This one comes with a memory. I went to elementary/junior-high/high school in a small town in northern California. This was before the trend to make “middle school” sixth, seventh and eighth grade, so we had a sixth grade graduation, then went to junior high for two years, had had an eighth grade graduation, and went on to high school. The junior high and the high school were in the same building, and my graduating class in high school was about 40 kids. It was a very small town.
In seventh grade, I took a “nature studies” class, with Russ Archerd, one of only two science teachers for the whole junior/senior high school. Russ had been a teacher at the school since the 1960’s (my step-sister, 25 years my senior, had had him when she went to school). We were there in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. He would lecture us from his hand-written yellowing notes, and in general, we ran circles around him and showed him almost no respect. I look back now at how we treated him, and am embarrassed. He had a copy of the serenity prayer above is desk at his back office desk, and looking back, I wonder if it was a reflection of a battle won around alcohol (the serenity prayer is often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous) or if it was really just a prayer to get him through day after day of unruley students.
Mr. Archerd was a huge outdoors person, and loved nature and nature studies. So, we often went on field trips during the class. Sometimes we just went out to the school yard and looked at plants and weeds or caught insects in a “kill jar”. (I remember discovering with glee that grass seeds, stripped off the stock of the plant while still green, and thrown at my favorite boys, would stick to their clothing if they were wearing the right kind of material). But sometimes we’d actually go off campus, the lot of us piling into Archerd’s VW Bus (no seat belts – often not even enough seats) and visiting the nearby parks and trails. I don’t think there were permission slips involved. He just took us.
I once heard a comedian say that there is no such thing as a 13 year old boy, there is a 10 year old boy and a 16 year old boy doing battle in a 13 year old’s body, and you can watch, minute by minute, to see who is currently winning. The same can be said for 13 year old girls. We ran up and down the trails, waded through the creeks, caught bugs, climbed trees and generally ignored our instructor as much as possible. But having, in my late 30’s, taught kids nature studies myself, I have come to understand that what we were doing, while disrespectful to the instructor, was really what we so so NEEDED to do, as kids, which was run around in the woods, laughing, getting dirty, and generally dissipating our huge energies and raging hormones in a safe and healthy way.
Mr. Archerd was also a photographer (I also took my first photography class from him, and I still smile when I think of him reminding us to not swing our camera’s by their straps). So, after running around in the woods, occasionally stopping long enough to look at a plant, we would return to class, and in the cool darkness of the uniquely aromatic science classroom, surrounded by high black lab tables and bunsen burners, watch slide shows of the plants we had seen (or not seen, as the case may be). Fiddleneck (Amsinckia genus), miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), common mallow (Malva neglecta). These were some of the plants we learned so long ago that I can still remember 30+ years later. And from the disturbed trampled dirt of the school back lot, pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea). I remember picking it and crushing it in my hand, smelling its distinct sweet scent, and looking at its cone shaped flower heads that never seemed to have any petals, and wondering if it was named for its scent or its shape. It’s native, and pretty ubiquitous, throughout the United States.
Pineapple weed is, well, a weed. It grows in disturbed places, where it is often stepped on and ignored, and that’s just what I did with it for many many years. Then, about five years ago, I was at a small country farmers market, and someone was selling it dried, for tea, as a “wild chamomile”. I was kind of aghast. That’s not chamomile, its pineapple weed, and its, well, a weed. I felt like the seller was trying to pull a fast one. She couldn’t tell me much more about it, other than it was wild chamomile and was good as a tea, so I went home and googled my old nature studies plant. And sure enough, pineapple weed is in the same genus (Matricaria) as German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla). We didn’t study the Latin names in 7th grade. I don’t remember discussing using it as a tea back then, which isn’t to say that we didn’t. But it can, indeed, be dried and used in tea, with similar effect to German chamomile. Good information to file away. But I’m not personally a huge fan of chamomile tea (due to an unfortunate convocation of chamomile tea and an upset stomach when I was in my teens- an association I’ve never been able to shake).
I belong to a foraging group on Facebook. On there, someone recently mentioned making a pineapple weed liqueur. Say WHAT?!!. Now they had my attention. I immediately could envision the tropical sweet essence of pineapple weed as a note in a mixed drink. THIS I had to try.
We had a small patch of pineapple weed growing in our driveway. I kept telling my husband, “Don’t mow that. I’m going to harvest it.” And I did. I packed two pint jar with pineapple weed (mostly tops, but really, stems and leaves as well). Over one I poured cheap 80 proof vodka. Over the other I poured boiling simple syrup (1 part water, 1 part sugar). I seeped the syrup jar until it had cooled (overnight), then strained and refrigerated (because of the fresh nature of the weed and its moisture content – I don’t recommend letting your syrup sit at room temperature seeping for more than 12 hours or so, and then I DO recommend straining and refrigerating. Let’s face it, there are probably all kinds of bug foods naturally occurring on/in the plant, and while the high sugar content of the syrup is somewhat preservative, I wouldn’t count on it for any length of time). I seeped the vodka solution for about a week. I then strained that one, and combined the two. I ended up with a slightly cloudy, greenish yellow very fragrant liqueur. Because of the alcohol content, once combined (assuming equal portions), the liqueur should be shelf stable. (Note: solutions containing 20% or more ethanol are considered self-preserving).
I’ve been enjoying the pineapple weed liqueur in lemon drops. 1 1/2 oz citron or other lemon flavored vodka, 1 tbsp pineapple weed liqueur, juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon (depending on size), simple syrup or sugar stirred in to desired sweetness. It adds a lovely floral tropical note to the drink. If you google “pineapple weed liqueur” you’ll find other ideas. I also suspect that it would be fabulous drizzled over ice cream.
© Miles Away Farm 2016, where we are eternally grateful to teachers who put up with us when we were pretty darned insufferable, and knew what was good for us, even when we didn’t know it ourselves. Russ Archerd, I lift a glass of pineapple weed liqueur to you and all the lives you touched in your 25+ years of teaching.