The Art of Fashioning Liquid Refreshment
By Debra Knapke
My first mojito… a warm summer evening and a cool drink made of spearmint, lime, sugar and rum. Not having a lot of experience with cocktails, this drink was a revelation: a way to get rid of an overabundance of mint from one’s garden and relax at the same time.
The art of creating drinks with herbs is not a new craft. In the past, herbs and alcohol were used to make water safe to drink. One drink – a shrub – was made with vinegar, fruit and herbs. This preserved fruit drink added Vitamin C to the diet in a time when fresh fruit was dear. The below shrub combines lavender and blueberries which are usually in flower and fruit at the same time.
Recipe: Blueberry-Lavender Shrub
1 pint blueberries, lightly crushed
1 c. sugar
1 c. apple-cider vinegar
8-10 lavender sprigs with flower buds only, no leaves
Combine slightly smashed blueberries with sugar in bowl and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator to macerate – fruit releases its juices in the presence of sugar – for 1 day. Place lavender sprigs in the vinegar and infuse in a dark place for 1 day. Use a fine mesh strainer: pour blueberry mixture through and press lightly to squeeze out any remaining juice. Strain vinegar over the blueberries in the same strainer. Scrape any remaining sugar into juice. You may need to pour the juice back through the fruit to capture all the sugar. Pour through funnel into clean bottle. Cap and shake vigorously, and mark date on bottle. Store in refrigerator for a week before using. Can be refrigerated up to six months.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, herbs muddled and drowned in alcohol became the infamous patent medicines which were said to cure all that ails you. And if they didn’t, at least you didn’t care after tippling several small glasses of Dr. Pierce’s Family Medicine.
A more refined use of herbs and alcohol is the making of liqueurs and aperitifs. But beware: many of these are high in alcohol and are sometimes better used as a flavoring for a cocktail or diluted with seltzer or club soda. A note about water: Tonic has quinine, Mineral Waters – Perrier, Pellegrino – are naturally carbonated, Seltzer is plain water that has been carbonated, Club Soda is carbonated water with added minerals
For the temperate drinker herbs can be muddled with hot water to create tisanes (herbal teas) or infused with cool water and stored in the fridge for when you need a pick-me-up. This summer, experiment with different flavors. Try combining cucumber and spearmint or strawberry and basil.
Debra will be discussing how to Grow, Muddle and Cook with herbs with Ann Fisher on WOSU 89.7 NPR-All Sides on Friday, May 11th at 11:00am