These Bloody Mary aficionados dedicate their vegetable garden to a single purposeâ€”garnishing their favorite cocktail.
Having a theme garden is nothing new, but buddies Josh Zielinski of Port Washington and Addison Silverthorn of Grafton may have one of the most unusual ones â€” a Bloody Mary garden.
Everything that grows in a small plot in Zielinskiâ€™s back yard was planted for garnishing and spicing up their favorite drink in a quest to create the ultimate Sunday morning eye-opener.
This year, they planted a type of green bean that grows straight and long, cucumbers, jalapeĂ±o peppers and dill. They buy other vegetables, including asparagus, mushrooms, onions and
garlic, at farmers markets.
Not only do their drinks feature pickled homegrown organic vegetables, the men also use a pepper-infused vodka that Silverthorn makes and tomato juice that Silverthornâ€™s future in-laws
â€śWe sample Bloody Marys whenever we can and see what we like and donâ€™t like,â€ť said Silverthorn, noting several of their friends also make Bloody Mary concoctions.
â€śSometimes, we get together for tastings. Itâ€™s neat trying everybodyâ€™s. If you try a bunch in a row, you can tell which ones are Joshâ€™s and mineâ€™s and which ones belong to other friends.â€ť
The men said their Bloody Marys are the best, but the tastings inspire them to try something new each year.
This year, itâ€™s asparagus, which they packed into tall 1-1/2-quart jars to keep the spears long. Silverthorn plans to pick wild asparagus next spring.
Silverthorn helps pick and prep the vegetables while Zielinski makes the brine and packs the vegetables into the jars, adding onion, garlic, dill sprigs and spices.
Zielinski started pickling the garnishes using his uncleâ€™s recipe.
â€śHeâ€™s been doing this for a long time. He does a lot of fruit, pickles and beans,â€ť Zielinski said.
â€śAfter we were pretty solid with the recipe, we started experimenting. We would grab some random spices to see how they turned out.â€ť
Silverthorn added, â€śOnce you get into knowing what youâ€™re doing, itâ€™s fun to experiment with the different peppers and brines.â€ť
Zielinski keeps track of what goes into each jar and adds critiques after they taste it. A number is assigned to each batch and put on the jar lids, so the men know how it was prepared â€”
the amount and types of ingredients and how long the jars were in the hot water bath.
They do the canning outdoors, using a portable gas burner and a large canning kettle for the hot-water-bath canning method.
While waiting for the process to be done, they often drink Bloody Marys.
â€śWe usually have friends who are interested in learning how to do it helping us,â€ť Silverthorn said. â€śWe try to get all the knife work done before we start drinking Bloody Marys.
â€śWe talk about our upcoming hunting trips. One fall, we had a goose dinner (while canning). One guy was the cook, one was the bartender, and the rest of us canned.â€ť
Last year, the men canned more than 60 pints of pickled vegetables and had only four jars left by summer.
They often give their concoctions as Christmas gifts to family and friends.
One year they planted hot habanera peppers, but vowed never again. Not only did the seeds burn their eyes when they accidently touched them, but the peppers didnâ€™t add much to their
â€śWeâ€™re looking for great flavor, not just heat,â€ť Silverthorn said.
Thatâ€™s how his vodka, which is infused with serreno, jalapeĂ±o and habanera peppers, tastes.
â€śIt has a really good flavor and is not as hot as you would think. Itâ€™s more like a salsa heat,â€ť Silverthorn said.
â€śExcept the one time I left the seeds in the peppers and let them sit for five days. Those are really hot. I put XX on them to warn people, including myself.â€ť
The men also hunt together and enjoy cooking what they shoot.
â€śWe do a lot of wild game, deer and jerky,â€ť Silverthorn said. â€śIn September, weâ€™ll go goose hunting in the morning, can in the afternoon and go back out hunting until it gets dark.â€ť
Silverthorn is a carpenter who works with his father.
Zielinski is a physical education teacher at Webster Transitional School in Cedarburg.
Zielinski is already planning next yearâ€™s Bloody Mary garden and may add another garden â€” one that his now 5-month-old daughter will be old enough to help plant, weed and harvest.
Image Information: Addison Silverthorn (left) and Josh Zielinski toast with Bloody Marys that include homemade tomato juice, spicy garnishes and pepper-infused vodka. Photo by Sam Arendt