Curious enough – or serious enough – about Camellia sinensis to try growing your own? Even the thought of such a venture brings back fond memories of my father’s culinary adventures. The homemade root beer phase was a real hit with the neighborhood kids, especially since Dad bottled the brew in “stubbies,” or eleven ounce glass beer bottles. We loved sitting out on the street, casually tossing down a big gulp of root beer when the sheriff made his once-a-week drive through. The sheriff, a family friend, never so much as blinked at the bevy of little boys pulling on stubbies in front of the Baptist Church.carling black label

A five gallon batch of root beer required some sixty stubbies. Carling Black Label was the beer of choice in the lumber mill town I grew up in, and I recall the entire neighborhood saving bottles for the year’s first batch of root beer. The root beer phase came to an abrupt end after the nocturnal explosion of forty stubbies. Mom, who never used strong language, had a few blue things to say as she waded a sea of sweet foam and broken glass in the root cellar. Something about measuring the yeast, I believe.

The root beer phase was followed by the chili con carne phase. Pop measured cayenne like he did yeast. The entire neighborhood suffered watering eyes and cayenne-induced sneezes. Word would travel from the post office to the railroad depot, “Bart’s making chili again.” Dad declared, “this will put hair on your chest!” as he served it. (Apparently the fact that one could not taste anything for four days after a chili feed had a direct effect on the secondary sexual characteristic of body hair.) Chili was also produced in five gallon batches, and could not be sissified by the presence of beans. Chili was followed by wine-making (dreadful), sauerkraut (ditto), and corned elk brisket (think salty pink pearl eraser).

Almost forty years later . . . Dad and I are going in together to buy tea plants. I found a website that sells tea plants, and a wonderful publication that covers cultivars, propagation, pests, and processing. We plan to start with four plants and expand from there. Do you suppose we’ll harvest enough for a cup of tea next year?

This post was first published on the blog 15 May 2008, and written by Pete Moss.  The links still work!

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