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It sounds like something a builder would use, but a mortar and pestle is one of the most important pieces of equipment a home cook can own.

The mortar and pestle began as two pieces of stone that were used for grinding grain. The mortar was a flat stone with a depression in the middle, and the pestle was a smaller stone used to grind. This method is still used in many parts of the world.

When you buy a mortar and pestle today it is offered in a variety of materials; stone or marble is still the best. The material to be ground is placed in the bowl (which has replaced the flat rock), and the pestle is used with a rolling or pounding motion to break it up into fine grains. It takes some physical effort, but it is great exercise for your upper arms.

These tools are easy to use, and once you get the hang of it, you will find daily uses for it, including crushing garlic, cracking pepper, mixing rubs and seasonings of all kinds. It’s all in the wrist action!

Here are a few recipes for you to try:

Herbal Salt

You can make small amounts of herbal salt to use quickly and easily. If you have a flourishing herb garden, you can create mixtures for your pantry and preserve your herbs. This recipe works well for any green herbs, such as thyme, parsley, dill or mint.

Ingredients:

dried herbs of any variety
good coarse sea salt.

Use dried herbs; if you have fresh, dry them in a microwave for two to three minutes (extra if they are still moist). Put 2 tablespoons of sea salt into the mortar bowl and crumble in the same amount of dried herb. You can use one herb or a combination, such as lemon balm and thyme (which is wonderful for salads and fish).

Using the pestle, crush the herbs and salt together. Don’t rush this, you want a well-blended aromatic mixture. Put the herbal salt in a tightly lidded jar or salt shaker, label and use with salads, barbecues and soups.

Garlic and Rosemary Rub for Roasts

This rub goes well with lamb.

Ingredients:

2 large cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
2 teaspoons virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt

Place the garlic in the mortar and pound with the pestle until the garlic is broken up. Add the rosemary and sea salt and grind with the garlic. Add the olive oil and mix well. Make slits in the surface of the meat and rub well in, covering the skin and pushing into the slits before roasting.

Lemongrass and Lemon Balm Tea

This lemony tea is soothing and calming.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried lemon balm leaves
four, 7″ to 9″ sticks of lemongrass (available from Asian grocery stores)

Chop the lemongrass into small pieces and smash with the mortar and pestle to release the aromatic oils. Add the lemon balm and work the two together until the aromas blend. Spread the mixture out on a clean paper towel and let dry completely. You can microwave for about 50 seconds to aid the process, but be careful not to let the lemongrass burn. Store the tea in a lidded container or muslin bag. Steep a teaspoon in a cup with strainer for three minutes.

Clove and Cinnamon Potpourri

Placed in a pretty bowl, the mixture will scent your kitchen delightfully.

Ingredients:

1 stick of cinnamon
1 tablespoon whole cloves
2 tablespoons sea salt

Break up the cinnamon stick and place it in the mortar, then add the cloves. Pound and grind the mixture until the cloves are broken up and the cinnamon is reduced to small flakes. Mix with the sea salt. The salt acts as a preservative so your potpourri will last a long time.

It is important to clean the mortar and pestle after every use, as many spices and herbs are strongly aromatic and the flavor will carry over to the next task. This applies even if you grind up a dry material, such as clove pods.

More than a trendy kitchen decoration, the mortar and pestle is a useful tool for preparing many household and culinary recipes. By crushing and blending your own herbal mixtures, you will gain far more aroma and flavor than is offered in the bland packet mixes on the supermarket shelf. Experiment and enjoy. All you have to lose is a couple of inches off your upper arms!

by Gail Kavanagh

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What Fruits To Start Growing In Your Small Garden

Due to how complex it is, not a lot of people consider fruit farming. Also, it takes up a lot of space, not to mention you need the time and patience to put up with the demands of growing a fruit tree. This is the main reason why many people stick to growing vegetables instead.

If you’re low on space, you can try growing your fruit in containers that you can keep quite easily. Here are some of the fruits you can start growing at home without needing too much space or time.

Raspberries

Growing your own berries helps you avoid buying the expensive varieties from the organics section. There are different types of raspberries, and the one that you should look for is the kind that produces fruit during the summer and winter. While these grow best in raised soil beds that offer plenty of drainage, they can do well with containers as well. Also, they need lots of sunlight so that they grow to be plump and ripe. Once you’ve harvested the season’s crop, you should shear the cane till soil level and the upcoming plant will produce new crops.

Figs

An uncommon delicacy that you rarely get to enjoy, figs have a distinct, chewy and sweet flavor that can’t be compared to any other. You can grow these at home because a fig tree’s roots need to be restricted for ideal growth. This means they’re the best fruit you can grow in containers. Just make sure that you keep the container in an area that receives a lot of warmth and sunshine because that’s what they love. You will need to wait a long time, though, because figs that start to form in autumn aren’t ready to be harvested until the upcoming summer.

Strawberries

The fun and sweet taste of strawberries are loved by every family, so why not grow some in your home. While these can be grown in a bed, they thrive equally well in a container. You can grow them in those versatile flower pouches and even in baskets that hang through your garden. Just make sure that you keep the container or basket in a place with lots of sunlight and in soil that’s well-drained. If you consider yourself a strawberry lover, then choosing different varieties, such as Cambridge Favorite, Florence, and Flamenco, that grow in different seasons is recommended.

Blueberries

If you’re determined to grow your fruits out of containers, then blueberries will be a good option. Blueberry plants have pretty colored leaves and you can harvest your fruit at the end of summer. But you’ll need to get some acidic soil from the farmer’s market for this plant; otherwise, they don’t need a lot of care. Make sure that you pick a variety that self-pollinates so you don’t need to grow another plant.

Blackberries

You can have a whole berry plant collection at home once you grow these and they don’t even need a lot of space. You can train its stems to act like wires that can be tied to a fence so that they get plenty of sunlight. They do, however, prefer acidic soil with more moisture. Plant at the onset of spring, and after harvesting your first yield, cut the plant and leave six inches so that berries grow back for the next year.


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