Summer herbs and preserves make a splash in cocktails

Rainier Cherry & Kirsch preserves from the Preservatory cookbook by Lee Murphy (Appetite by Random House). Photograph By APPETITE BY RANDOM HOUSE

Right now our gardens and markets are bursting with seasonal produce that we just can’t wait to transform into cocktails. But don’t you wish you could enjoy those garden-fresh flavours year round?

Well, you can, with a little help from Lee Murphy.

Murphy is the proprietor of Vista d’Oro Farms and Winery, and the author of the recently published cookbook The Preservatory: Seasonally inspired recipes for creating and cooking with artisanal preserves (Appetite by Random House).

You’ve probably seen her gorgeous preserves in gourmet markets: Craft Beer Jam, Figs & Walnut Wine, Pink Grapefruit with Champagne, Blueberry & Bourbon, Blood Orange with Campari & Vanilla Bean. And you may have noticed that Murphy has a flair for adding a splash of booze to her jams – and, as it turns out, a touch of jam to her booze.

“I do like a good cocktail,” she admits with a laugh. In fact, she has said she always wanted to produce a full cocktail line of preserves, which sounds like a pretty good idea when you think about it.

In the meantime, we can follow her tips for getting all that fresh bounty into a glass.

Right now, the easiest thing to do is to take fresh herbs and simply muddle them into cocktails, the way you do with mint in a Mojito.

For instance, cilantro is delicious in a Margarita, while lemon verbena adds a floral essence to a Lemon Drop martini and mint works wonders in a myriad of cocktails from juleps to Mai Tais to Collinses.

Or you can make herbs into syrups.

Start by making a simple syrup by bringing equal amounts of sugar and water to a boil, then steep the herbs in the hot syrup as you would tea. You’ll want to steep them longer for woody herbs like rosemary and thyme, and less for soft ones like basil and mint. Store them in sterilized containers and they’ll keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Aside from herbs, our markets are ripe with fresh local fruit.

“Every berry is good in a cocktail,” Murphy says. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries all work beautifully in cocktails. So do tree fruits like cherries, peaches and, later in the season, plums, apples and pears.

You can juice them, purée them, turn them into shrubs (also known as “drinking vinegars”) or make them into preserves such as jam, jelly or marmalade.

Murphy loves using preserves in cocktails and her book is full of suggestions for doing just that, such as her “Jamargarita” made with Smoked Lime Margarita preserves.

“We use them the same way we use simple syrup. Just use a little less,” she suggests.

You can also pickle produce, especially vegetables, for great garnishes.

“You can do any kind of pickle,” Murphy says. “You can make quick pickles, too. Just pour the brine over it and keep it in the fridge.”

Pickled radishes, carrots, beans and asparagus are ideal for savoury drinks like Caesars and Bloody Marys, while cherries pickled in sweet brine add a piquant touch to a Manhattan.

In fact, this is the time to make the most of our short but sweet cherry season. One way to do that is with Murphy’s recipe for cherries in kirsch (see recipe) – it’ll let you enjoy their summery flavour for months to come.

“They would be good in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned, or a Negroni, my favourite cocktail,” Murphy says.

We’ll drink to that.

—by Joanne Sasvari

Make Rainier Cherry & Kirsch preserves.

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