Monday, June 25, 2012

Liquid Summer Necessities

Summer’s arrival last week was timed perfectly with the heat and energy-sucking humidity. In this weather, I don’t feel like turning on the oven; in fact, I’m convinced my appetite actually decreases. Which is saying a lot for me. But my interest in cold and fruity drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, is definitely on the rise.

Two events have positively affected my beverage life lately. The first is the arrival of strawberry season in Massachusetts. Recently I picked over ten pounds of gorgeous strawberries at Verrill Farm in Concord, and I hope to get back for more before the brief season is over. The second is the arrival of a new cookbook called The Homemade Pantry, 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. It’s an inspiring reference book for making everything from cheese to bread to ketchup.

While leafing through The Homemade Pantry (in an effort to avoid cleaning and hulling the aforementioned pounds of berries), I came across a recipe for berry syrup. Bingo! A path to use lots of berries before they spoil, and to enjoy that unique local berry flavor past the season. Add some of this rosy syrup to seltzer, and you have a great homemade soda. Pour the syrup over French toast, and you will start to wonder why you ever needed maple syrup. And it’s an excellent mixer for cocktails—so far I’ve had it mixed with gin and basil, and limoncello and mint (recipe below), both with excellent results.

Another necessity for summer drinks is simple syrup, which really is simple. It’s a mixture of sugar and water that’s quickly cooked to dissolve the sugar, and therefore is a perfect sweetener for cold drinks that doesn’t have a gritty texture. My son likes to squeeze lemons and mix the juice with a splash of simple syrup to make tart lemonade. And it’s perfect in iced coffee.

One of my favorite hot weather wines is a vinho verde, a dry "green" wine from Portugal that’s slightly bubbly and best served cold. I found three choices recently at Menotomy Beer and Wine, and one of the best aspects of vinho verde is the price — I have yet to find a bottle for more than $9.

With so many choices for staying hydrated, I'm ready for a long, hot summer.

Strawberry Limoncello Crush
makes 1 6 oz. drink

2 oz. limoncello
3 T. strawberry syrup (recipe follows)
4 mint leaves
lime wedge

Place syrup, limoncello, mint and lime wedge in a glass. Muddle with a spoon (or muddler if you have one). Add ice and top with seltzer.

Strawberry Syrup
adapted from The Homemade Pantry

2 pounds strawberries, cleaned and stems removed
4 cups water
juice of 2 lemons
½ cup sugar
pinch of salt

Place strawberries and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook until the strawberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend the mixture until smooth (using an immersion blender or, alternately, by placing the liquid in a stand blender and, after letting cool a bit, pulsing until smooth). Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the syrup into a clean pot. Add lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until the syrup is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Taste for sugar and add more if needed. Allow to cool.
Keep refrigerated (will last about 2 weeks; can also be frozen).

Simple Syrup

Mix 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Allow to cool. Keep refrigerated (will last indefinitely).