Winter Tea Blend
Not unlike a lot of people, I'd say my biggest influence in the kitchen is my Gran. However, she's not the one who taught me to cook. I could probably count on my fingers the number of times we cooked a meal together. But my relationship with her nudges up against every aspect of my existence, no less so in the kitchen. Her influence upon my cooking is unmistakable, just not quite so literal.
Unlike a lot of people, I don't search for resemblance in the faces of my loved ones, asking do we have the same eyes, does my smile turn to the left like hers? Instead, I recognize my family by their hands. I've always found myself studying them - my dad's chubby mitts, my mom's long fingers, my aunt's tender touch with babies, the odd dexterity of my musical cousin, each so distinct. I'm entranced in their presence, looking first at their hands, then my own, thinking about the curious turns of genetics.
These days, as my fingers pluck winter berries from twigs, as I rearrange my pantry preserves, as I quietly chop food on the cutting board, I find myself contemplating hands, especially those of Gran. I can only remember her hands as they were in old age, feathered by age spots, knuckles swollen with pain. Even so, they weren't hands to pity. Gran's strong grip was the first I sought out when I needed a jar opened. Her hands were also conduits of the greatest love. Crippling arthritis didn't stop her from wrapping them around my shoulders or feet, and bestowing comforting massages.
Our favorite form of communication was walking. Gran and I walked endless miles together, in the cemetery that bordered her country home, in the mountains where I thrive, on vacations, after good meals, in whichever neighborhood we found ourselves. When I was small, she'd hold my hand as we walked. As she aged, she'd curl her hand around my elbow for balance. Both burned marks of love so deeply into me that I can still feel her fire, even now, as I walk without her.
I was lucky enough to know my Gran both in my childhood, and as an adult. As a kid, she was the perfect grandma, the type who baked birthday cakes, and listened to me like I mattered. As an adult, it never slipped my mind that our time together was enchanted. I got to know her as a person, to meet her eye to eye, to see how imperfections added to her character, to hear her schoolgirl giggle, to have a window into her dreams. I've no doubt this is why she still holds such a spell over me. I knew her well, I loved her completely.
This morning, sitting in the tilted light of winter, gazing at the cup of hot tea nestled between my palms, thoughts of her hands swirl with the wisps of steam. She haunts me this way. My fingers are longer than hers, my nails are shaped differently. I wonder, in time, will these hands come to resemble hers? Is the bond I feel with my grandmother deeper than mere genetics? When I shell beans, or strip leaves from a vine, does the fact that she is literally a part of me mean that somehow the sensation in those nerves is able to reach her, whatever that means? Even now, can those hands which offered me endless guidance and protection sense the world through me, feel my melancholy mood? I don't have the answers.
How does a legacy pass from the hands of one generation to the next?
Well, let's mull that over a cup of tea together, shall we? Here's my favorite tea blend, at the moment. It uses foraged nettle and elderberries for their tonic properties, and orange peel and cinnamon for their warming touch. I like to brew this in a quart jar. The first glass is tea, and by the last cup, it has become a nicely medicinal herbal infusion. Both ends of the spectrum taste delicious. The cinnamon emerges more with time.
Butter's Favorite Winter Tea Blend
handful of dried nettle leaves
8-10 dried elderberries
4 small pieces of dried orange peel
piece of cinnamon the size of the end of your finger
Place all of the herbs into a quart jar. Cover with boiled water, let steep at least 10 minutes before serving.
If you'd like more ideas about which herbs to use in your own tea, have a look at Beks' post on herbal infusions.
I'm sharing this recipe with Real Food Wednesday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, and the Living Well Blog Hop.