Tuesday, March 25, 2014

History's Lens: Mint Memories

I've been driving past the remains of this old mint distillery since I was a kid. The swamp lands below the hills behind our house were perfect for raising mint, as were many low lying lands in northern Indiana. There are a few old distilleries still standing, but this is one of a very few left and is located on the old Stuckman farmland East of Nappanee, IN.

Mint was used for medicinal properties, and later in gum and toothpastes. The plants were grown in the black dirt of the "muck lands" and cut like hay. It was swept into rows until it was wilted, then it was steamed. The mint-impregnated steam was condensed to collect the peppermint oil.
Most of these fields have long since been turned over to corn or beans, but several years ago a new mint field was planted not far from our house. The first year, it was allowed to "go to seed" and flower so that it would yield more the following year. We discovered that our honey harvest had a minty flavor, and it sold like hotcakes that year!

Weeds mixed into the mint harvest accounted for an inferior purity, and some farmers were thought to dilute their oil to make a better profit. Proof of superior purifying processes produced labels like this one:
Peppermint is not native to North America, but was brought by the colonists. By the turn of the century, it's believed that over 90 percent of the world's mint supply came from Southern Michigan and Northern Indiana.

My favorite mint memories: Grandma Emma's garden mint tea, and driving through St. Joe County, IN in the summer with the windows down when the mint is in bloom. Making garden mint tea is a tradition in our family. The next time my mother makes me a cup, I will wonder how many centuries the species spanned. I will wonder what mint farmers carried the precious plants along with them to the new world. The next time you brush your teeth, or bite into a stick of Wrigley's gum, remember where it came from.

Do you have mint memories?

Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots. 
Nurse Practitioner by day. 
Wife, mother, writer by night. 
Coffee drinker--any time.
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  1. When I was growing up, my mother grew mint in our yard. Sometimes we would freeze mint leaves in ice cubes to put in our drinks. Other times we used egg whites brushed on the leaves and then sprinkled them with sugar. These were used as a garnish for different dishes that my mom cooked. My friends and I would just pick the leaves to chew on.

    1. I've never done this, but, I've seen a similar process described in cookbooks.

  2. Nice Kay. I never heard of the egg white preparation for garnish.

  3. I've never heard of a mint distillery. I bet that smelled good upon occasion. :)

    1. I'll bet it did too. Only wish I could walk back in time to see it in production!

  4. I've never been much of a fan of mint. I eat Altoids after a meal to freshen my breath, but, that's about it. My sister and my husband enjoy mint-flavored foods more so than I.

    ~Cecelia Dowdy~

  5. What an interesting post, Anne!! Like Erica - I had never heard of a mint distillery, and knew nothing about it's harvesting, origins, or that so much mint was grown in Indiana and Michigan. You have piqued my interest!! My favorite use of mint is in Junior Mints - in fact, I'm going to have some right now!!

    1. Ahhhh, Junior Mints, how could I have forgotten them! :)


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