By Camper English
Filling my bag with fresh fruits, veggies and herbs at the farmer’s market or produce aisle of the grocery store, smelling the winter citrus and autumn spices, and planning out the menu for the week ahead: It’s enough to make a person really thirsty.
Innovative mixologists across the country have become obsessed with putting food ingredients into drink form, giving us Bacon Bloody Marys, Avocado Daiquiris and Pumpkin Cocktails. They’re also working hard on putting drinks in food form, from Liquid Nitrogen Caipirinhas to Gin and Tonic Gelatin to Deconstructed Negronis. But getting your recommended serving of fruits and veggies served in a glass can be a lot easier than all that.
The simplest way to drink your produce is to mash it up and suck it down. Citrus fruit like oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes makes for easy juicing, but you can also muddle a lot of juice out of other produce like pears, nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots, kiwi, pineapples and grapes. Just chop them up (removing any large pits), drop them into the bottom of a mixing glass, and start smashing away with your muddler.
To build a drink around fresh muddled produce, add some vodka to the mixing glass and a sweetener, then shake it with ice and strain it into a new glass. Fill with ice and soda water and you’ve got a farm-fresh vodka soda. This procedure is almost the same as making lemonade (with vodka), so you shouldn’t need to write down the recipe.
About that sweetener – if you’re just adding orange juice to a vodka soda you may not need any, but most tart and acidic citrus and other fruit will need a sweetening component for proper balance. By the way, this is the trick to making many cocktails: balancing sweetness with acidity. Understand that and you’ll go far, young bartender.
There are many sweetening options to choose from, including homemade simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water), honey or a liqueur like triple sec, the sweetener that balances the lime in a Margarita.
As this is a column about putting fresh produce into your drinks, I also suggest you put it into your sweetener. Heat equal parts sugar and water then remove it from heat and toss in fresh herbs like mint, basil, lemongrass or cilantro. Be sure not to burn them or your syrup will taste wilted instead of wonderful. You can also make spicy syrups with hot peppers or ginger, or simmer dried spices like black peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon and vanilla.
For all syrups, stir the ingredients for several minutes to an hour to extract all the flavor you can. Then strain out any solids and store the syrup in the refrigerator where it will keep for several weeks. With homemade farm-fresh syrup on hand, you’ll always have the ingredients to put produce into your diet, even if you’re on a liquid diet for the night.