There is a natural spring on our property. It is the center and heart of the property both metaphorical and physically. Christopher shares the day we were introduced to the magic of this spring through the wild peppermint.
The day we found our farm, I had already given up. We had traveled south on Interstate 5 with our three small children and Kirsten pregnant with our fourth to be greeted by temperatures over 100 degrees and a landscape burnt crisp from the heat and lack of rainfall. Every house or property we had seen that day was either moldy, depressingly run-down, overrun with poison oak or a combination of all three. I wanted to retreat to the Willamette Valley, but Kirsten wanted to look at one more. After driving up Thompson Creek for nearly seven miles we arrived at what would become Mellonia Farm and our home.
While I hiked the hills with the owner, Ron, to learn the borders of this hillside farm, Kirsten and the kids found refuge at the stream in the shade of a beautifully old and gnarled willow tree. There, the boys stripped to their skivvies and splashed in a stream lined with wild peppermint. Driving home that evening the peppermint from the sleeping children’s legs filled the car, and we knew we had found our new home.
Fast forward fifteen years as summer approaches and Southern Oregon is in a state of drought. The soil has been too dry to dig with a pick ax for at least a month, but the mint along the spring is vibrant, refreshing, and smells of water and relief. It is time to harvest—some will be dried for tea and some I will preserve through fermentation. Fermented mint? Yup and it is really tasty.
Mint, like its family-member basil, has played a significant role in traditional herbal pharmacopeia throughout history. Its wonderful scent and flavor have also made it a leading player in the kitchen, adding a cool refreshing taste to dishes, as well as ferments. Of the many varieties of mint, spearmint, curly mint, and peppermint (the strongest flavor of the three) are the most common culinary types, but there are also fruity varieties, such as apple, pineapple, or orange mint. The flavor of the various mints holds up well in fermentation. If you are creating your own recipe, use similar quantities to those you would use in a fresh salad or veggie dish. Choose the type of mint that you have available or like best, and add it to the ferment when you combine the rest of your vegetables, just before salting. Chopping the leaves will release a little more flavor in the ferment.
Cool, bright, and lively, this ferment will be a wonderful addition to a summer spread.
1 1⁄2 pounds celery, thinly sliced crosswise (including leaves)
1 bunch scallions, greens included, finely chopped
6 sprigs mint, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
Prepare the vegetables and place in a bowl. Sprinkle in the salt, a little at a time, tasting as you go until it’s slightly salty, but not overwhelming. Massage the mixture and let sit, covered, for 30 minutes.
Pack the mixture, a few handfuls at a time into a 1-quart jar, pressing as you go to remove air pockets and release brine; because of the texture, it will take some effort to get it tightly packed. This pressure will release more brine. When the jar is packed, leave 2 to 3 inches of headspace. With store bought celery there will likely be a noticeable layer of brine, while homegrown may just barely cover the vegetables. Follow with a grape leaf or piece of plastic wrap to keep the veggies submerged under the brine. Because of the low brine content, make sure this is weighted well with either a sealed water-filled jar or a water-filled ziplock bag to act as a combination follower and weight. Set aside to ferment, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool spot for 5 to 10 days.
Check daily that the celery is submerged, pressing down as needed to bring the brine
back to the surface. When it’s ready, this ferment will be crunchy, will taste of fresh and minty, and will have a mild, light sour flavor, very different from the sour boldness of most krauts.
If it’s sour enough for your palate, tamp down the ferment under the brine, screw on the lid, and store in the refrigerator. Because of its high natural nitrate content, celery keeps well if it remains submerged, and will last over 1 year—but you will want to eat it well before then.