'Tis the Season

Nope, you did not pull a Rip Van Winkle, going to sleep under heavy air conditioning and missing the whole rest of the year, awakening just before Caroling in the Square.

Nor are you being accosted here by one of the interminable "Christmas in July" sales, possibly the lamest advertising gimmick since P.T. Barnum entertained the masses–or at least that denomination of the masses defined by having one of their number born every minute.

Actually it’s the season of ripe, sweet fruits. Yummy. Now we have access to the best and the freshest produce of the year, including cantaloupes, strawberries, watermelon, cherries, apples, peaches, pears, plums, blueberries, figs, pineapple, and raspberries. Those are in addition to the fruit that we can access anytime, like grapefruit, bananas, oranges, lemons and limes.

We are looking at a cornucopia of good-for-you riches. What should we do with those marvelous products of Mother Earth? Surely you are not going to let all the farmers’ good efforts go to waste.

When it comes to spirits, or even wine, most of us think of fine fruits merely as a garnish. Stick an orange wedge here; squeeze a lemon or lime there, add ice and drink. C’mon, with all this opportunity, you can certainly do better than that. Work with me here!

Do me just one little favor, would you? Before you begin your Mad Scientist routine and head for the kitchen/grocery store/liquor cabinet, keep uppermost in your mind that the fruit you will be adding to a spirit or a wine contains sugar. Coupled with that thought, the spirit or the wine also contains sugar.

My point? If the recipe calls for the addition of more sugar, be very judicious in the quantity. In fact, let’s not add any more sugar until the concoction is complete. If your taste would like it a bit sweeter, go for it. But restraint in the sugar department is the key word in making drinks with fruits.

Now, let’s move forward with a drink that makes itself. Can’t beat that. It does take a bit of time, however, and there is really no rushing it.

Take 2 cups of your favorite fresh fruit. Add a bit, not a lot, of spice or an herb that you like. Try mint or a dash of nutmeg, maybe a bit of ginger. Think about cooking combinations, like apples and cinnamon. Take a favorite spirit. Gin, vodka, rum, bourbon, whatever you like. Put all the ingredients together in a large, sealed container in a cool, dark place. Let it sit for a couple of days. Try it. Still needs more work? Let it sit for a few more days.

You have just made your own infused spirit, to your taste and to your liking. Pretty neat.

Why not combine a bunch of fruits to make a drink? Take 2 oz. light rum, 1 ½ cups watermelon, a half a peach, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice. Blend with a cup of ice, strain and serve.

Okay, let’s take a line from a nationally known chef and “kick it up a notch.” The Banana-Berry-Bash uses half a banana, 8 pieces (chunks) of fresh pineapple, 4 strawberries, ½ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice, 1 ½ ounce Captain Morgan’s Parrot Bay Coconut Rum®, 1 ounce Malibu Rum®, 1 ounce Crème de Strawberry, and off to the side, Triple Sec to be added later, in small increments, should the sugar level not be to your liking.  Put all ingredients in blender, with ice, then serve in a tall (highball) glass. Garnish with cherry and whipped cream, if you wish.

The key to all of this, and it’s very difficult to go wrong with any drink you wish to make, is that the “freshness” of the drink comes through like gangbusters. Why use juices and syrups in drinks when you can have the real deal? There is quite a difference.

Of course, you know the recipes for the classic daiquiri and mojito. They are simple three-ingredient drinks. Now add a bit of fresh fruit to the base drink, shake or blend, maybe even freeze, and you have a wonderfully refreshing taste that will have you heading back to the fruit section of the grocery store again and again.

I know a lot of people make sport of sangria. And those styles of drinks, when made at a lot of bars and restaurants, are insipidly sweet and without any definable tastes. It’s sad that this has happened to such a good idea. Try making your own and you will see you can do a lot better than many bar professionals.

Cheryl Charming over at Bombay Club, and author of The Everything Bartender’s Book, takes 4 ounces of a good, not a great, red wine, that is just a bit on the sweet side, like Beaujolais, then 1 ounce of blackberry brandy, ½ ounce of fresh-squeezed orange juice, soda water or Perrier to fill glass, and hold off to the side a bit of pineapple juice. Don’t use it until you have to, if you have to.

Shake all the ingredients together and add in a mess of oranges, pineapples, whatever. See what you think. If it is not quite to your liking add more of something. If it is not sweet enough, reach for that pineapple juice. Here is a sangria with a nice punch and good flavors.

Lastly let’s say you are not the experimental type. All of this blending and shaking and sipping and rectifying and tasting is just not your speed. This inability or distant interest in the project does not mean you won’t be able to get your daily dose of fresh fruit (along with a spirit or two).

The gang over at Whiskey Blue in the W Hotel on Poydras Street is featuring drinks made with seasonal fruits all summer. Special presentations of the Watermelon Spice, Strawberry Mojito, Blackberry Bash, and a Black Raspberry Martini (made with sparkling wine), are prepped and ready–no need for you to mess up your kitchen.

There’s just no reason for you to keep drinking what you usually would in December. Now we have real but limited opportunities for ingredients that are in season and waiting for imagination and palates. Luckily for the peaches, watermelons and plums, you have both.

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