Updated: Jan 31
Where it all Began: Woods to Wellness and Wildcraft Cocktails ft. Lynn House
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Blog: Where it All Began
Gooey Apple Butter Cake Recipe
Where it all began
Folks always ask “how did you get started doing all of this?” All of this, of course, being the liquid alchemy we create at Elixir House using wild-foraged botanicals and the knowledge sharing that inevitably goes along with it.
If you’ve ever wondered how I became the kitchen-witch-of-the-woods I am today the latest
episode of The Elixir House Podcast is for you, because I recently sat down with my friend Lynn House to tell you the story!
By 2009/10 I had been living in Chicago for a decade and was working as an Adjunct Professor at Kendall College teaching Mixology to culinary students. I also did a lot of consulting on beverage programs around the city. It was during this time that we bar veterans began to notice the shift from the traditional use of herbs in cocktails to something much bigger.
Of course the bar chef has always used botanicals like mint in the Julep or Mojito, and fresh citrus or homemade syrups. I was trained to properly use fresh herbs to make the classics everyone knows and loves. In fact, my mentor Bridget Albert and friend Mary Barranco wrote the book, Market Fresh Mixology. So our class of bar chefs were no strangers to crafting stunning beverages with fresh ingredients.
But a greater trend was afoot. Creative mixologists were no longer content muddling the occasional fresh herb for a cocktail. What we were starting to do was incorporate flavor profiles; blueberry-lavender, grapefruit-sage, lemon-thyme. Not only were we doing more, we were learning more as we began to use many more locally sourced ingredients. It was amazing what we began to do when we started building relationships with local farm markets and growers rather than the anonymous trips to the produce department at the grocery.
Through these relationships I discovered something better yet, that many of the ingredients now being used in Chicago’s fine bars and restaurants were coming from my home State of Michigan!
So by 2011 I was fully on board with looking toward local farms and incorporating that in my mixology programs. But I needed more. In part from a coincidence of cosmic alignment and in part from an unignorable gut feeling that my home State is where I needed to be—I moved back to Kalamazoo.
Of course this meant leaving one of my best friends in the world, Lynn House. Lynn and I were creative collaborators and troublemakers. She has a place in Chicago with a beautiful backyard where she is able to grow almost everything she needs as a master culinary mixologist. Now she is the National Brand Educator and Master Portfolio Mixologist for Heaven Hill. She represents a range of classic spirits like Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Rittenhouse, Domaine de Canton, Dubonnet, Pama, and more.
I was sad to leave her in the city, but I knew we would be working together soon because around the same time Edible Michiana Magazine asked us to facilitate two cocktail classes.
I moved back in April 2012 and on May 5th of the same year Lynn and I hosted our first Woods to Glass Cocktail Class with Edible Michiana at the Fernwood Botanical Gardens in Niles, Michigan. We were given a treasure trove of wild foraged plants, harvested by professional forager Eric Lester. This was the first time I had met a professional forager, and we soaked up every ounce of runoff knowledge he was willing to spill.
As mixologists our objective was simple, to craft impeccably flavored cocktails from these wild ingredients using the now extinct Incentive Vodka, made with Michigan corn by one of the State’s early craft distillers, Big Cedar Spirits. They were truly, 100% Michigan cocktails—high art in my world.
Lynn preferred to go into the first workshop without prior knowledge of the ingredients, but I needed just a dash of reassurance about what I would be working with. They sent me a list of the possible ingredients Eric would be foraging, and I began to read up and take some notes. This was a personal renaissance for me. It was the first time I began to think about crafting with ingredients like Ramps, Sweet Cicely, Sweet Woodruff, Skullcap, Spruce Tips, Choke Cherry, Nettle—it was amazing!
I started reading and learning and I couldn’t stop. Everything I loved and studied throughout my career was coming together in the most profound ways. As I learned about these wild ingredients and what they can do, I recalled the medicinal histories behind the Spirits we see as recreational pleasures today. Long before modern medicine we relied on herbal medicine in Spirit form to prevent and treat what ailed us. Then I pondered the endless herbal possibilities we could create in liquid-art form. The knowledge that was originally within me was being transformed and enhanced as I stirred in this freshly harvested information.
Lynn and I worked our mixology magic with those raw foraged ingredients on that May day, exactly nine years ago from the time of this publishing. At the time, there were less than ten distilleries in the state of Michigan. I knew that too would soon change. Presently there are over eighty Michigan distilleries, many of which I went on to represent, including Journeyman Distilling, Green Door, and Michigan’s original craft distiller, Grand Traverse Distillery.
We can drink things that are good for us, good for the wild world we are a part of, and tastes delicious! All it takes is the right proportions of culinary mixology and herbalist tradition—that’s where Elixir House comes in, and me—The Traveling Elixer Fixer.
My journey from bartender to culinary mixologist, my passion for craft spirits and wildcraft elixirs, and just a little wanderlust, has lead me here to you. I hope you can come along with us for the rest of the journey!
Gooey Apple Butter Cake
Made with Lynn House’s Secret Family Apple Butter Recipe
1 Cup Flour 4 Ounces Cream Cheese
3/4 Cup Sugar 1 Cup Apple Butter
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder 1 Egg
1/2 Teaspoon Salt 1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter
1 Egg 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter, melted. 1 Cup Powdered Sugar
2 Tablespoons Milk Dash Cinnamon and Nutmeg
1/2 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract Whipped Cream Garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8x8 inch pan.
2. Whisk together dry cake ingredients until combined. Whisk in egg, melted butter, milk, and vanilla until slightly sticky.
3. Make the filling by beating together cream cheese, apple butter, egg, melted butter, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
4. Pour the cake layer into the pan.
5. Spread the filling over the cake layer.
6. Bake 45-50 minutes, until golden brown and gooey in the center.
Refrigerate up to 5 days.
Written by Austin Wines for Angie Jackson.