem with us sneaking around with our cameras and even pointed us toward a nest of photogenic baby robins.  I discovered some bright, papery orange poppy blossoms on our little tour of the grounds.  As a physician I was intrigued by the storied history of the Opium Poppy and its use in cure-alls and Laudanum.  This was a perfect intersection of my hobby and the book! 

Later, while wandering the back roads around the cottage, I discovered wild pink roses growing in the ditches.  Wanting to get closer I discovered a huge and extensive patch of the three-leafed caustic pest: poison ivy!  So my picture of this one is more of an arty rural background piece than a close up of roses!  The book mentions roses being used in rose petal liqueurs, as well as rose water's use in cocktails.  I was intrigued by the little mention of rose hips as well and this makes me want to use that strange ingredient in my brewing...

Right turn Clyde!  

Hangin' out with Rosemary...
In the back of the book there are a couple of charts including many other ingredients in cocktails and Rosemary is mentioned briefly there.  I think this is my favorite picture from this particular challenge even if the tie to the book is tenuous!

After arriving back home in Waconia after the weekend, I went out to my own garden and took more pictures.  There I have a plant of Sweet Woodruff, another herb used in spirits, that I have been growing for use in a future medieval style beer.  I noticed that the author did not mention the use of violent green woodruff syrup in Berliner Weisse beers in Germany…  After reading about it in the book, it sounds like this can be toxic if not prepared correctly and now I'm a little more hesitant to try using it!  I was sad that while we were out of town the pretty little white flowers on the plant were almost all gone, so this one wasn't as photogenic as I had hoped!

Sweet Woodruff!

Of course I have a cascade hop bine growing in my yard for future use in beer, so I took a quick shot of the the active climber.  We just had some heavy weather this past week and the plant was battered a bit, but these fresh shoots are coming back quickly from the damage.  The hop cones themselves won't  arrive until later in the season.

Hop bine (not vine) spreading up my deck!

And of course there is a whole section in the book on berries!  Here is my ever expanding raspberry bramble.  The flowers are falling off and the fruit starting to form already.  I think raspberries will gracing my beer very soon!

This is a fun book with lots of educational and informative snippets that will make you more popular at cocktail parties for sure!  The book certainly sparked several ideas for herb or fruit based beers that I'd like to try out.  I was happy to get a chance to practice my photography and take part in this!  Later in the year they are reading Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I am already looking for perfect pictures to bring out that wonderful book.  Check out the Facebook site and read/look at the other contributors' entries for the month HERE.


Sarajo Wentling said...

Glad you chose to play along with us this month! I especially love the poppy and rosemary pictures.

Mary K. McGraw said...

Enjoyed your photography and your description of how you would use particular plants in your beer making. Especially like the poppies and the rosemary photos.

Ann Schroeder said...

Your pictures are wonderful, and a great addition to the creations inspired by the book. Reading the different blogs helps build on the relationship of pieces to the book - Sarajo's blog mentioned that cashew's are related to poison ivy and now here is your picture of pink roses surrounded by the stuff!

Jeanne @ Gems By Jeanne Marie said...

Welcome to the group, Eric! It's always fun to have a fresh perspective and different media.Your photographs are stunnings. I enjoyed reading your musing about the book.

maryharding said...

I found it very interesting that your own plants have a brewing purpose. I hope that sometime in the future you will share a picture with us of your hops plant in bloom. I have never seen one actually and they are rarely grown here although we now have one artisan brewery in the area and they hope to interest local folks into growing hops.
Really enjoyed your pictures and your scientific interest in how they will taste when used in your beer making. Welcome to the Group!!

Andrew Thornton said...

Thanks so much for participating! I was excited to hear Sarajo say that you'd be playing along. And I love your photos. I think it rounds out our group nicely! So keep snapping away! It looks like you guys had a nice trip out amongst the plants.

And although I love the rosemary picture, I think my favorite is of the poppies! They have such a bright color and really pops from the contrasting green background! Nice!

And I'm curious what the elderflower beer tasted like. I was going to try my hand at the cordial recipe she mentions, but they weren't ready yet and were still pretty green. Maybe this weekend if I get a chance. I'll be sure to bring my galoshes this time!

Can't wait to see you guys in October! It should be FUN! FUN! FUN!

Alison Herrington said...

Great pictures! Always wondered what hops looked like. Thanks for playing!