Walking the dogs the other day when we stumbled onto one of the greatest neighborhood finds to date.  Several of the wild cherry trees along our street are covered with cherries this year. Last year I only identified one tree as a cherry. It had fruit, but the limbs were so high, my eight foot tent pole couldn’t reach the lowest branch. We had a lot of rain last year and a pretty wet, and for us, a colder winter. The plants around here must like that. We seem to be having a greener spring, with more pollen, more insects and it looks like, more cherries.

The trees (Prunus serotina) put out a good show of flowers in early April. That helped me find two that have limbs that I think I can reach. They are covered with fruit now, bit still a little green. We turned up two other younger trees while walking and one of these has ripe fruit ready for picking.

Picking is  a little awkward – I can only reach the lowest branch. One hand holds the branch while the other picks. I do this while clenching a small plastic grocery bag in my teeth to hold the cherries. Pretty awkward when I take the dogs to help provide cover – their leashes get held in the limb holding hand. Completely worth it though. The fruit is mostly pit, but the flavor of what’s left is great. The fruit doesn’t all ripen at once. Three trips back (last one without the dogs) has given me enough for two small projects.

Cherry Bounce 2010

Last year I did this with store bought fresh cherries. This year the neighborhood fruit will do the trick.

My standard infusion technique now is to just cover the fruit with the liquor.  The picture was taken after the first addition of fruit this past weekend. The second two visits gave enough fruit to get my preferred level of fruit to liquid.

One other side project – making some brandied cherries to use as drink garnishes. There are several recipes for this out there on the net. Here’s a representative one. They all involve cooking the fruit a short time in simple syrup, then combining with brandy and steeping for several weeks, plus or minus some spices. I took a short cut.

I mostly filled a Mason jar with sound cherries, covered that with water, then drained that off to measure the volume of liquid needed (3 oz). Next I combined 2 oz Cognac and 1 oz Cherry Heering. The Cherry Heering is sweetened. Next, I stirred in 2 tbsp of sugar and added 1/8 of a teaspoonful if lemon juice. I skipped adding any water and heating the mix. I wanted more alcohol to work as a preservative. The brandy mixture was then poured back onto the cherries in the jar. That will get set away in the dark for several weeks. The base recipe can be adapted to any liquor you choose,  just add one tablespoonful of sugar for each ounce of unsweetened liquor.

All of this is fairly easy (I didn’t bother to wash or pit the fruit).  I’ll do some more as the other trees ripen.

I noticed that the first cherries I added to the Rye were starting to look very pale (and the rye was getting a red tinge). I thought the Cherry Heering  might help prevent a little loss of color in the jarred cherries. We’ll see. Another thought is to use 1/3 port wine and 2/3 cognac. Updates will follow-

Starting point for the Brandied Cherries


Amateur Cocktail Gal has a birthday coming up. She’s invited some friends over for dinner to help celebrate. Two immediately good things have come about in response to that – the house is cleaner now than at any point since we moved back in last year, and a new drink is needed. The latest issue of Imbibe hit the mailbox last week. It is the holiday issue with a nice collection of drink recipes. One in particular caught my eye – the Spiced Pear Daiquiri. As constructed in their article, the drink is made up of rum, lime juice, pear juice and a spiced sugar syrup. I deconstructed it a bit to get the components more in line with the techniques I prefer. The apple infused vodka and cherry syrup from October were impressive, at least I was amazed at how well they turned out. Seemed reasonable to make a pear and spice infused rum as the base:

Pear Spice Rum

  • 75 cl of silver rum

    Spices used

  • 3 ripe pears peeled, cored and diced
  • 10 allspice berries crushed
  • 1 nutmeg crushed
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
  • 6 or so cloves

Infuse for a week and strain.

Starting point

I’ve noticed as I’ve made the various syrups and infusions that you can get different flavor profiles from you ingredients depending on how you extract the flavors. This was pretty obvious with a honeysuckle flower infusions I tried over the summer. The alcohol infusion had a strikingly more vegetal quality than the sugar syrup infusion. In working with the pears it made sense to flavor the sugar syrup in addition to the spirit to try and capture all the fruit has to offer-

Pear syrup

  • 3 pears, peeled,cored and diced
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • small amount of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Mix and simmer for 45 – 60 minutes. Strain and bottle.

This makes around 300 ml of syrup. The wine gives a discernible positive difference over water. If you ue wine, you want one without oak flavor and good acidity. I’ve used whites from the Loire Valley in France (Vouvray and Samur) and most recently a $3 bottle of Wal Mart’s house brand Oak Leaf Pinot Grigio/Chenin Blanc. The Oak Leaf is 80% Chenin making it acidic enough to work well here.  Time for a drink-

The ACG Spiced Pear Daiquiri

  • 2 oz Spice Pear Rum
  • 3/4 oz pear syrup
  • 1/2 to 3/4 oz lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Nice. Prep for the party is now down to just squeezing a few limes. I could go as far as mixing up 8 – 12 drinks before hand. When the guests arrive, I’d measure out a serving, shake and serve.

The final product, a little more than two bottles of Apple vodka and three bottles of premixed Manhattans

Here's what we ended up with - two bottles + a little extra of the Apple vodka and three bottles of pre-mixed spiced Manhattans

Meant to put this up sooner…We settled on a coupe of drinks with the apple infused vodka. One fairly simple made with the vodka, Rose’s Lime Juice and the cherry syrup. You have to be a little careful with the last two so that the sweetness doesn’t get out fo hand:

  • 2 oz apple infused vodka
  • 1/2 oz cherry syrup
  • 1/2 oz Rose’s Lime Juice

Shake and strain

The next idea came a couple of days after Halloween as I tried to figure out what to do with the left over vodka. I’m not a big fan of vodka (I mean what’s the point?). I’ve switched most of my drink making and infusing to using base liquors with some favor of their own. I still had a bottle and a half of the apple vodka to use up though. I thought of the Side Car cocktail, and a variation David Embury wrote about that substituted Calvados for the brandy. Pulled up Eric Felten’srecipe for the Sidecar and modified it a bit to get-

The Apple Sidecar

  • 1-1/2 oz apple infused vodka
  • 1/2 oz cognac
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz lemon juices
  • 1/4 oz cherry syrup

Shake and strain.

Now that was a cool drink. Cheers

Apple Sidecars

Halloween is a Saturday this year. A great chance to serve a few drinks. Our north Asheville friends are having people over again this year after the kids trick-or-treat. Always a great time. They’ve allowed me to contribute some booze. I’ve been trying to come up with something unique, delicious and worthy of Halloween night. I made a couple of false starts last week, pulled out some books from the cocktail library then had a revelation this past weekend.

I’m maintaining my love for the Manhattan that started back on July 4th with the Cherry Bounce Manhattan. That was a good drink. I pulled off a little of the Blackberry infused rye to make a few for a recent camping trip. Even better, a perfect combination with the light snow that was falling. For Halloween I want to add a little extra  <*punch*> to the drink. I played around with adding flavored liqueurs, but each one also added sugar. That made the combinations too sweet. The revelation was to infuse whatever flavors I want into the rye before mixing up the drinks! duh. Fortunately, I figured out this obvious solution while I still had time to get it done. I give you:

Fall infused Rye

  • 75cl Rye Whiskey
  • 12 oz frozen cherries
  • 1/4 cup cinnamon stick chips (~ 3 sticks)
  • 4 large strips of orange zest
  • grated zest of one orange
  • 10 allspice berries, crushed
  • 4-5 whole cloves

Infuse cherries and rye for 4-5 days. Add spices about 48 hours before straining. Add grated orange zest 12-24 hours before straining.

I’ve got some more Carpano Antica vermouth coming to mix up a few bottles of Halloween Manhattans. Why “Halloween”? Because that’s when we’ll drink them.

After having that revelation, I had another. Some people won’t drink brown liquors no matter how good the vehicle they come in. This came after discussing Martinis with a friend. He only drinks vodka based cocktails. Go figure. For those lost souls who want to party, but also want to keep the taste meter safe, I also have some vodka infusing with apples and cinnamon.  One of the false starts from the start of this process involved freshly made cherry syrup. I have a wine bottle’s worth of that left. I’m thinking it will be a good addition to the vodka, plus/minus some dry vermouth. Testing and final recipes formulation will occur on the 30th.

Apple infused vodka

  • 75cl Vodka
  • 6 apples, peeled. cored and diced
  • 1/8 cup cinnamon chips (~2 sticks)
  • 10 Allspice berries, crushed
  • 4-6 whole cloves

Infuse over 3-5 days, strain and bottle.

Can’t wait for Friday to take a first taste

Rye and Vodka getting ready for Halloween

Mid-July is when blackberries come in around here. I spent about 30 minutes yesterday morning picking at a nearby public park. About 80% of the berries were still not ripe, but I was able to come away with about 3 cups of good looking ones. Later we went by the weekend city tail gate market to pick up some odds and ends. I came away with 3 more cups of farm grown blackberries that were bigger and sweeter than the wild ones.

Wild  vs. Cultivated Blackberries

Wild vs. Cultivated Blackberries

I have been thinking about what to do with the berries once I had some. I still have a bit of last year’s blackberry liqueur left. That’s a fairly straight forward way to use them. I could do it again, this time cutting back on the sugar. I’m also still taken by the rye whiskey cherry bounce from July 4th.  It was really good. I was thinking about all of this while working in the yard yesterday afternoon when one of neighborhood black bears lumbered by. They’re coming down into populated areas looking for food. The first big crop every year are the blackberries. That clicked – it struck me that a blackberry infused rye could be very good, call it:  Black Bear Rye. I’m not sure there’s much connection between bears and rye whiskey, but they do like blackberries and the name sounds pretty cool. Using last year’s creme de cassis recipe, I had enough berries (6 cups) to infuse two bottles (750 ml each) of whiskey. I added equal parts wild and cultivated berries along with about a 1/4 of a cup of sugar to help the wild berries along. I’ll let it go all summer and hold off on drinking it until the fall. I’m thinking Manhattans, or whatever the flavor combo leads me to-

Black Bear Rye

Black Bear Rye

The Amateur Cocktail Spouse has a neat system for making one-off screened t-shirts. I’m working on a logo for the rye. Watch this space for info on getting yourself a copy.


Here it is:

Found a place that will make one or several shirts for $25 each. Any takers?

I think it was the post on black walnuts and chestnuts that I rattled on about trying to pay more attention to the
One Bog Cherry Tree

One Big Cherry Tree

every day world. I’ve tried to follow that advice and now I can say it’s given good results. Now that we’re back in our house we walk the neighborhood on a regular basis with the dogs. This summer has brought several discoveries . The most striking was a huge cherry tree on our street. On one walk in June I noticed pits on the ground at the top of the street. I looked up to see a cherry tree around 80 feet high with fruit along the branches. I went back with an 8 foot tent pole to knock down what I could but I couldn’t reach even the lowest fruit. Oh well, a neat find. Within a week the birds had taken them all.

Today I noticed a clump of shrubby plants with bright red berries growing along the road at the edge of an empty lot. They looked like raspberries, and tasted even better. The foliage wasn’t quite right for what I was used to seeing for raspberries. A little internet searching turned up that these are wineberries, an invasive raspberry species from Japan. More importantly – they are edible. A quick walk back and I was able to pick 2 cups of extremely ripe berries.When I got back home the Amateur Cocktail Kids wanted samples, I needed to act fast. I had just enough vodka to cover them, so into the vodka they went.

Berry infusion are fairly simple – cover the fruit with vodka (or any spirit) by a half inch or so and let it sit for several weeks. You can add sugar to make a liqueur. Go back to last year’s post on blackberries for a more formal recipe. I followed B

lackberry cassis last year, but it was a little too sweet. I’ve decided to skip the sugar from now on. I’ll add what I need to when it comes time to drink it.

Good to go in 6 to 8 weeks

Follow up

The six to eight weeks I thought to infuse the wineberries turned in to 10 months. They seemed pretty happy sitting in the back of the cellar all this time. It spring again (May 2010) and I needed the jar they’re in for another project. I strained them last night – very simple, no sediment to filter out and no gelling from excessive pectin like the fig infusion. I have a nice half bottle of raspberry flavored vodka now.

One year later

I got my start with all this a few years back with some cherries. We had put out a Northstar cherry tree when we moved into our current house. Over the several years we had the tree, there was a crop only once. That was about four years ago now. The tree wasn’t very big but it was covered. I ended up with about a gallon or so of cherries. Half of them went to make some preserves and half were steeped in vodka to make cherry bounce.

Cherry bounce was a local staple from moonshining times. The American cherry (Prunus serotina) grows wild around here. Fruit from the tree plus some sugar flavored the local moonshine. I used the recipe James Dabney gave in Mountain Spirits. His reportedly came from a cookbook publisehed by the Junior League in Johnson City, TN. I tracked down a 1961 copy of the book, but didn’t find any mention of it. In fact there was only one recipe for a wine punch and no liquor drinks. Oh well, I’ll put the recipe Dabney gives at the end of this post.

My product was pretty good. It tasted like the cherries (sought of cough syrup cherry flavor). The tree fell victim to our house remodel. I do have one small bottle of the liquor left. The flavor seems to be holding up well.

Things that good can’t be contained. It turns out cherry bouce was a local staple in several places. Eric Felten had a column on the subject a few weeks back that gave Martha Washington’s recipe. Her base was “French brandy.” I had turned up another fairly simple recipe in Charleston Receipts. This one called for whiskey as the base spirit. It was time for our annual beach trip to Charleston, and so time to try my hand at The Charleston variation of this classic.

The Charleston Receipt recipe starts: Go to Old Market in June and get a quart of wild cherries. It was June and marketI was in Charleston, so as instructed I headed to the market. Charleston has grown a bit since that recipe was put down. In and around Folly Beach we have a Piggly Wiggly, Publix, Earth Fare and Harris Teeter. I settled on the Whole Foods in Mt. Pleasant as my source. I know – Whole Paycheck – and all the other snide remarks that can be made about the place, but I like it and look foward to stopping in when we’re near one. If you stick with the house brands you can get some decent priced stuff. It doesn’t always work though. The cherries weren’t a house brand and ended up costing about three times what they were at the produce stand back here in Asheville. Oh well, I probably made it up on the cooking oils and pale ale I picked up.

Back at rental house I went to work. The recipe didn’t comment on the pits. I assumed this meant that you leave them in. I had remembered to bring my OXO pitter, so I used it. It made since to me that knocking out the pits increased the surface area of exposed fruit and therebu should increase the efficency of the alcohol extraction. There’s also this idea that the pits on stone fruits contain a small amount of cyanide. It was easy enough to pit them. Once done they went into a large jar (Wal Mart, James Island since I forgot to bring one) and mixed with a little sugar. the recipes calls for 1 cup sugar to 1 quart cherries and 1 quart whiskey. I thought about the half cup of sugar I put into two quarts of iced tea was plenty sweet for me, and adjusted my use down to a half cup. This is sprinkled on the cherries and then they sit for a while – “until the juice draws.”

At two days, there was a puddle of juice in the jar. Time to add the whiskey. I used a bottle of Sazerac 6 yr Rye ($26.99 at Green’s in Columbia on the way down). Kind of a splurge, but I didn’t want bad liquor ruining juiceall those cherries I had just hand pitted. Poured that in and sealed it back up. It made the trip back to Asheville with us. July 4th was the tenth day it had been steeping and the day to strain it off. I ended up with enough to refill the Sazerac bottle with 6 ounces left over. That was set aside for later in the night.

I pulled it out toward the end of fun night visiting with friends. We enjoyed a fireworks show (NC legal) while sipping on some Cherry Bounce Manhattans. This one was a keeper. Great drink. Started another batch today with some left over pitted cherries in the fridge . Our ABC stores don’t carry Sazerac, so I did this batch with some Wild Turkey Rye.  Recipes below-

 Charleston Cherry Bounce

  • 1 quart Wild Cherries
  • 1 quart whiskey
  • 1 cup sugar

Go to Old Market in June and get a quart of wild cherries. Wash same and put in a large-mouthed jar with a full cup of sugar. Let stand until juice draws, then add a quart of whiskey. Cover lightly and steep about ten days, then pour off liquor and bottle. -R. Bentham Simons

ACG Variation – I just used one half cup of sugar. My second batch will have no added sugar and a longer steeping time.

Cherry Bounce Manhattan

  • 2 oz Cherry Rye
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • dash of bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass


 Enjoying a Manhattan

From Moutain Spirits:

Here is how the Junior Service League of Johnson City, Tennessee, described “Cherry Bounce” in its compilation of east Tennessee recipes, Smoky Mountain Magic: “To one gallon of white spirits put two quarts of water and five to six quarts of wild cherries. Wash cherries and put in jug with alcohol. Corn cob stopper in jug. After they stand three months, drain off liquor and strain it well, sometimes twice. Make a thick syrup with one and one-half pounds white sugar and water and boil until ropy. Add the syrup to liquor from jug to taste.”

Next Page »