Black Sour Cherry Vodka

Until we moved to the Hudson Valley, I had never heard of black sour cherries. Apparently they are a big deal. Last year, we went to Cherry Ridge Farms in Hudson to pick red sour cherries about a week before the black sours were ready. We were firmly warned to stay away from the black sour trees and that if any forbidden cherries found their way into our basket, we would be charged triple the price. I expected to see armed guards protecting the trees.

If their goal was to build hype about the black sour cherries, it worked on me. I had to have some. I marked opening day on my calendar and worked out our schedule around it. Unfortunately, we got there too late. I guess they weren’t kidding when they said they went fast. By 11:30 a.m. on opening day, Cherry Ridge Farms’ trees were bare.

While standing around with our empty pail, we heard that Fix Brothers still had some, so we raced over there. As we turned up the winding road to the orchard, we started noticing cars parked on the roadside, lots of cars.

There was a bit of a frenetic energy in the air. Scores of people were scurrying around the trees, loading their buckets. I happily joined in the frenzy.

The trees were dripping with big, dark-red cherries. I started grabbing handfuls. To me, it was like the opening scene to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — magical and gluttonous.

I asked people what they planned to do with the cherries. There were a few people, like us, who were just picking because it seemed like the thing to do. With this many people clamoring for the dark-red orbs, they must be something special. Others were picking with purpose and that purpose was black sour cherry liqueur. Prized as an elixir of sorts, the homemade beverage is a staple in many Eastern European countries, which explained all of the head scarves being worn and hard consonants being spoken.

Black sour cherries are more tart than the red ones. The tartness makes them perfect for baking or making brandy or liqueurs. Fix Brothers’ black sours are Morello cherries, which range from a medium red to a dark mahogany red. The longer they stay on the tree, the darker they get.

Like blueberries and other purplish-red fruits, sour cherries contain anthocyanins, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The darker the cherries, the more anthocyanins they have. Cherries are purported to relieve painful inflammatory conditions such as gout and arthritis. Plus a cup of fresh sour cherries has 40 percent of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin A, 26 percent of vitamin C; 2 percent of calcium and 3 percent of iron. No wonder liqueur made from black sour cherries is prized!

My husband had to drag me out of the orchard. This year, I will try to remember that we will have to pit all of the cherries we pick. Maybe that will get me out of the orchard faster.

Sour cherries are easier to pit than sweet cherries. I don’t use a cherry pitter, mainly because I don’t have one, but I also don’t think it’s necessary. Pitting sour cherries is a little messy, since they are full of juice. Wear an apron and rubber gloves if you don’t want to have to scrub your cherry-stained fingers.

After I wash the cherries, I set out two large bowls. Over one bowl, I squeeze the pit out. With a little practice, you’ll be able to remove the pit without squirting yourself with cherry juice. Then I place the pitted cherry in the second bowl. Both bowls will accumulate lots of juice. Keep that! When I’m all done, I strain the juice from both the pits and the cherries, sweeten it a tad and drink it.

Sour Cherry Infused Vodka

My husband made this last year. This year, we are tripling the recipe! If you are a teetotaler, just omit the vodka, add a bit of seltzer after straining and enjoy your homemade cherry soda!

This recipe is adapted from New York Magazine.

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh black sour cherries, washed and pitted (you may add a few stems and leaves for flavor)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cups vodka


Method

  • In a large jar with a lid, add cherries, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Crush the cherries with a wooden spoon. Seal the jar and store for a week in a dark, dry place.
  • Add vodka, reseal and shake well. Infuse for a month in a dark place, giving it a shake every three or four days.
  • Strain through a cheesecloth. Add a few cherries to a bottle or jar and fill with infused vodka.
  • Serve in small glasses, over ice or neat, either as an aperitif or a digestive.

Should keep for years, but ours didn’t last a month (which is why we’ll triple the batch this year).

To your health!

Spicy Chai

My Aunt sent me a chai recipe. She makes hers with a chai masala spice and black tea. If you can find the chai masala spice, mix it with black tea and your work is done. If not, follow this recipe.

I always buy spices in bulk. They are a fraction of the cost and you can get just the quantity you need. Cardamom is a good example. A 1.75 ounce jar runs about $12. In bulk, the same amount is a little over $3.

While it is tempting to use ground spices for this, don’t. The chai will get sort of slimy and will be hard to strain (yes, this I know from experience).

Ingredients
1/2 of a star anise star and/or 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of cinnamon bark (or 2 short sticks)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2-3 cardamom pods opened to the seeds or 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
3 cups water
2 heaping tablespoons loose black tea
3 cups whole milk
Sugar or honey

Method

  • In a 2-qt saucepan, add spices to 3 cups of water.
  • Boil for a few minutes then remove from heat and let steep for 5 to 20 minutes. The longer it steeps, the stronger it will be. I steep it for the full 20 minutes.
  • Add 3 cups of whole milk to the water and spices. Bring just to a boil and remove from heat.
  • Add the loose tea and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey or sugar.

Makes four 12oz cups.

Horchata de Arroz

This is a drink you don’t see every day, unless you happen to be south of the border. Horchata (or-CHA-tah) de Arroz is a pan-Latin sweet rice beverage. It’s creamy, delicious and most definitely a thirst quencher. Since it is recommended to avoid too much caffeine on hot days, this is a healthy iced-coffee substitute.

Ingredient
2 cups rice (I use brown rice, but white rice is more common)
6 cups Water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/3 cup honey (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Method

  • In a covered container, soak rice and lime juice in 3 cups of the water, overnight.
  • Add the rice lime-water mixture and cinnamon to a blender and puree until smooth.
  • Strain through a fine-meshed sieve or cheesecloth. If you find too much grit in the beverage, strain it again using two layers of cheesecloth.
  • Add the remaining 3 cups of water, honey and extracts and stir until honey has dissolved. Adjust honey to taste and serve over ice with a dash of cinnamon.

Makes about 2 quarts

Raspberry Mint Limeade

While I am a big lemonade fan, limeade is my favorite summer treat. The raspberries and mint give this a tasty twist.

Ingredients
1 cup lime juice (6-10 limes)
1 pint fresh raspberries
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/2 cup honey or sugar
2 cups water

Method

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
  • Strain through a fine-meshed sieve to remove seeds.
  • Serve over ice and garnish with a mint sprig and lime slice.

Makes 1 quart

Iced Grape Earl Grey

I first had this refreshing drink at a teahouse in Washington, DC. It’s a delicious combination of the floral taste from the Earl Grey and the sweetness from the grape juice.

Ingredients
6 bags of Earl Grey Tea
1 frozen can of 100% grape juice concentrate
Water

Method

  • In a heat-proof container place tea bags. Cover with 2-cups of boiling water and let steep for 6-8 minutes then remove tea bags.
  • In a 2 quart-sized container, add grape juice concentrate. Mix in the brewed tea. Add water to fill container.
  • Serve over ice.

Makes 2 quarts

Honey Basil Lemonade

It is hot. Really hot. All I want to do is sit in a cool room and sip on an ice-cold beverage and maybe take a nap.

Seltzer is my go-to drink. I drink it by the gallon. It’s not too exciting but does the trick and with zero calories. In the summer heat, I like to step up my liquid consumption and get a bit giddy about all my cool summer beverage options. It’s hard to choose, so I like to keep a selection on hand.

Homemade lemonades and limeades are some of my favorite summer thirst quenchers. They are far superior to anything you can buy ready-made, especially if you tend to grab the artificially flavored powdered stuff off a shelf.

With homemade citrus drinks, there is that pesky matter of getting the juice out of the fruit. There are several tools that can help make quick work of the task. On the high-end, there are electric juicers. I’ve never used one, but I’m sure they juice beautifully.

On the low-end, there are wooden lemon reamers. This is one of my favorite tools. It’s effective, takes up little space and is cheap, three qualities I look for in kitchen gear.

There are two tricks to getting the most juice out of citrus. First, use room temperature fruit. A slightly warm lime will yield more juice than an icebox cold one. Second, before cutting the fruit, press down firmly on the it and roll it under your palm on a hard surface like a kitchen counter. This breaks down the interior membranes of the lime, which will release more of the juice.

I like to keep one and two-quart mason jars around for summer drinks. A nice pitcher also works, but they tend to take up too much room in our over-crowded refrigerator. With mason jars, I can have a jar of lemonade, limeade, iced tea and horchata and still have room for the eggs!

Drink up and stay cool!

Honey Basil Lemonade
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve noticed that basil has been making its way into fancy cocktails these days. I decided to try a version sans alcohol.

Ingredients
1/3 cup honey
1 cup hot water plus cold water
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4-5 lemons)

Method

  • In a small bowl combine the honey and hot water and stir until the honey is dissolved, let cool.
  • In a 1-quart jar or pitcher, add basil leaves and muddle (or crush) them with a wooden spoon or muddler. This will release the basil’s oil.
  • Stir in the lemon juice and honey mixture. Fill jar or pitcher with water.
  • Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight (the longer it steeps, the stronger the basil flavor). Strain and pour into ice-filled glasses.

Serves 2-4.

Spinach Smoothie…make Popeye proud!

As a child, my husband went through a phase of eating canned spinach because he wanted to be strong, yes, like Popeye the sailor man. He felt it was important to pay his own way in this endeavor and used his allowance. I guess Popeye wouldn’t stand for having his mom buy his spinach either.

I can’t think of any worse way to choke down spinach than by the can. I’m not a fresh-spinach snob by any means, I use frozen spinach quite a bit. In fact, it is one of the things I keep stocked in my freezer. But canned spinach does nothing for me.

Luckily, spring is here and with it comes fresh greens. Hallelujah!

Spinach is a good source of iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, K, and magnesium. It is also high in antioxidants— all of this with just seven calories a cup (raw).

Fresh spinach often collects sand and dirt, so you need to wash it well to avoid an unpleasant grit feeling in your salad. There is a trick to washing spinach. First trim off the roots and separate the leaves and rinse. Then place spinach in a large bowl of water and swish it around a bit. It’s important to lift the spinach out of the water since sand and dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to repeat this a couple of times.

Spinach Smoothie
This is not a pretty drink, so if you want to slide this by your kids, blindfold them and call it Strawberry Surprise. Except for the color, it’s hard to tell the smoothie is loaded with spinach. This delicious drink has a serving of vegetables and two servings of fruit. The ground flax seeds add a shot of omega 3. The yogurt adds calcium and probiotics (beneficial bacteria.) Have it for breakfast and get a jump start on your fruits and vegetables for the day. We usually have ours with a hard-boiled egg.

Note: spinach contains oxalates and purines, which in some people, may play a part in causing kidney stones. So, Sean, go easy on these!

Ingredients
8 oz. plain yogurt
1 cup orange juice
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
2 cup fresh spinach, well washed
1 frozen banana
1 teaspoon ground flax seeds

Chop banana, place in freezer bag and freeze overnight. This makes the smoothie extra smooth. If you are starting with fresh strawberries, slice and freeze those as well.

Puree all ingredients together in a blender. Pour into glass and make Popeye proud.

Makes two 12 once smoothies.

Rhubarb Soda and Rhubarb Ice Tea

I’ve been lucky enough to get two armloads of rhubarb lately. I picked the second bunch from my friend Hudson’s ancient rhubarb patch. What a beauty!

Rhubarb Soda
Ingredients
4 cups rhubarb, roughly chopped
1 to 2 cup sugar (depending if you want a sweet or tart soda)
3 cups water
Seltzer or other fizzy water

Method
-Place rhubarb, water and 1 cup of sugar in saucepan. Bring to a boil.
-Turn heat down and cook until rhubarb falls apart. Taste and adjust the sweetness.
-Strain and chill the syrup. (I keep the cooked down rhubarb and throw it in muffins.)
-Serve over ice with seltzer.

Rhubarb Ice Tea
-Follow the recipe for rhubarb soda.
-Add three tea bags to the syrup while it is cooling. I like to use Earl Grey.
-Dilute with 2 quarts of water.
-Serve over ice

Refreshing!

Cinnamon Tincture and Liqueur

I love cinnamon. I put it in everything I can get away with, including a sprinkle in my coffee every morning. Turns out, not only is cinnamon delicious, it’s also good for you.

This blog entry is from herbalist extraordinaire, Kate Temple-West of Friendly Herbalist. She’s much better suited to talk about the virtues of cinnamon. Thanks, Kate! Be sure to check out her site at: www.friendlyherbalist.com. She plans to start a blog soon, so stay tuned.

From Kate:
Cinnamon is a delicious warming spice with many culinary and medicinal uses. It is excellent for circulation, and is especially helpful for people with perpetual cold hands and feet. In both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda it is used to ward off colds. It is diaphoretic, (opens the pores and helps you to sweat), which helps to remove toxins and other impurities from the body. It is anti-bacterial, helps to regulate blood sugar, is pain relieving, promotes digestion, and eases muscle tension. It is astringent (drying), and is helpful in cases of diarrhea by sprinkling it on top of a stewed green apple. It makes a good mouth wash for bleeding gums. Needless to say these facts are no substitute for a doctor, but they are still useful to know in a pinch, since pretty much everyone has some cinnamon powder in their kitchen somewhere.

Click here for the recipe>>

Obamatini

I don’t know about you, but I plan to celebrate a little this Tuesday. I have seen other recipes for Obamatinis. A popular one calls for blueberries. Blueberries? I guess that’s for the blue states. I think my husband’s and my creation is a bit more à propos or at least bipartisan.

2 oz vodka
1 oz pineapple juice
A splash or two of fresh ginger syrup (more if you want a sweeter drink)
Garnish with a crystallized ginger slice.

Place in shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain and serve in chilled glasses.

Cheers!

Ginger Ale

This isn’t just another thing to make with all the whey you have leftover from making cheese; it’s a tasty healthy spicy/sweet drink. If you drink soft drinks, it’s a great substitute since it doesn’t have evil HFCS (high fructose corn syrup).

The recipe is modified from one in Nourishing Traditions.

3/4 cups of fresh grated ginger (tip: keep ginger in your freezer; it’s much easier to grate frozen)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2-3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of whey
2 quarts of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Place everything in a 2-quart jar, stir well and cover tightly.
Leave at room temperature for 2-3 days.
Transfer to the fridge (it will keep for several months chilled).
Strain before serving.

It’s not very bubbly, so I usually add a bit of seltzer, I do love seltzer.