Locavore. The word sounds like it probably was something made up in California. And it was.
The term locavore was coined in the San Francisco area just a few years ago to denote a consumer, mainly of food, who is concerned about the environment and good nutrition, and who concentrates on ingredients that are grown locally – within, say, a 100-mile radius. This approach to cuisine has the benefit of assuring the freshest possible ingredients, and the environment will benefit by eliminating transportation over long distances. Carbon footprint, you know.
Of course Californians, notorious for crazy ideas and concepts that soon make it into the mainstream of American thought and actions, believed they were onto something new. New Orleanians have been committed to locavore practices for almost 300 years and we have the physical evidence to prove it, in the form of the French Market, which has been in operation almost from the moment this village was founded.
And we were not breaking ground even back then because this was the way that people all around the world accessed fresh and raw products for their dinner tables (or whatever the hell they ate on or near).
From the beginning, New Orleans was a fortunate place; we have fertile soils everywhere, and the greatest fisheries on planet earth literally at our doorstep. Sometimes too close to our doorstep, and sometimes over our doorstep, but you get my drift.
We are good practicing locavores, only we never thought about it in such terms. Still, we love what we can harvest from our dirt and our waters. We’ve always preferred a Louisiana strawberry over something grown anywhere else, and our fish are so diverse in flavor, and so fresh, that we happily eat them practically every day and never get tired of the experience. Talented chefs, mostly from around here because their mamma taught them the right way to prepare dinner, place before us amazing dishes which are respected and envied around the world.
In short, if you are a foodie, then you could not be in a better place. And now you get extra points because you are a locavore. Geez, sometimes it really is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Let’s extend the concept, mostly because we can. What would you say to growing your own ingredients for use in cocktails? They would be fresh, raised by your loving hands, available to you at a low cost, convenient, and possess the intense flavors only truly homemade, homegrown ingredients can provide. Pretty cool, eh?
Maybe it is not practical for you to grow everything in your garden. But you can pay particular attention to what is being displayed at your supermarket, fresh market or farmers’ market, of which there is at least one in some part of town every day. Keep in mind that you want the very freshest product and that, whenever possible, you will support local farmers by purchasing their wares.
Growing your own cocktails, or at least purchasing ingredients wisely, also assures that you will be drinking well year-round, and you’ll have a variety of beverages that pair with the seasons along with other seasonal ingredients that should end up on your dinner table anyway. It’s a no-brainer.
Natalie Bovis pictures herself as “The Liquid Muse,” and while I am not certain what she means by that, there is no mistaking the message in her new book, Edible Cocktails, just published (2012) by Adams Media at 222 pages.
The usual suspects in the citrus, fruit, herb and vegetable kingdoms are addressed, including limes, basil, figs, lemons, sage, rosemary, mint, cucumber, grapefruit, tomatoes, watermelon and mango (and I’m thinking she has not had enough, if any, experience with satsumas, but we have).
But she also has recipes which make use of pine, cilantro, lavender, strawberry, peach, ginger, and blueberry, all of which are certainly capable of being raised right here, or very near here.
And the really unusual can enter into the fray, like bacon, prosciutto, cantaloupe, bleu cheese, grapes, cranberry, coffee, milk, pepperoni and chorizo.
Where the volume really hits stride, I think, is when small touches are fully developed, which can mean a great deal to the end product, your cocktail. For instance, Ms. Bovis spends well-invested time on rimming spices. She has a number of recipes that combine herbs and spices and then pairs the result with a drink. Looks to me like you will be trying figure out ways to rim the glass several times with the concoction still being enjoyed because you will be licking off the rimming spice with every sip. (N.B. Be mindful of gravity. The laws are immutable.)
She also does a marvelous job of teaching you not only what herb, fruit or meat to infuse into your spirit, but how to do it. Have you ever considered making your own batch of bitters? You will now.
All of the spirits’ groups come into play, including wines and beers, and I have an image of every reader referring to the book again and again whenever the time comes to impress guests or to create go-cups for traveling to the first stop of the evening. And I’ll bet Ms. Bovis never envisioned that use for her many recipes.
Our area provides such a great bounty of foods and this book addresses something we should have been doing all along. As good a chef as many of us are, we can now be a better cocktail chef.
1 cup fresh basil
1 cup fresh thyme
½ cup orange peel
¼ cup lemon pith (The pith is the white part of the lemon peel. When you slice off the outer skin for use in twists and zests, keep the pith for your homemade bitters.)
½ cup mavi root
½ cup cinchona bark
10 sticks licorice root
1/3 cup grains of paradise (guinea pepper)
Handful of grated or powdered allspice
8 cups (2 liters) high-proof vodka (over 100)
Combine all ingredients in a glass jar and allow to sit for 4 weeks. Shake daily. Double strain, then bottle, and store in small eyedropper bottles.
Meyer Lemon Rimming Sugar
Great with a Lemon Drop cocktail, as a rimming agent in non-alcoholic lemonade or sprinkled on cupcakes and ice cream
3 heaping teaspoons Meyer lemon zest
1 cup granulated sugar
Zest a Meyer lemon, removing as little pith as possible. Dry the zest overnight. Then place the zest and ¼ cup of sugar into a food processor and grind until well mixed and powdery. Mix in remaining sugar and store in airtight container.