Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Ginger Project

Dear Folks,

I love using ginger and several times I've tried to grow it, and failed - another of my trowel and error experiments from which I hope to benefit and pass the lessons learned on to you.

Exactly one month ago I planted ginger in 3 places in the garden. Pictured here is one of the plants coming up -- I took the picture this morning.

As a tropical herb, ginger root is actually the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale. (The botanical plate here is from Kohler's Medicinal Plants, published in 1887 by Franz Eugen Köhler. (Tumeric and cardamon and galangal are also members of the zingiberaceae family.)

I have tried several times to grow ginger and I did not pay enough attention to what it needed to germinate from the rhizome "roots" - they need warm soil to germinate. Next year I'm going to get the ginger pieces in the ground in August, to ensure enough warm soil growth because I am not sure at this point that the current plants will have enough root growth on them to get them through the winter cooler soil and air temps -- but we will see.

As with my garlic experiment I would like to have my own local supply of ginger rather than purchasing the chain-store Asian imported varieties. According to the general growing information on ginger it requires an even longer growing season than garlic - about 10 months, so I figure that my best possible harvesting time will be in June or July.

Ginger is an amazing food plant with many health benefits on top of the great taste. Growing up my mother "dosed" us with ginger ale or mint tea any time we had tummy aches. True ginger ale sold commercially (many are artificially flavored) still is good for tummy problems for most people. Ginger tea or ginger added to chicken broth is also good for sore throats and respiratory-related ills like colds and allergies. And some folks like candied ginger for headaches.

I adapted a recipe from Ming Tsai for making my own candied ginger and resulting ginger syrup to make home made ginger ale.

You need equal parts of peeled and sliced ginger, granulated sugar and water - example 1 cup of peeled and sliced ginger - make slices the same size 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick - choose firm unblemished ginger, 1 cup each sugar and water. In a pot heat to dissolve sugar in water (I like to use an organic granulated sugar*) add ginger and simmer until the syrup is reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2 - thicker syrup is much stronger.

Have a plate on which you have sprinkled more sugar. Using tongs, take the ginger pieces out, drain over the pot and lay on the sugar, single layer. Turn the syrup off. Turn the ginger slices to coat the other side. Ready a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and preheat oven to 225. Dry candied ginger in the oven for 2-3 hours until they are leathery, but not brittle.

Shake off excess sugar into the syrup pot, and store candied ginger in glass jar - does not have to be refrigerated. Add a bit more water to the syrup pot and bring back to a boil (I like to capture every drop of the ginger/sugar). Remove from heat and pour into a sterile bottle. Cap and refrigerate - will last about a month.

To make ginger ale, mix 1/4 cup of syrup with 3/4 cup of cold sparkling water of choice (seltzer, club soda, Perrier etc.) Optional slice of lemon and/or a sprig of mint completes a very refreshing drink which just happens to be good for you too.

* If you want to try making the candied ginger with honey or agave nectar reduce the proportion from 1 cup of sugar to 3/4 cup of honey or agave nectar.

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-- Catherine, The Herb Lady