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Opinion: DIY cocktails – how to grow your own mojito

Today there are many variations on the white rum cocktail, but the original recipe is still a classic summer beverage.

Fiann Ó Nualláin

THERE ARE A wealth of garden-based beverages and homegrown cocktails that even the most lethargic gardener can muster up. One of my favourites is the classic mojito. Perhaps because it features one of the easiest plants in the world to grow – mint. Cooling and refreshing for summer evenings and great for get-togethers and home barbeques.

Originating in Havana, Cuba, it is argued that famous Elizabethan explorers such as Francis Drake may have influenced the creation of mojitos – along with African and Irish captives, who were forced to work the sugar cane plantations. Furthermore, it was often thought that “mojito” stemmed from a Cuban-Spanish language. Yet, it may stem from the African word “mojo” meaning magic charm or little spell  - and boy does it put a spell on. Whoever started it, with the simplest of ingredients came a stunning beverage with a delicious kick.

Today, in the 21st Century, there are many variations of the white rum cocktail including strawberry mojitos, coconut rum mojitos; even tropical fruit twists and frozen ones. Nevertheless, the classic recipe calls for the five customary ingredients – rum, mint leaves, fine sweet sugar, lime juice, and (a bit of fizz) club soda.

Selecting and understanding mints

Being the base of the beverage, mint is one of the most important pieces of the drink. There are many varieties of mint, all delicious and all so easy to grow. Not just in the garden but also ideal for containers and even indoors on a bright windowsill. When growing my own mint, I like to mix some garden soil and sand/grit with any good quality potting compost. This will give the growing media body nutrients for long term-harvesting.

Care for this plant is minimal, you simply need to water the plant when the soil becomes dry. Watering the plant when it dries out creates a good base for the plant to grow, as well as cutting it. Every harvest after they are cut, they grow back with even more flushes of foliage. Unfortunately outdoor plants will die in the winter, but they will return in the spring. A nifty trick that I use is dividing my containers every three years to keep vigorous growth.

There are three types of commonly used and grown mints. The garden mint, peppermint, spearmint. In order to understand the differences, below are descriptions of each plant and how they grow.

The most common type of mint is the ‘garden mint’ (Mentha suaveolens) popularly used in mint sauce or on top of new potatoes. This plant is a hardy perennial, and sometimes has an evergreen colour in milder years. It can thrive in every type of soil and grows well everywhere except in deep shaded areas. It can tolerate drought but not water logging. However, I find it likes to have regular watering in order to produce lots of leaves, so how much you want to harvest will dictate how often you water.

Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is perhaps the second most used and recognisable of all the mints. The mint smells of confection and sweets but with all the refreshing properties we seek. I recommend keeping it in a larger pot or container as it will colonise the garden quickly if planted directly into the ground.

Next is spearmint (Mentha spicata), the stronger scent and flavour makes it a global hit as culinary seasoning herb. It prefers more light than the others. Great in lemonades and iced teas too.

Other varieties such as  ginger mint, eau de cologne mint, Corsican mint, pineapple mint etc, all have subtle culinary differences and different aroma notes but will all hit a nice note in your highball glass of rum.

The ‘Encanto Perfecto’

  • Pluck six mint leaves (fresh) off of your mint plant
  • Begin to roll them a little between your fingers to burst open the aromatic oils
  • Then drop them into a shaker or direct into a collins or highball glass, squeezing in the juice from a wedge of lime
  • Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of fine sugar (to your preference); an alternative for those watching calories is for half that amount (1/2 or 1 tablespoon) of stevia, or for those who want more of a sweet sensation add a drop of demerara syrup
  • Crush (roughly) two ice cubes and add about 3oz of rum
  • You can then muddle (fiddle around with a fancy bartender crusher-slash-stirrer) or shake a little
  • Finally add a second wedge of lime and top up the glass with some fizziness with club soda (tonic water is too bitter); you may then garnish with a mint sprig.

Also in season…

If you are a GIYer (or Grow it Yourself) you will have strawberries in season now – so if you fancy a Strawberry Mojito, the trick is to…

  • Cut the mint leaves in half
  • Puree two juicy strawberries 
  • And add a full one as garnish.

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If you are just starting out and keen to get some strawberries on the go, then bear in mind there are many varieties.

The three main types in garden centres are June-bearing, Everbearing and Day neutral.

June-bearing produces once a year in June and is gone by the end of July. Everbearing produces fruit twice: once in June and then once again in late summer (could be late July or mid-August or even September depending on weather). The Day- neutral type will continue to bloom and produce fruit throughout the summer and often into late autumn no matter what. All will grow in a wall-mounted containers, hanging baskets, terracotta pots or directly in the ground.

One last thing – mojitos are not part of your five a day – please garden sensibly.

Fiann Ó Nualláin is an advocate of gardening for health with a background in horticulture, nutrition, naturopathy and ethnobotany. His new book, The Holistic Gardener, published by Mercier Press, is available to buy now. 

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Fiann Ó Nualláin

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