Drinks: A Different Kind of Brew

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Jun 1, 1994, 6:12:31 PM6/1/94

eye WEEKLY June 2 1994
Toronto's arts newspaper ...free every Thursday



Sucked in again!

On the long weekend, I spent way too much time planting the garden. In
previous years, I've ended up feeding the squirrels, the slugs, the
earwigs and the birds. And if by any chance there was anything left for
me to harvest after the pesky little buggers had their fill, I'd just
have to share it with my friends and neighbors since it all ripened on
the same day.

Now, I'm hoping to beat the odds by using offensive tactics.

Bugs don't like aromatic plants. Intensely spicy leaves, flowers, roots
and seeds are a turn-off for the "bad guys" such as aphids,
grasshoppers, moths and cutworms, without offending "good guys" like
spiders, bees and ladybugs.

So this year, I've planted an herbal tea garden according to
instructions provided by Marietta Marshal Marcin in her newest book, The
Herbal Tea Garden (Garden Way Books, $17.50 paper). If you can't find
it at your friendly neighborhood bookstore, try the local nursery.

She covers everything from planning the garden and preparing the soil to
transplanting and thinning seedlings. Marcin also provides information
on pest control (my favorite part) and on how to dry, freeze and store
your harvest.

There's also a compendium of 70 healthy or tasty herbs and recipes for
creating your own special tea blends (I really like her Sun Tea).

While waiting to harvest my first crop, I'm getting some additional
tea-tippling pointers from The Book Of Tea & Herbs (McClelland &
Stewart, $16 paper) put out by the "Ministry of Information" for The
Republic of Tea. The Republic of Tea is a highly-successful
California-based company that supplies specialty teashops across North
America and sells directly to the public by mail order.

This miniature corporate manual is an entertaining handbook -- "enjoy
life sip by sip rather than gulp by gulp" -- from people who really care
about the proper brewing of fine teas and herbs. It's loaded with gems
of tea trivia. For example, it outlines why Brits put milk into their
teacup first, and the role tea played in Britain's move to get the
Chinese hooked on opium.

For something completely different, try Taking Tea by Andrea Israel
(Viking, $25, cloth). It's full of pretty colored pictures of cute
table settings and arrangements along with yummy recipes for cakes and
cookies and sandwiches and scones. This is a book that harkens back to
Victorian high tea, when ladies wore hats and gentlemen were gentle men.
In fact, it's all so anachronistic that I feel like I'm exploring a long
lost culture. Will that be one lump or two?


Tea and herbs may be my way of lashing out at nature's little
challenges, but passion has overcome reason as I've planted a number of
grapevines. Again.

Last year's Chardonnays were devastated by "winterkill." Native Labrusca
grapes are immune to it but delicate European vines aren't.

With 20/20 hindsight, I'm now consulting with expert organic gardener
Jeff Cox and his newest book From Vines To Wines (Garden Way Books,
$17.50, paper). The day I first leafed through it in the bookstore, I
realized I'd planted my vines too close to the partial shade of a fence
and not deep enough.

Cox does a fine job of explaining virtually every facet of growing your
own grapes and making wine at home. He also demonstrates the more
complex aspects of balanced pruning, cluster thinning, winemaking and
storage with hundreds of clear illustrations.

What I don't like is Cox's conservative view of what we can plant in our
climate. He says we should stick to hybrids (probably because he lives
in California); but we already know that, despite my personal winterkill
experience, we can succeed with noble European varieties such as
Cabernet, Gamay, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Country Wines by Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling (Garden Way Books,
$17.50, paper) is a little more adventurous. It encourages winemaking
from every imaginable kind of flower, fruit, vegetable, herb, weed, nut,
spice or root.

It's a great book for beginners. The instructions are simple and
there's lots of down-to-earth advice -- such as the fact that you don't
need to buy all kinds of expensive equipment.

I also like the chapter on how to make vinegar.


Have you been bitten yet? The dog is on the prowl and it's looking for
you. It's loud and ugly but I wouldn't worry. It's quite friendly.

Translation: Molson's new Red Dog beer has the most grotesque label I've
seen in years. (Of course, with sales outpacing supply, Molson doesn't
need my approval.)

However, the taste is truly amazing. Sweet, roasted-grain nose; soft,
creamy texture; gentle, hoppy finish.

So, never judge a dog by its mug. Just grab it by the ear and snort.

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