D.I.Y. Mustards

What’s the oldest thing in your refrigerator? Chances are that it’s the almost-but-not-quite-empty jar of mustard.

Conditioned by decades of backyard barbecues, brightly colored squeeze bottles, and grab-’em-by-the-handful packets, Americans are at last tuning in to the taste of homemade condiments.

The time has come for homemade mustard—and you won’t believe how easy and tasty it is.

Start with the Basics

As always, we turned to program horticulturist Nancy Clifton to learn the how-to’s. Within five minutes of starting her demo for us, she had the first batch of mustard whipped up:

PHOTO: The ingredients for a basic, homemade mustard.
The basic mustard-making ingredients

Nancy Clifton’s Basic Mustard Recipe

½ cup dry mustard powder*
¼ cup cool water (see tips on temperature below)
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 to 3 teaspoons honey

Whisk ingredients together. Pour into clean Mason or Ball jars and set aside on a pantry shelf for two weeks, to allow the spice’s heat to mellow to the degree desired. Sample out of one jar periodically to test the heat level as you wait. It takes about two weeks for mustard to reach “mild.”

(*Local to the Chicago area? Find mustard powder available in bulk at Penzeys or The Spice House, or purchase online.)

Mustard-making Tips

  • Mustard powder makes a much stronger spread than mustard seeds. Best bet? A combination of both.
  • Hot water mellows mustard’s heat—use hot instead of cool in any recipe if you prefer less bite.
  • Soak whole grain seed in vinegar and water for 48 hours to soften it before using it in a recipe. Keep the seeds submerged, not floating.
  • Freshly made mustards should mellow for 2-4 weeks at room temperature on a pantry shelf. Refrigerate after the desired pungency is reached. Homemade mustards last 6 to 12 months in the refrigerator.
PHOTO: Mustard powders and seeds.
Clockwise from top left: hot mustard seed, yellow mustard powder, a finished basic yellow mustard, brown crushed mustard seed, and medium-hot mustard seed.

Next, Get Creative

After making that first quick batch of basic mustard, Nancy passed around ten jars of flavored mustards for us to sample. Revelations all!

By tinkering with the basic ingredients—using cider or champagne or balsamic vinegars, adding fresh or dried herbs, experimenting with different whole mustard seeds, adapting recipes from cookbooks and the web—Nancy had us all exclaiming over the freshness, complexity, and surprise of mustards in these flavors:

  • Basic Mustard with Summer Savory
  • Herbed Tomato Mustard
  • Dilled Mustard
  • 5-Spice Mustard
  • Balsamic Vinegar Mustard
  • German Whole Grain
  • Dijon
  • Grainy Mustard
  • Herb & Shallot Mustard
  • Jalapeño & Cumin Mustard

Mustards make a sandwich (and a hot dog, as any self-respecting Chicagoan knows), and homemade mustards will forever change your approach to sandwiches. Try mixing hot mustards with mayo for a deliciously different spread. You’ll also rethink deviled eggs…potato salad…pork tenderloin…veggie sauces…and salad vinaigrettes.

A Hot Gift Item

PHOTO: Uncapped mustard varieties showing different flavors, colors, and textures.
Homemade mustard in a single jar or assortment makes a great gift that’s sure to be enjoyed!

Homemade mustards make awesome gifts. Need a football season party gift? Check. Hostess gift? Check. During the holidays, gift neighbors, co-workers, and foodies with a package of three different mustards in quarter-pint jars—delicious and memorable!

Experiment, and build your gift stock—remember that it takes a couple of weeks for mustard to mellow—and the next time you’re cleaning out the refrigerator, recycle that old jar of yellow stuff and replace it with a jar of your own fresh, tasty, homemade mustard.

The Plant Connection 

PHOTO: Brassica nigra in seed and in flower. The seeds are contained in conical pods called silique.
Brassica nigra in seed and in flower. The seeds are contained in conical pods called silique.

Yes, mustard seed comes from a plant—three different plants, in fact. All are in the Brassica family.

Brassica nigra = black mustard seed
Brassica juncea = brown mustard seed
Sinapis alba = white mustard seed

And yes, you can grow your own mustard plants for seed—just be sure to harvest it all, as mustard can quickly self-sow and take over a garden bed.

Looking for more tasty, homemade gift ideas? Make some Vanilla Spice Apple Butter with scientist Pati Vitt, or see what other gifts gardeners give!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Gifts That Gardeners Give

What do gardeners give as gifts?

Staff around the Chicago Botanic Garden get creative this time of year, sharing harvests of fruit, nuts, herbs, and more in creative—and delicious—style. We asked our staff to share their handmade gift ideas, and their responses were so creative that we knew you’d say, “Share.”

From a Fruitful Garden

Web designer Christina Weisbard has a weakness for fruit trees…which explains the bounty of mulberry, quince, and crabapple jellies that she’s made for holiday gifts this year. Of the pickled green tomatoes that she also canned, she says, “They may never make it as gifts—we’re eating them too fast.”

PHOTO: Jars of jellies and pickles.
Crabapple and quince preserves are joined by end-of-season pickled green tomatoes.

Not Handmade, but “Hen”made

Lucky Sarah Paar (coordinator of flower shows). She keeps six Plymouth Barred Rock chickens, all black-and-white and gorgeous, at the suburban farm where she lives. She’s saving the four to six eggs she gets every day and handing them out as precious gifts, perfectly presented in a green berry box softened with raffia.

PHOTO: A variety of natural-colored hen eggs in a bowl.
Not just for Easter: Plymouth Barred Rock hen eggs are this season’s gift, too.

Currant Events

Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, gets the most out of the fruiting vines and brambles in his suburban yard, creating beautiful, jewel-toned vodkas (black currant, blackberry, Michigan peach, and Moroccan mint), and syrups (elderberry and peony blossom).

PHOTO: Ruby-colored blackberry vodka in a delicate bottle with a cork stopper.
Homemade infused vodkas are as beautiful as they are flavorful.

A Bloom That Thrills

Teachers, neighbors, and far-off friends are receiving amaryllis bulbs this year, complete with pot, lightweight soil mix, and growing instructions from Stephanie Lindemann, manager of horticulture events. With care, amaryllis will repeat the show next year. This long-lasting pink and coral beauty is Hippeastrum ‘Amalfi’.

PHOTO: A blooming amaryllis wrapped in burlap is ready to gift.
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum ‘Amalfi’) make great “repeat” gifts.

A Tiny Terrarium

Hold one of Clare Johnson’s bubble bowl terrariums in your hands, and you can sense the horticultural therapist at work: each terrarium is a perfectly shaped jewel, fresh and green and carefree enough to leave on your desk all winter, with little care required.

PHOTO: A tiny terrarium.
Bubble bowl terrariums are filled with dainty succulents.

Handmade & Heart-felt

Filled with lavender from her garden (plus a bit from the neighbors), Lynn McKay Ledford’s wool felt and cotton sachets can scent drawers, shelves, and suitcases for many months. Feel free to compliment Lynn on her sweetly modern design next time you see her at the Information Desk at the Visitor Center.

PHOTO: Hand-sewn square sachets are decorated with felted leaves.
Wool felt and cotton sachets are filled with fragrant lavender.

Simple, Elegant, Fresh

As outdoor floriculturist, Tim Pollak has a deft and knowing touch with plants—which shows in his fresh ideas for host/hostess gifts or centerpieces. Simply arranged, stemmed greenery looks elegant in a clear vase filled with cranberries and water. Fresh fruit looks like the luxury it is when it’s hand-arranged and nestled into a simple, raffia-filled box.

PHOTO: Floral arrangement.
This colorful and long-lasting arrangement includes evergreens, carnations, and cranberries.
PHOTO: Fruit basket.
Fruits are arranged on a bed of fragrant rosemary for this simple seasonal basket.

Grandma Agnes’s Recipe

Fond memories of her family’s Iowa farm inspired horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg to follow her Grandma Agnes’s easy recipe for crabapple pickles (leave the stems on!). An extra handmade touch: cards decorated with leaves from daily walks in her neighborhood this fall.

PHOTO: Recipe 3x5 card.
Grandma Agnes’s original pickled crabapple recipe—a family heirloom.
PHOTO: Pickled crabapples.
The finished product

A Handmade Breakfast Treat

So bountiful was the apple harvest at the Garden this year that staff was invited to help harvest—and to take home a box of the fruit. Assistant horticulturist Leah Pilon turned the opportunity into a sweet treat: wonderfully smooth and flavorful apple butter to give as holiday gifts.

PHOTO: Apple butter in a Ball jar.
Leah Pilon’s homemade apple butter even has a handmade tag.

Chill Out

It took customer support manager Karen Angel four to five hours each to hand-crochet cozy cotton/wool neckwarmers that she’s gifting friends and family with this year. An interesting stickpin or piece of jewelry serves as a “close” to each piece.

PHOTO: Lilac crocheted neck warmer.
A stickpin holds this beautiful crochet work in place.
PHOTO: A bar of handmade soap wrapped with a twine bow.
Handmade soaps delight the senses.

Handmade Candles & Soaps

Like many handcrafters, economics drove exhibitions manager Courtney Quigley to teach herself how to make candles and soaps when she was in college: “I was young and broke!” she explains with a laugh. Her deliciously flavored soaps (scented with coffee beans, cocoa, ginger, or orange slices) and soy candles are, of course, all natural.

PHOTO: Photo of boy and his mother making cookie cutouts.
Gabe Hutchinson documents “the year in review” in photo albums.

The Gift of a Labor of Love

For many of our staffers, gardening isn’t their only passion. Assistant horticulturist Gabe Hutchison is also a terrific photographer, who’s turned the notion of “family photos” into a deeply personal, meaningful effort. Each Christmas he begins a year-long series of photos of his son, documenting family occasions, visits, and everyday life. As the next Christmas nears, he assembles the past year’s work into a handmade photo book for each grandparent (and a few lucky relatives), documenting the family’s interactions with his son, and presents those precious books as gifts at the holiday.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org