Monday, October 13, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: October, Week 2

After you've covered all the usual methods of food preservation -- and worn yourself out with months of hard work to put food up for winter -- there are still some other techniques you might find worthwhile.

The method that seems to surprise people the most is steeping fruit in alcohol and making a liqueur by adding a simple syrup.

Why is this such a surprise? I'm not inventing something new here. For centuries, people have added ripe fruit to wine or brandy or other spirits as a way to preserve an abundant harvest. And though making liqueur is slightly more involved than that, it isn't difficult and doesn't take much time of active preparation.

Liqueurs consist of three basic parts:

--fruit (and spices) for flavoring
--vodka (or brandy)
--a simple sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water) for sweetening

The recipes I use the most come from a little booklet I found at Lehman's (also available as a PDF) called Making Liqueur for Gifts, and they are made by one of two methods:

--Steep the fruit in the alcohol for an extended period, strain, add sugar syrup, allow flavors to blend, strain, bottle; OR
--Steep the fruit in the alcohol and sugar syup for an extended period, strain, bottle.

Very easy! You don't have to fuss with special equipment since all you need are clean jars and lids, a saucepan to make the syrup, and a funnel for straining.

Late in the summer, I decided to use some of the extra fruit I had found at the farmers' market to start two batches of liqueur: plum-cinnamon and pear-ginger (my all-time favorite). As you can see, the fruit is cut in large pieces, and in both cases I added the vodka, spices, and sugar syrup to the fruit from the start.

While the plum liqueur needs to steep until almost Thanksgiving, the pear-ginger was ready for the first straining after only three weeks. To strain the liqueur, I use a funnel with a piece of clean muslin or cheesecloth to catch some of the sediment from the bottle as I pour the liqueur into a clean jar. I add the fruit to the compost, wash out the fabric, recap the jar, and let the flavors blend for another few weeks.

After the second stretch of inactivity, the pear-ginger liqueur has taken on a rich amber hue, and it looks absolutely stunning when bottled. (You can get these nice green glass bottles at places like World Market, but I also look for liqueur bottles at antique and thrift stores, and I also recycle iced tea bottles for the purpose.)

This past week I bottled both the pear-ginger liqueur and the mead I had started weeks ago, and it warms my heart to know that comparatively little effort on my part has resulted in mildly alcoholic drinks to warm my throat and stomach come winter. (Neither are very potent, just pleasantly intoxicating.)

I'm not a heavy drinker by any stretch -- it can take me a couple months to go through a bottle of wine -- but I do enjoy turning local fruit into something special to sip with friends or on a quiet, mellow evening. I've tried different fruits and have found I most enjoy the pear-ginger, a cranberry-orange brew, hazelnut (very fine in homemade hot chocolate!), blueberry, and orange with coffee beans, but I've also tried peach, raspberry, and even strawberry in the past. The possibilities seem endless!

These homemade liqueurs also make good gifts for friends who appreciate a little tipple once in a while. My Opera-Loving Friends look forward to my different brews each year and provide me with useful feedback -- and they treat each little sample with great reverence, savoring a few sips on special occasions.

This method certainly won't become your most heavily-used way to preserve produce, but it does make a nice change of pace from canning!

Won't you drink to that with me?

Pear-Ginger Liqueur

1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 lb pears (Bartlett are best; avoid ones with cuts or bruises)
1 1/2 c vodka
3 large slices of candied ginger
2 cloves

Combine sugar and water in a small pan and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 to 4 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and syrup coats a spoon. Set aside to cool thoroughly.

Slice pears and place in two glass wide-mouth quart jars. Add vodka and spices, distributing evenly between the two jars. Divide the sugar syrup between the two jars. Stir gently and cover. Allow to steep for three weeks in a dark, cool, dry cupboard.

Strain liqueur into a clean jar, using a funnel and cheesecloth or muslin. Steep another 3 to 4 weeks, then strain again into final bottles.

Yields approximately 1 1/2 pints

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At 10/14/2008 2:10 PM, Anonymous Clint said...

Unrelated to your post, but I noticed that Michael Pollan will be speaking at Oberlin. It's too far for me to make the trip, but it would be nice to hear him in person. You should go; I'll live it through you.

At 10/14/2008 2:51 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I saw that, Clint! Not sure if I will be able to make it, but I'm keeping it in mind...

At 10/14/2008 8:31 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

Interesting... I'll have to keep this in mind as my fruit stash is bulging. thanks!

At 10/15/2008 7:23 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Hope you can give it a try, Janet. It's very pleasing, and it's a good thing to share with friends.

At 10/16/2008 2:56 PM, Blogger Phoenix said...

The pear-ginger is always fantastic. I'll be interested in hearing how the plum-cinnamon turns out...sounds delish!

At 10/16/2008 3:02 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Maybe if we can work out that weekend, Phoenix, I'll bring you some. :-)


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