From the age of 7-10, I lived in a tiny town in Oklahoma called Heavener. Over the years, I’ve met a number of people who were born and spent their whole lives in Oklahoma, and none of those people except for one ever heard of Heavener. I have a fond memory of attending a Seder Passover dinner at the home of Glen Campbell (and his beautiful wife, Kim) when my son was 8, and at one point during the night, I found myself standing in the kitchen talking to Glen while he ate a plate of food. Knowing he had grown up in Oklahoma, I asked him if he’d ever been to or heard of Heavener. His response, spoken about two seconds after he’d taken an enormous bite of something, was, “No, darlin’, I can’t say that I have.”
Today, Glen Campbell called me darlin’. While he was eating.
I loved Heavener. I didn’t love the weather (too hot), the frequent tornado scares (too … well, scary) or the knowledge that snakes were likely hiding behind every bush, but I loved the people of Heavener, and my little band of friends, and the fact that I could ride my bike to town all by myself and no one ever thought to worry that some maniac might snatch me, because the world was short on maniacs back then.
One day, my father informed us that we were moving fifty miles east to Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’d been to the dentist in Fort Smith, which may account for the knot in my stomach and lump in my throat that formed upon hearing this news. Then again, it may have just been the awareness that all the loveliness of that little town would soon be behind me, relegated to my memories.
When we arrived in town and saw the house that would be ours, two things eased my heartache. The first was the fact that we had a Koi pond in our front yard (although I don’t think it was technically a Koi pond. I think it was a pond full of goldfish that had survived longer than anyone expected). The second saving grace was my bedroom in the back of the house. It had the look of a room that had been added after the fact, but in a most delightful way. The wall it shared with the rest of the house was just that — a wall. But the three remaining walls weren’t really walls at all; they were floor to ceiling French windows. Perhaps someone had meant it to be a sunroom, but to me, it was just my room.
I still remember the brightness of that little room. And every time I get a whiff of mint (of any kind), my memories take me right back to that very spot, because outside one bank of French windows, a beautifully thoughtful someone who came before me had planted a mint garden, and on warm southern nights, the scent rose up in that quiet garden and seeped through a slighty-ajar window and permeated my bedroom.
I have my own wild, sprawling mint garden today — a tribute in green to the secret garden of my childhood.
And what do I do with all that mint? Well, aside from kneeling down and inhaling giant whiff-fuls on an almost daily basis throughout the summer, I wait for the first chill to signal the coming of fall, and then I cut down big bundles of mint, capture them in rubber bands, and bring them inside to dry. Because winter’s coming, you know, and there should really be tea.
How to dry mint for winter tea
You can hang them on the corners of your chairs …
Or you can hang them from a dowel.
This dowel can be left in the kitchen, but there’s still the “little fingers” issue to be dealt with. Maybe a better spot is in your bedroom or another cool room that will be dark most of the time.
After a few days, the leaves will be dry enough to harvest. Remove them whole and put them in a jar with a cap. Mason jars work perfectly.
When you want tea, crumble and steep in your favorite tea-steeper. A French press works really well, but anything that can handle your loose leaf mint will reap you a nice cupful of tea. My sister gave me this great “PerfecTea Maker” a few years back.
You just let the tea steep for 3-5 minutes (whole leaves take 5 minutes), then set on top of your tea cup. The bottom pushes itself up, releasing the filtered tea.
If you have any homegrown honey, this is a good time to pull that out of the cupboard.
Drink in front of the wood stove, if possible. While listening to “Southern Nights.”