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Care for some mint?

By Jeff Wilkin
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
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Strawberry season is almost over at my small Albany garden. The next reds won’t arrive until August, when 30 tomato plants begin serious production of beefsteaks and First Ladies.

Mint has been ready since May. I suspect it will still be ready by harvest’s end in early October.
When I began farming this spring — I am working the land in the Capital District Community Garden’s “campus plot” at the state Office Complex — I appreciated the ready-made crop of green, leafy mint.
My brother and sister farmers warned me that mint is an aggressive, invasive plant. “If you don’t pull it out, it will take over your garden,” one guy told me.

The advice became a truth certain. The small patch of pleasantly scented mint has tripled in my six weeks on the job.

Gardeners say mint will always spread, given space and water. The roots run amok underground and can send up shoots many feet away from the mother plant. If you pull the plant and still leave leftover root — even small pieces — another plant can form. Talk about persistent.

I lucked out a few days ago. After harvesting a bowlful of strawberries, I struck up a conversation with Margaret, who owns the garden next to mine. She noticed my mint crop, and I mentioned that judgment day had arrived for many of the 10-inch high columns. I was going to decrease the surplus population, as old Scrooge used to say.

That thrilled Margaret. She asked if she could pull the plants — and put them into several large plastic bags. The free labor was gladly accepted.

Margaret was really the one getting the bargain. She told me she has Indian friends, and they prize mint as a great addition for Indian chutneys, relishes, salads, sauces and teas. Leaves are also used in the preparation of biryani, a rice-based dish that can also contain chicken, mutton or fish. Mint adds extra flavor — as do options such as nutmeg, cloves, ginger and onions.

Margaret told me her friends would be thrilled with the thousands of mint leaves received courtesy of M. Nature and J. Wilkin. I was just glad someone could use plants that had been scheduled for relocation into a tall, brown paper bag.

I have only one use for mint. Mint juleps are out — I’m strictly a beer man. My culinary friend Betsy tells me mint leaves can be dried and used as a spice or fragrance. Hang drying, oven drying, screen drying and refrigerator drying are all options.

I’m also going to cut a bunch of mint plants, form a bouquet and give them a nice drink in a tall vase. I expect there will be some fragrance; if nothing else, the leafy greens will add some extra color to my living room. And I know they won’t spread into the kitchen or pantry.

I hope Margaret’s friends are mint fanatics. They can become my first steady customers. I may even toss in a few tomatoes, free, once late summer shows up.

“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at features@dailygazette.net.

 
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