Winter Wildcrafting, Roots Music, and An Evergreen Liqueur
Some may feel trapped indoors during the cold moons, but I enjoy both the warm respite by the wood stove and the chilly adventures out into the Junipers and Pines to gather lichen, evergreens, and take pictures of the ice glistening against the moss, lichen, shelf fungi, and a thousand different textures of bark and needle. Cold as it has been in these mountains for the last several weeks, sometimes dipping down to -20 F, I’ve still been wildcrafting when the fancy takes me. Corkbark Fir from the higher mountains packed solid with snow, Desert Cypress from the middle elevations, and sticky chunks of gold and amber tinted Pine resin blown from trees by recent heavy winds.
The Corkbark Fir will be macerated in a good whiskey, before being blended with strong Mexican coffee, homemade Vanilla extract, goat milk caramel, cacao, and heavy cream for something that could be called Irish Cream, but probably shouldn’t considering its being made here on the border between the United States and Mexico by a mixed blood medicine woman of Appalachian origins. Whatever it is, it’s damn good, a belly warming liqueur with a creamy taste on the tongue and the heady aromatics of Abies arizonica permeating each and every drop.
The Desert Cypress will be cooked down with tree and bee resin, flower infused honey, beeswax, and aromatic leaves to become part of a new batch of Juniper and Cypress incense. Whatever is left from that will be infused in oil for warming and aromatic salves and creams. If you’re reading this and curious about making incense from your own local aromatic plants, you’ll want to read my Plant Devotions in Smoke post from a while back for a basic outline of how to create bioregional incense.
I’ve been grateful to have a good store of Devil’s Club and Ocotillo on hand this year, as it’s been my personal immune blend and I’ve found its warming, lymphatic tendencies to be perfect for this strange season of rapidly fluctuating temperatures accompanied by some of the worst strains of cold and flu that have been seen in a good long while. A fierce protective formula of two well thorned plants. The Ocotillo was gathered when I visited the nearby Sonoran Desert a few months back, and the Devil’s Club was a gift from a generous friend in Alaska.
Now, just because I use these two plants doesn’t mean they’re exactly right for you. What herbs will be the most useful in warding off seasonal bugs for you will instead depend on where you live, what grows there, your constitution and health, along with a number of other factors. If you’ve been wondering how to best prevent or treat seasonal cold and flu this Winter, you might want to take a look at my previous post called the Elder Mother’s Pantry, which covers a wide ranging seasonal materia medica with an emphasis on energetics so that you can choose what might best work for you or your family.
Cream of Evergreen Liqueur
Here follows a basic account of how I make my liqueur, but you can easily change it up to use a blend of evergreens or whatever Abies species is local to you, or if you don’t like Whiskey or Scotch you can choose a different alcohol. Most any good tasting liquor can work here, just make sure it’s at least 40% alcohol. Whatever alcohol you choose, pick something fairly high quality. If you choose basement whiskey here you’re going to taste it in the finished product, and if you choose a fine sipping whiskey, you’re going to appreciate it later as it blends and mingles with the spices and evergreens.
As I’ve noted below, remember to chill your whiskey before combining it with the cream or curdling may happen, which definitely lessens the loveliness of the finished product.
- 14 oz sweetened condensed milk (make it yourself or find a good brand without corn syrup)
- 2-4 Tbs Cacao (I like full fat whole roasted Cacao ground down, but a high quality cocoa powder can also work)
- 2 tsp. Vanilla extract, preferably homemade
- 1/3 Cup very strong coffee or 1 shot espresso
- 1 tsp Canela/Cinnamon
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 2 Cups Corkbark Fir (Abies arizonica, but you can use other Abies species) tincture or elixir made with leaves, and some small twigs. Be sure the tincture is chilled or the milk/cream can curdle!
- Combine condensed milk, cacao, vanilla, coffee, and spices in saucepan over low to medium heat.
- Stir frequently and allow to just barely simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, ideally chill in fridge or cool pantry for about an hour.
- In a quart mason jar, combine chilled whiskey/tincture, heavy cream, and condensed milk mixture.
- Shake well for up to 10 seconds.
- Taste, and adjust flavor to your liking by adding more cream or whiskey, and any further spices you desire.
- Store in fridge or cool pantry.
- Should last a couple months in a fridge, probably less than that in a pantry but I have yet to find out because we use it up so fast.
A Few Ideas for Serving and Consuming
- Sipping slowly while eating Roasted Acorn & Fir Shortbread
- Spiking a strong New Orlean style cup of coffee
- Flavoring homemade ice cream
- Adding to cheesecake filling for an extra kick
- Or, sip with Pine Nut Biscotti, there’s even a recipe for it right here from my student and excellent cook of fairy treats, Rebecca Altman, http://www.cauldronsandcrockpots.com/2013/01/pinyon-pine-nut-biscotti/
Another pleasure of Winter for me is a revisiting of my favorite music, most of which is rife with dissonant banjos and wailing or whispered vocals. I confess a great love of gothic americana and traditional storytelling, from the English ballads brought over to Appalachia to Mexico’s weeping corridos. Here in southwestern New Mexico there’s a peculiar overlap and integration between Country & Western, Norteño, Tejano, Ranchera, Hiphop, and mountain music. As a root woman enamored of all the cultures that have formed me, I find myself listening to a combination of all of the above, always leaning toward the rawer, more authentic music. Whether from the streets of East L.A., the mountains of North Carolina, or the borderlands between the US and Mexico, the tunes I favor all have the feel and flavor of the land and culture they sprang from, as deeply rooted as the medicines I gather.
On that note, I’ll leave you with a favorite song of mine that fuses Appalachian music and Hiphop into one incredibly infectious song with a nod back to the deep South I was born from, and as the song says, never forgetting where I come from…