Merry mint: Recipes offer tasty ideas for using unofficial flavor of the holidays
BY NICOLE MARSHALL MIDDLETON World Scene Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
12/19/12 at 2:43 AM
Jalene Riley describes herself as a "mint freak."
And this time of year - when mint candies, desserts and drinks abound - she is not alone. Mint is one of the unofficial flavors of the holidays.
Riley grows many varieties of mint at Utopia Gardens near Drumright and sells them locally at farmers markets and nurseries.
"Mint is one of my biggest sellers. I pretty much keep it active all year long. Mint is extremely easy to propagate. It will even root in water," Riley said.
There are theories about why mint-flavored foods are favored during the holidays, such as the green color being symbolic of the evergreen or the tingly mentholated taste being crisp and clean like winter itself. Although the exact reason isn't clear, Riley has a theory.
"My first thought is that peppermint not only soothes the stomach, but it is also used in homeopathic treatments. My grandma would always give us peppermints for digestion and stomach aches," Riley said. "And during the holidays, people tend to overeat. That may be why mint has become part of the recipes."
Minty Christmas traditions
In Saratoga Springs, New York residents still practice a Victorian Christmas tradition involving mint - and pigs.
As the holidays near, they make pig-shaped hard candies and then smash them with little metal hammers during the holidays.
The peppermint pigs, which can weigh up to a pound, are considered good-luck charms. Some have theorized that the practice could be related to the marzipan pigs northern European confectioners make at holiday time as good-luck symbols.
Another mint-flavored candy - shaped like a cane - has helped increase the popularity of mint during Christmas.
Starting in about the 17th century, when sugar became more widespread, European confectioners began producing hard candy sticks, according to the Farmer's Almanac. And at that time, anything made with sugar was considered a treat and mostly reserved for special occasions such as Christmas.
Eventually, parishes began giving the hard candy sticks to children during Advent to keep them quiet during service. The candies were bent at one end to resemble a shepherd's crook, the almanac states.
The curved sugar candies were perfect for hanging on Christmas trees, but it wasn't until the first half of the 20th century when stripes and peppermint flavoring were added.
The prevalence of mint
JoAnn White, a charter member of Tulsa's Herb Society, searched her three favorite sources for mentions of mint and the holidays. There was a lot of history, but few answers.
She discovered that mint was originally a native of the Mediterranean region and was introduced to Britain by the Romans, according to "A Modern Herbal" by Mrs. M. Grieve. And, according to Rodale's "Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs," the Romans crowned themselves with peppermint wreaths, White said.
Mint plants - which spread so fast they can be considered a nuisance - has been found wild in nearly all countries to which civilization has extended, White's sources say.
Mint goes dormant in the winter when grown outside, but it is perennial, "fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on what you want."
And in the kitchen, Riley has come up with some creative uses.
"I am pretty much a mint freak," Riley said. "I like to use it for making brownies. You can take some chocolate mint and warm up the liquids you are using in the brownies with some mint to infuse them. Or, you can just chop some up and put it in the batter."
She also flavors her teas and water with mint.
"My daughter says she drinks twice as much water because it is flavored with mint," Riley said.
Riley said that when considering whether to buy spearmint or peppermint - two of the most popular mints - she always tells customers they would probably prefer the one that they grew up with.
"Different countries, even different parts of the nation, use one mint more than another," Riley said.
Makes 36 servings
1 package (21 ounces) fudge brownie mix
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
15 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon McCormick Pure Peppermint Extract
12 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
Crushed peppermint candies or candy canes (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare brownie mix as directed on package. Spread in greased, foil-lined 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan.
2. Bake 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.
3. Meanwhile, beat powdered sugar, 7 tablespoons butter, cream and peppermint extract in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well-blended and smooth. Spread evenly over cooled brownie. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
4. Microwave chocolate and remaining 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter in large microwave bowl on high 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Spread over top of chilled brownie. Sprinkle with crushed peppermint candies, if desired. Cut into bars.
24 ounces (about 4 cups) white chocolate chips
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups coarsely crushed peppermint candies
1. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment or waxed paper, allowing the paper to hang over the sides.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the white chocolate chips, the condensed milk and the salt. Melt the mixture according to the white chocolate package directions, then stir in the vanilla extract and 1 cup of the peppermint candies.
3. Pour the fudge into the prepared pan and use a spatula to spread it evenly. Scatter on the remaining peppermint candy. Chill the fudge in the refrigerator until it's firm and set, about 2 hours. Use the overhanging flaps of paper to lift the fudge from the pan, then slice it into 1-inch squares.
- source: Family Fun magazine
HOMEMADE CANDY CANES
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
A few drops red food coloring
1. Place all ingredients into a saucepan. Boil without stirring until it reaches the soft crack stage (285 degrees, measured with a candy thermometer). Remove from heat.
2. Divide candy in two parts. To one part, add a little red food coloring. Pour onto a buttered surface.
3. When cool enough, pull each separately, then twist one around the other. Cut into 6-inch sections, form them into canes, and allow them to harden.
- adapted from the Farmer's Almanac
PEPPERMINT HOT CHOCOLATE
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 drops peppermint oil
Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish
Chocolate shavings, for garnish
1. In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and salt and heat over medium-low heat. When the cream mixture just begins to steam, add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted.
2. Stir in the peppermint oil. Divide the hot chocolate among mugs and top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
- adapted from FoodNetwork.com
RED EYE MOJITO
2 1/2 teaspoons super-fine granulated sugar
3 tablespoons tart cherry juice
12 mint leaves
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
1 ounce white rum
1/2 cup soda or seltzer water
1. Place 6 mint leaves in a tall glass. Crush mint leaves with a muddler, or with the back of a spoon. Add sugar, tart cherry juice, lime juice, white rum and ice. Mix well.
2. Finish drink with soda water and remaining mint leaves. Stir to combine and serve.
- adapted from ChooseCherries.com
Original Print Headline: Merry mint
Nicole Marshall Middleton 918-581-8459
JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Peppermint bars Courtesy
Red Eye Mojito
Peppermint Fudge Courtesy