There’s a lot to consider.
What we did this summer and what we didn’t. Where we went and where we didn’t. Packing, sorting and organizing That Which Was Never Entirely Unpacked, so one child can head back to college; clambering over piles and heaps to set another one up for the start-of-school camping trip; hunting through closets, dressers and storage bags to see if there is anything the young sprout can wear to the first week of his new school.
But summer! Summer! I want more of it. I want to do it better, to have done it better, to have slurped all the juice right out of it. As it slips into its misty conclusion I find myself doubly committed to jumping in every river or lake, saying yes to every hike.
It is blackberry season. All this yes-to-rivers, on top of the rush of other commitments, makes it hard to stop and address them via the canning pot. But on they ripen, heedless of my schedule.
My husband’s morning ritual includes a wrestle with our utterly ungroomed, unaddressed, unmaintained berry thicket. Thorns and bugs and mythical creatures dwell within. As with every other damn thing in front of me, this berry patch is a reminder to commit to the life-changing magic of tidying the f*@# up.
But the berries! Like jewels. Most head for the freezer but some get diverted for immediate consumption, via morning cereal or muffins or a big old macerating situation like so, which actually began as a grand plan to make jam:
The boy and I, along with Dog A (because Dog B is not temperamentally suited to conviviality) said yes to a group hike up to the summit at Bartholomew’s Cobble. We said yes, even though I am sort of with Dog B on the conviviality matter, because we love the hosts and because the day was beautiful and because it was an opportunity to say yes to the things I said I would say yes to.
Surely the summit of Bartholomew’s Cobble is one of the most beautiful places on earth. And the company was delightful (Dog B and I would do well to remember that the company is often delightful). As an object lesson in the Power Of Yes, this was very compelling.
Does your fruit cup runneth over? Because the Power Of Yes is well-conveyed by the hip-flask of berry cordial or syrup or elixir or whatever you want to call it that we toted along to splash into the cocktails, and I’m giving you many ways to play, whether your fruits be berries or otherwise.
Here's to the end of this and start of that.
very simple syrup, several ways
The main premise of the thing here is not to have to cook. The other main premise is to combine the fruit with some highly aromatic item (herb or spice) that will elevate the thing. The third main thing is to remember that the ingredients can be very flexible and none of this is terribly important. Those are the main things.
I made three versions this week.
- Blackberry, Ginger and Lime Leaf was one. Sugar, blackberries, torn and bashed lime leaves, and lemon juice for this one.
- Blackberry, Ginger and Shiso was the next: Sugar, bashed up shiso, lime juice.
- Blackberry, Nectarine & Fennel was the third. Half berries, half nectarines, honey, those gorgeous blooms, lime juice and a nice kick from a tsp of Aleppo pepper.
Have at it. Let me know what you did. We drink it with sparkling water over ice. Others have been seen adding it to a gin and tonic. I doubt a dash into prosecco or any other cocktail hour item would be a mistake.
- 4 c fruit
- 1 1/2 c sugar, or 1c honey
- a few sprigs of aromatic fresh herbs: fennel or dill flowers (before they form a seed head), basil, shiso leaf, thyme, tarragon, fresh lime leaves (available in Indian or Asian grocers, if you do not have a friend who mails them to you from her yard, not that I am gloating), a T or so of fresh grated ginger, a tsp of aleppo pepper or other dried chile, peppercorns, etc.
- Juice of a lime or lemon (about a 1/4 cup)
- 1tsp rooibos tea (optional, but plays very well with berries especially)
Reserve a sprig of whatever fresh herb you are using, and stash it in the bottle or receptacle your final product will reside in. Combine the fruit and the aromatics (but not the tea) in a bowl with the sugar or honey and the citrus juice. Stir well and try not to eat them all in the name of 'testing' (laugh all you want, but believe me, the challenge is real.) Let this mixture rest at room temperature for a couple hours, stirring and snacking periodically (more stirring hastens the maceration process, but do try to avoid mashing and bashing; snacking is unavoidable, however, and resistance is futile) or overnight in the fridge. When the fruit has given up as much juice as you can stand to wait for it to give up, dump the mixture into a very fine mesh strainer over a bowl. NO MASHING. You want a clear, pulpless product.
Let this drain a spell, then heat the kettle and put your rooibos tea into a small, spouted measuring cup. Brew about 1 c of tea, for about two minutes (longer and it gets narsty-tasting), and then pour this (or the same amount of plain hot water) over the fruit in the strainer. I rigged up a bowl that fit inside the strainer and placed a weight on top, to hasten the straining-and-draining-without-mashing.
Pour the final product into a bottle or jar with the reserved sprig inside it, and store in the fridge until happy hour. If it's hard for you to discard the fruit mixture that's left in the strainer, because so much seems possible in there still, dump it into a mason jar and cover with a cup or two of rice vinegar. In about a week, whatever remains in the fruits and aromatics will have surrendered; pour this through a coffee filter or fine mesh strainer, and you're set to make a heck of a vinaigrette or deglaze a chicken pan like a boss.