It’s always the season for the ‘Kitchen Witch’
When COVID first hit people were stuck at home. They became bored. They had to find something to do with all of that time.
Some people started knitting. Some people started baking bread.
Some people started mixing cocktails.
Angie Jackson was especially interested in the cocktail crowd. Jackson, who is known as the Traveling Elixir Fixer, has been mixing drinks and helping people discover the finer side of spirits for 25 years.
She has just released a self-published book called “Drink the Wild: Recipes from a Kitchen Witch for the Spirited and Sober Soul.” The book combines her 25 years of experience as a mixologist with her interest in and work with foraging ingredients from the wilds of Southwest Michigan.
“People want to do something new while they’ve been in lockdown. They’ve been developing new projects and hobbies. And, as a response to the virtual world, they’ve been homesteading and getting out in nature,” said Jackson, who lives in Kalamazoo’s Oakwood neighborhood. “I think the pandemic gave us pause and made us think that we want to take the time to be very intentional about the things we’re eating and drinking.”
A graduate of the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service, BarSmarts Advanced Bar Education Program, and the Advanced Culinary Mixology Academy, Jackson has designed beverage programs for bars and restaurants in Chicago, numerous midwestern distilleries, and national alcohol distributors.
During the pandemic, she started her own cocktail project, a book that looks at the history of summer cottages in the state. She’s developing cocktails to pair with each cottage’s distinct personality and history.
But, as she was working on that project, she realized that the research- and interview-intensive project was going to take a substantial amount of time to complete. She had an urge to do something more immediate.
So, in late summer, she and co-author Austin Wines, a self-proclaimed “lifelong student” of Jackson’s, gave themselves a 90-day writing project to take recipes for about 24 of Jackson’s craft cocktail creations and pair them with another two dozen recipes for what Jackson calls a drink “apothecary” — items such as bitters, shrubs and syrups — which can be used to create various drinks — alcoholic and nonalcoholic.
Wines designed the book and wrote the sections that explained the history of foraging and shared the folklore behind some of the ingredients. Wines, who has a background in the beverage industry, was also key in helping “MacGyver” the recipes to work with tools readily found in most home kitchens rather than professional bar equipment.
In addition to tapping into a back-to-nature interest in foraging and homesteading, Jackson said “Drink the Wild” taps into a public interest in nonalcoholic beverages.
“Don’t call them mocktails. I’m not mocking anything. People don’t want to drink alcohol but they do want to drink things that are flavorful. They crave the flavors but don’t want the buzz.”
“Drink the Wild”
For Jackson, flavors begin by creating a home apothecary of drink ingredients. That section of the book explores her interest in foraging, which began almost 10 years ago. Forager friends introduced her to ingredients such as white pine needles, motherwort, barley tea, peppery shepherd’s purse, hibiscus, dandelion, and violets.
While her forager friends were teaching her about herbs and traditional medicines, she was teaching them about the use of spirits in their works.
“Many of the recipes they were taught used ingredients like Everclear,” she said with her throaty laugh. “I was like, ‘Honey, that’s the bottom shelf swill.’ What I do is teach them about the style of spirits and how grains can affect their tinctures and bitters.”
The apothecary includes recipes for syrups, which are sweetened with things such as sugar, maple syrup, or honey; shrubs, which are vinegar based; tinctures, which are flavored concentrates; and bitters, the non-potable alcoholic flavoring compounds that Jackson refers to as the “salt and pepper” of the cocktail world.
Many of the ingredients she draws on for these recipes include common weeds that people can find in their backyards or spices and herbs tucked in their kitchen cabinets.
“I use things like white pine needle because that’s great for congestion and motherwort which can be used to make a tea that relieves a lot of menopausal symptoms. We make a lot of ginger honey syrup in our house because it’s so soothing on the stomach and throat.”
The rest of the book is divided into seasons, with about six drinks per season, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic — and some that can go either way.
‘Tis the season
Just as the food industry has leaned into the concept of local, seasonal cooking, so has the beverage industry, Jackson said. Mixologists look for seasonal and locally sourced ingredients for their drink menus.
Spring might rely on flavors such rhubarb, dandelions and violets, while summer drinks will lean toward berries and stone fruits, and fall and winter will touch on cranberries, pear, ginger and apples.
There are Jackson recipes for drinks such as a Great Lakes Wassail, as well as nonalcoholic takes on classics such as a Margarita that uses the bergamot tones in Earl Grey tea as a stand in for triple sec and an Old Fashioned that borrows the smoky tones of roasted barley tea as a stand in for bourbon.
The book came out just before Thanksgiving, and Jackson is selling it on her website TheElixirHouse.com. She and Wines recently shared some of their recipes on stage at the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival.
The “kitchen witch” in the title “Drink the Wild: Recipes from a Kitchen Witch for the Spirited and Sober Soul” is inspired by the Nordic legend that Jackson’s mother hung in their kitchen when Jackson was a teenager. The kitchen witch helps protect a cook from disasters such as pots boiling over or flavors that fail to meld.
Jackson said she wants to be the kitchen witch for those who experiment with creating craft cocktails and nonalcoholic beverage creations in their kitchens. She’s there to teach them the secret alchemy of blending foraged ingredients and unique flavor profiles for drinks to get them through the winter and the pandemic and the malaise related to both.
“I just want to give them recipes so they can unleash their own kitchen witch and open their creativity.”
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