Forget Jam. We're Making Booze with Our Summer Berries
Summer berries are everywhere, and at prices that make them an affordable indulgence. And while we eat our fill fresh and pop them in pies and crumbles and crisps (or make a fresh, delicious terrine), many of us are digging into preserving to have that fresh flavor all year long. If you love to do home canning, jam is the natural way to fill the pantry with beautiful berries to enjoy long after the season has passed. But for most, the art of preserves and jam is just a teeny step too far, requiring a lot of time and fuss, and special equipment.
A new, thrilling use for summer berries: berry liqueur!
Never fear: If you have berries and sugar, you are ready to make the easiest and dare I say most thrilling preserved product imaginable. Berry liqueur. And it could not be simpler. Two ingredients and time.
I learned this technique, since it cannot really be called a recipe, from Anne Willan, one of the doyennes of cookery. I first read about it in Anne's cookbook From My Chateau Kitchen, and knew I had to give it a shot!
This recipe uses equal parts by weight berries and sugar. I will usually ask at my local farmers market if they have any berries set aside for jam, since those will usually be priced much lower than the perfect ones. Or sometimes at the end of the day they will sell whatever they have left at a lower price.
How to make berry liqueur
While you should pick through your berries for any leaves, twigs or bugs, DO NOT WASH THEM! You need their natural wild yeasts to help the natural fermentation process. Weigh your berries, then weigh an equal amount of sugar. Layer them, alternating berries and sugar, in large jars that have hinged lids. Remove the rubber gaskets from the lids so that air can escape as the fermentation process goes along.
Store the jars in a cool, dark place, stirring once a week or so, for a minimum of six months. When the mixture stops bubbling? It is ready to consume, although it will continue to mellow and develop in flavor as it sits. Keep tasting until you are thrilled! It is always hard to wait for your first batch to be done but patience will be rewarded. I recommend making a new batch every summer, so that you are never without.
Once the mixture has reached the flavor you like, you can either strain out the berries, or leave them in. I leave them in so that I have the flexibility to serve the soused berries over ice cream or sorbet or on top of panna cotta or custard. The liqueur I serve either chilled as an after-dinner tipple, or in Champagne for a homestyle Kir Royale.
If you have never dabbled in home fermentation, this is a great start. Simple and foolproof, and you'll keep that summer berry flavor on your lips all year round.