The theme for this month’s Mixology Monday is Local Flavor. Our host is Kevin of Save the Drinkers, and while I don’t despise globalization as he does, I echo his affection for local flavors and specialties.
Living here in western Pennsylvania, particularly in summertime, I’m lucky to have delightful, fresh ingredients right at hand. Corn is the big crop here now; if you have any occaision to come through this area in the next few weeks, make a point of stopping at any of the gazillion roadside stands and picking up a few dozen ears. You don’t have to cook them. Just eat them raw. You’ll be spoiled for anything other than extremely fresh corn again, but it will be worth it.
Still, for MxMo purposes I didn’t think corn was the right choice. Interesting, but too complicated. Instead, I thought back to my childhood, and I headed to my parents’ back yard.
Their yard looks like this:
When I was growing up here, we picked blackberries every summer, right at the center point in that photo. In my memory, the summer weather was always ridiculously hot and humid, but for berry picking we bundled up in long sleeves and jeans because the bushes are studded throughout with thorns, and there were poison ivy vines mingled throughout as well.
Still, the effort wasn’t that great, because you could reach out and lift up one single branch. Underneath it you’d find great bunches of blackberries, hanging thick as bunches of grapes, and nearly as big.
Please note that blackberries aren’t the same as raspberries, or even black raspberries. They’re a bit more tart, and they hang onto a bit of stem inside instead of being kind of hollow like a raspberry. They go great with peaches (which we also used to grow at home). The plants grow like weeds (as Stevi points out), but they’re also a bit fickle about whether they’ll give you happy huge berries or sad little ones.
My mother had said there wasn’t a huge crop this year, and on my first pass around I thought she was right.
The thing is, blackberries are sneaky. You look at a bush, and you see maybe just a few berries. But carefully grasp a stalk and pull up, and you may find great globs of juicy goodness.
In all, I came away with about two pints of berries, huge and gorgeous and sweet/tart as blackberries could ever be, and as organic as anyone could ask.
As to what to do with them: I thought back to January and the homemade grenadine I cooked up for that month’s MxMo. I figured blackberries would be an interesting alternative.
But I’d also searched around a bit and spotted this recipe for a syrup of blackberries and rosemary.
So. I made two batches of syrup, one with rosemary and one without. They both took far longer than the listed 20 minutes to cook, but each was delicious and drool-worthy.
I mixed up two Brandy Daisies, trying the blackberry syrup and blackberry-herb syrup each in place of the grenadine. These syrups were not nearly as thick and sugary as my grenadine though. I had to fiddle with ratios to get it right (a task made harder by the ridiculously tart lemons I have).
The rosemary-enhanced syrup turned out to be vastly more interesting than the plain berry syrup — lots of complicated flavor, a little bit of surprise. Honestly, I was blown away by it. I want to put it on everything and eat it by the spoonful.
Then I thought the daisy cocktail recipe with blackberry-herb syrup might work well with gin instead of brandy, so I pulled out a bottle of Plymouth. The result is this, my suggestion for the month:
Blackberry Gin Daisy
2 oz gin
1 oz blackberry-rosemary syrup
.25 to .5 oz lemon juice (depending on tartness and taste)
sprig rosemary and additional berries to garnish
Shake gin, syrup, and lemon juice with ice. Serve in cocktail glass with rosemary and berries.
Even if you don’t have the berries to garnish, put a fresh rosemary sprig in the glass. It’s interesting to look at, and it adds an amazing scent to the drink.
Please check out the other ideas and inspiration in this month’s MxMo — watch Save the Drinkers for the summary post. Cheers!