England seems to have taken the beginning of September rather seriously, and it has been raining and grey since the 1st. It’s not fun to let the summer go, but in an effort to be thankful for small mercies, I am appreciating the little gift of being still in the season of peaches and nectarines, apricots and plums. I find I’m always taken by surprise by these fruits, as they come just when autumn is more on your mind, but they’re essentially blowsy, sunshiney fruits (except for plums – I definitely find plums autumnal). So I made time in my busy schedule of looking out of the window at the rain and frowning this weekend to come up with some drinks which capture a bit of stone-fruity sunshine. Some more successfully than others.
I will say at the outset that it can be a bit tricky to get the flavours of fresh, non-citrus fruit into a drink. They tend to get overtaken by the spirits or the liqueurs, and then the sugar and any citrus you chuck in, so it’s important to use as ripe a fruit as possible. There are then a number of ways to actually get the fruit into the drink: you could muddle it, you could liquefy it, you could make a syrup out of it. I tried these three, and of them I definitely put my faith the syrup method, since it distils the flavour down to an essence which is much more likely to hold its own in a barrage of other ingredients.
But let’s start with a little muddling.
Call the Plummer:
So this is essentially a smash – seasonal fruit muddled plus spirit, ice and some dilution, and it’s a pretty freewheeling, unfussy kind of drink. Whiskey seemed like an obvious pairing with plums, possibly because I associate plums with autumn and whiskey also with cold weather, but also because plums have a slightly darker, tangier flavour (I *may* be making this up) than other stone fruits. Ginger as a herbal element ties the whiskey and plums together, adding spice, and I chucked in some plum bitters because I have them and thought they might bring a bit of complexity (I’m not totally convinced they succeeded). This was indeed a somewhat autumnal, but still fresh and zippy drink, and my only issue was that I don’t think my plums were quite ripe enough (does that sound rude to anyone else?), so I didn’t get quite enough of the flavour. So try and use a plum that’s almost falling apart with ripeness.
2 oz whiskey – I used rye but bourbon might work even better
1 very ripe plum
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
Splash of ginger beer
Plum bitters (optional)
Vigorously muddle the plum in the bottom of a shaker with the lemon juice. Add ice and the bourbon, and the plum bitters if using. Shake. Strain into a rocks glass with ice, and top up with ginger beer. Garnish with a slice of lemon.
Take A Little Peach Of My Heart:
Before I start, it is imperative that I remind everyone about this song, which is 90% of what I think of when I think about peaches:
ANYWAY, for my foray into peaches, I wanted something fresh and light and sweet and summery. Peaches are sweeter and more delicately flavoured than plums, and it seemed the best way to preserve their fragrance would be by making them into a sugar syrup. In the spirit of elegance and delicacy, I inclined in the direction of gin and fizz, and thence towards one of my favourite cocktails, the French 75. This simple mix of gin, lemon, simple syrup and champagne could easily be modified by replacing the simple syrup with peach syrup, and reducing the citrus a little to make room. The gin would stop it from becoming overly sweet, and I also decided to add cardamom, a popular pairing with peaches, to the syrup to lend a bit of depth and spice. This was by a long shot my favourite of the three – all of the flavours were fully there and married beautifully, and it was sweet and moreish but not without complexity. It’s certainly worth the mild faff of making the syrup, which also has a lovely pink colour from the peach skins to recommend it.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 ripe peaches, skins on, sliced
6 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
Put the sugar, water, cardamom pods, and peaches together in a saucepan, and bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Once it has boiled, turn the heat down and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so. Leave to cool and then remove the fruit and cardamom, or strain through a sieve into a glass jar or bottle. Store in the fridge.
1 oz London dry gin
3/4 oz peach cardamom syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
Prosecco or champagne to top up
Shake the gin, syrup, and lemon juice over ice in a shaker. Pour into a champagne flute or wine glass and top up with prosecco. Garnish with a twist of lemon or a suitable flower (mine was phlox from the garden, randomly chosen but apparently this variety is edible!).
Apri-caught in the Middle:
It is not easy to think of an apricot pun – if anyone has a good one, do let me know. For my final trick, I wanted to make a purée, which I duly did, out of apricots, sugar, and a little water, and whizzed it up in a mini food processor. It’s pretty difficult to use something thick like purée in a short drink, although I’m sure greater minds than I could manage it, so I opted for a long one. Apricots, I think, could go with any spirit, but I fancied rum to really wallow in the summer spirit while I still could. Rum, lime, and mint make an infallible combination, and one which the jammy flavour of apricots could round out nicely. For reasons I’m not entirely clear on, I decided to lengthen the drink with iced tea – possibly still in summer mode – but I thought it needed a little more than soda water to tie it all together. As with the syrup, the making of the purée is essential here – use very ripe apricots and cook them down with sugar to preserve as much flavour as possible. It doesn’t hurt to slightly burn the fruit in the sugar (I say this with authority but of course I found it out unintentionally), which adds a nice toasty, caramelised note, but is naturally a massive pain to clean up. This turned out to be a really rich but very refreshing drink, although you may want to play around with the purée recipe to maximise the apricot – I’m not sure I’ve got it quite right yet.
4 very ripe apricots
1/4 cup sugar
Pit the fruit and place in a small saucepan in about an inch of water. Add sugar and slowly bring to the boil, stirring frequently and mashing the fruit as it softens, for about 30 mins, until the fruit is dissolving. Place into a blender or food processor and whizz until smooth, adding in a little water if necessary.
2 oz white rum
1/2 oz fresh lime
2 tbsp apricot purée
1/2 cup chilled black tea
6 mint leaves
Muddle the mint with the apricot purée in the bottom of a shaker. Add ice, lime juice, and rum, and shake vigorously (the purée can be difficult to integrate with the other ingredients). Strain into a chilled large wine glass or collins glass with more ice, and top up with tea. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
And that’s it! Happy September everyone, get the fruit while you can!