by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
What better way to celebrate summer fun than with a cool, refreshing garden cocktail? The season of fruity delights paired with the abundance of herbal aromatics delivers a perfect complement for cooling off on a hot day or hosting a backyard party. Berries followed by peaches, melons and apples provide an ever-changing selection of local farm ingredients, while the multitude of herbs offers subtle flavors to add just a bit of flair and sophistication.
In combining fruits and herbs, options for creativity abound. To provide a little inspiration for getting started, my sister Lindsay Record, owner of Fancy Pants Pops, custom order fresh fruit ice pops, shares some of her favorite blends:
Strawberries with mint, lemon balm, Thai basil and lemon verbena
Raspberries with Thai basil or lemon verbena
Watermelon or cantaloupe with lemongrass or mint
Peaches or nectarines with basil
A few more fruits that grow in central Illinois and herbs to try include:
Blueberries with lavender
Apple with rosemary or ginger
Elderberry with honey
Heritage spirits, classic cocktail flavors and small, craft distillers thrived from the 1850s to Prohibition. In 1862, Jerry Thomas, a San Francisco bartender wrote the first cocktail recipe book called “How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion.” In the book’s preface, Thomas wrote:
This is an Age of Progress; new ideas and new appliances follow each other in rapid succession. Inventive genius is taxed to the uttermost in devising new inventions, not alone for articles of utility or necessity, but to meet the ever-increasing demands for novelties which administer to creature-comfort, and afford gratification tc (sic) fastidious tastes.
The craft cocktail resurgence today follows the path of more people wanting to know what they are drinking and where the ingredients come from. To avoid the artificial flavorings, corn syrup, coloring, preservatives and stabilizers now present in typical cocktail ingredients, people make them or buy the drinks from a trusted source.
A festive cocktail sets the tone for a successful gathering or makes an ordinary day extraordinary. It connects us to the roots of our country’s founding. And as Thomas eloquently articulated, creating a drink concoction allows our creative, innovation to flow. Cheers!
Blueberry Lavender Vodka Spritzer
Makes a 32 ounce pitcher
*1 cup blueberries, for ice cubes
*2 cups vodka
*3/4 cup blueberry lavender simple syrup (recipe below)
*4 ounces lime juice
*Fresh lavender for garnish
Divide the cup of blueberries between two ice cube trays and fill with water. Freeze completely, or spread them evenly on a sheet tray and freeze until solid.
In a glass pitcher, combine the vodka, simple syrup, lime juice and club soda. Add ice cubes. Add remaining ice cubes to glasses. Pour the mixture over top and serve with a sprig of lavender.
For the blueberry lavender simple syrup:
*1 cup water
*1 cup sugar
*1 cup blueberries
*4 lavender sprigs (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried food-grade lavender buds)
Combine these three ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to a low simmer and add 4 lavender sprigs (or 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried lavender) and keep on low heat for 10 minutes.
Strain, pressing the blueberries to get all of their juice.
A restaurant called Ballyhoo located in Buffalo, New York makes a similar drink using fruit preserves and I fell in love with it instantly. It sounded strange, but tasted fabulous and now I’m hooked.
*1 tablespoon seasonal fruit preserves
*½ ounce lemon juice
*1 ½ ounces of your favorite alcohol (gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila)
*Sparkling water, for topping
*Seasonal fruit and 1 mint sprig, for garnish
Place the preserves and lemon juice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Stir to combine and loosen the preserves. Add alcohol of choice and some ice and sharply shake. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with sparkling water and garnish with seasonal fruit and a mint sprig.
Fruit Basil Gin Fizz
Makes 1 cocktail
*1 ripe plum, pitted, half diced and half sliced
*10 raspberries, 5 for muddling and 5 for garnish
*5 large basil or 8 Thai basil leaves
*2 ounces gin
*1 ounce simple syrup
*Seltzer, to top drink
*Lime wedge, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the fruit (diced if needed) and basil leaves. Fill the shaker with ice; add the gin and simple syrup. Place on the shaker lid and shake for 1 minute. Pour into a glass. Fill glass to the top with seltzer and garnish with lime wedge.
Basic Simple Syrup
Makes about 1 and a ½ cups
*1 cup water
*1 cup sugar
In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil; simmer until the sugar is dissolved, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
Peach Basil Bellini
*½ cup smooth peach puree
*Fresh basil leaves
In 4 chilled glasses, place 2 tablespoons of peach puree and a basil leaf. Smash the basil a bit with a spoon to release some oil into the peaches, then remove the bruised leaf.
Fill glass to the top (about 6 ounces) of chilled prosecco. Garnish with a fresh leaf of basil.
*1 pound peaches
*Basic Simple Syrup, as needed
Peel, pit and purée the peaches in a food processor. Strain puree through a fine sieve. Add Basic Simple Syrup if the fruit is too tart. Refrigerate until cool.