BY AMY PENNINGTON
Cordials are essentially sweetened syrups infused with herbs, spice or plants. They are simple to make and offer a wide range of flavors and essences to anyone willing to experiment. Cordials offer a perfect solution for a non-alcoholic “cocktail” that is nothing short of grown up. For this syrup, you can use either fresh or dried German chamomile flower heads. Chamomile is a dainty little yellow and white flower that has a tendency to prosper in garden beds, cracks in the sidewalk and anywhere else it can take hold. Known for its medicinal properties (and ability to soothe), the sweet flavor from the flower heads also makes for a gentle summer drink. Add some syrup to some fizzy water and serve over crushed ice. If you want to go for gold, add a splash of cognac—its gentle flavor won’t overpower the floral note. This syrup is also delicious brushed onto a simple buttermilk cake.
Makes about 2 cups | start to finish: 30 minutes
2 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers (or 1 tablespoon fresh chamomile flower heads)
2 cups boiled water
1/4 cup honey
Add chamomile flowers to muslin steeping bag or fine mesh tea strainer. (Chamomile seeds are quite small and thin, so be sure to use fine mesh so they don’t escape and float in your syrup.) Steep in boiled water until liquid is stained yellow and perfumed, about 20 minutes. Press any reserved liquid out from the muslin bag and discard the solids. Add the honey, and stir until dissolved. Keep in the refrigerator until cool.
Once cooled, completely, add crushed ice to a glass. Pour in about ½ cup of the chamomile cordial and top with equal parts seltzer water. Garnish with a thin slice of cucumber to fancy it up. If you like, add a float of cognac and serve immediately.
Store cordial in a clean jar or bottle, covered, in the fridge where it will last for several weeks.
In the summer season, Seattle suffers from a glut of plums; if you call having access to beautifully colored, perfectly sweet, silky fruit suffering. Italian plum trees grow throughout the city and are highly prolific producers. They are wonderful baked into tarts or eaten fresh, but also hold enough of their shape to warrant canning them. I have spotted a random greengage plum tree here and there, as well. These plums will work, but are best left for jam or eating straight from the tree. Whatever plum you desire, keep your eyes peeled and ask your neighbors to share. This recipe is a perfect for preserving the extras you’re bound to find. Plums cooked in wine can be eaten as sweet desserts or additions to savory meals—a perfect way to expand your pantry. The acidity in the plums and wine make this recipe safe for water bath canning.
Makes about 4 pints | start to finish: 2.5 hours, plus overnight
4 pounds plums, cut in half and pitted
6 cups dry red wine
2 oranges, juiced, zest from one orange reserved
1 1/2 cups sugar
10 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cardamom pods
6 black peppercorns
6 allspice berries
Place wine, orange juice, sugar, orange zest and spices into a large pot and let set over medium heat. Bring to a low simmer and let spices infuse, about 20 minutes. Add halved plums and cook until plums are soft, but are not breaking down and losing their shape, about 15 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop out plum halves and add to pint jars. Turn heat to high and boil liquid until reduced and slightly thickened, stirring constantly, about 20 to 30 minutes. Strain spices from liquid and add liquid to jars, leaving 1/2″ of head space. Tap the jars lightly on the counter or stir gently with a wooden chopstick or skewer to release any air bubbles from the jars.
Using a damp, clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars, and top the jars with lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 20 minutes. Remove each jar with tongs and let cool on the counter. Once cool, make sure seals are secure. Sealed jars may be stored in a cool dark cupboard for up to one year.
Nothing beats a homemade brandied cherry for the ultimate Manhattan garnish. My love of an icy Manhattan inspired me to make these cherries. Brandied cherries are a wonderful gift, so be sure to make enough for giving away as well as stocking in the pantry. I seek out fancy-shaped jars for these, which make them that much more special. Choose a brandy that you actually wouldn’t mind sipping. I’ve gone the really cheap route, and although the final product was okay, I prefer a smooth brandy to one with a sharp bite. These cherries can also be stored in the fridge, if you don’t want to labor over canning them. Use the leftover syrup in desserts or fancy cocktails.
Makes about 5 pints | start to finish: 1.5 hours
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 1/2 cups brandy
5 pounds Bing cherries, pitted (pits reserved)
Put the sugar and water in a large saucepot and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and add the brandy and Bing cherries, letting the mixture sit for 10 minutes.
Pack the jars, adding only cherries until they reach the first ring on the top of the jar. Add a spoonful of reserved pits to each jar. On a folded-over dish towel (for padding), strongly tap the bottom of the jar on the counter, to help pack down the cherries. Fill the jar again, leaving 1/2″ of headspace.
When the jars are full, bring the cherry juice back up to a boil and reduce slightly, about 15 minutes. Using a ladle or a liquid measuring cup for ease, pour hot juice over the jarred cherries, leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Gently stir the cherries to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars, using a damp clean towel, and place the lids and rings on the jars. Process in a water bath for 20 minutes.
To make the most of the leftover liquid, while the jars of cherries are in the water bath, reduce any remaining brandy liquid over high heat until thick, like syrup. Pour this into small (4-ounce) canning jars and add a spoonful of pits to each jar. Process this syrup in a water bath, as you did for the cherries.
Remove the jars with tongs and let cool on the counter. When the jars are cool, remove the metal rings, check for proper seals, and label with date and contents.
Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use, for up to a year.
Amy Pennington is the creator and owner of GoGo Green Garden and Urban Garden Share. Her first book, Urban Pantry, was published in spring of 2010. To learn more about what’s going on in the gardens or in the kitchen, visit www.amy-pennington.com/go-go-green-garden.