ENGLISH MINT SAUCE // the local food report

Good morning. Although it is 9:38am, Sally and I are in bed and it is pitch black outside. Thunder! Lightening! None of it seems to bother Nora, who's napped through the whole thing. But it has put a damper on my plans to make you fresh mint sauce, in an effort to get some pictures for you. The kitchen is pitch black, and picking the mint means venturing outside. Here's a photo of a nice day in Helen Miranda's mint patch instead:

Helen is the reason we're talking about mint in the first place. She grows five varieties: plain old mint, spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, and lemon balm or balm mint, also known as Melissa. She used to have a fuzzy invasive mint, too, but she's weeded that out, and she also grows catnip (for fun for cats) and hyssop, for chest colds. 

One day this spring she showed me around her garden, and talked me through what she likes to do with each of her mints. Orange = smoothies. Melissa is good for tea and salads. Plain old mint she says you'd use for mint juleps, and she also likes it in salads. Peppermint is tea too, and maybe ice cream. Spearmint she dries for middle eastern dishes, and also uses for a fresh mint sauce and mint jelly. 

Bah, I thought when she first told me about mint jelly. Not my thing. So sweet! So fake green. But of course Helen doesn't make it that way. She does something really cool. She makes apple jelly, which means the sweetness and pectin comes from real fruit. Then she adds mint at the very end, just for flavor. In her words:

"Mint jelly, two ways.

1) Make mint tea with lots of leaves, no stems, as usual. Don't let it sit too long. 10 minutes max... it can get dark and bitter. Strain out leaves. Add apple jelly, made beforehand, until it melts.

2) Make apple jelly as usual. At the stage where the slices of apple have simmered and become soft.

I add a LOT of whole mint leaves (again, no stems) and let them sit in the liquid for about 20 minutes, no heat. I like to use organic apples so that the skin can be included which gives it a nice rosy tinge, if the skin is red."

As for the fresh mint sauce, it's simple. Helen uses good red wine vinegar, sugar, and finely chopped fresh mint leaves. She lets the mixture sit for about an hour before it's time to eat (preferably, lamb). She told me to check the Joy of Cooking for the recipe, so here it is, a little more officially. 


The Joy says that in England, roasted lamb with fresh mint sauce is as traditional as mint jelly is here. This sauce is nice—not so sweet, not so jiggly—instead a thin, bright liquid that goes splendidly with a nice cut of meat. 

1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons minced fresh young mint leaves
8 to 10 tablespoons white wine, rice wine, or red wine vinegar

Stir the sugar and water together in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mint and vinegar and cover. Let sit for 2-3 hours before serving to let the flavors come together. The sauce will keep for a few days, but be aware that the mint will turn brown after a night in the fridge.

P.S. For audio, check in tomorrow! I'll post a link. P.P.S. Soon-mint juleps! With maple syrup! So, so good.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.