Boozy Pleasures: Preserving With Liquor (and a Small Digression on Making It)

Sharon July 24th, 2008

Another one of those ancient ways of preserving food is with liquor – in alcohol, most bad thingies cannot grow, so alcohol is a great way of making things last.  The downside (or upside depending on your tastes and whether you are over the age of consent) is that the thing is imbued with alcohol (and the alcohol flavored with the thing).  Now this means that while it was once considered reasonable to preserve meat in wine, this is no longer in fashion, because neither winey chicken (not coq au vin, but really, really winey chicken) or chicken-flavored wine is in favor.  But there are many, many good ways to make this  work for you.

 The simplest way to do this is to buy inexpensive vodka (you want something palatable, but it doesn’t have to be fancy) and imbue it with the flavor of something you like.  Thus, cheap vodka is transformed into something kind of fancy, you get a flavoring or a beverage, and people get gifts.  For example, every year I make about a gallon of raspberry-cinnamon vodka.  I take a half-pint of raspberries and two cinnamon sticks, and a cup to cup and a half of sugar, and put them in a clean half gallon glass jar. I pour vodka over it, cap it and occasionally shake the jar a bit to dissolve the sugar.  3 months later, I have something that friends of mine have actually tried to steal from me ;-)

If you leave out the sugar, you will get more a fruit brandy taste, but this takes a bit longer to infuse.  You really can use any high-proof liquor, but it will taste more of the liquor and less of the stuff you add if you use, say, rum. Gin is already flavored, so you might not want that – or maybe you do.

 The better quality the liqueur you use, obviously, the better things will be.  That said, however, the beauty of these things is their power to transform cheap liquor into something better than you paid for.

You can do much the same thing with brandy, either pure brandy or a pint of good brandy to a pint of cheap vodka.  Any fruit will do.  One of my goals, which I forgot about this year when it would have been useful, is to remember to take some glass bottles and put them carefully over growing peaches, apples and quinces.  You slide the jar down so it covers the fruit, and then the fruit grows inside the jar, and you have this cool, fruit in a bottle effect and everyone wonders how it got there.  Then you can soak it in homemade pear or apple or quince liqueur and make something truly fancy.

Vanilla can be done this way - I like vodka better, but brandy is good too.  Macerate several vanilla beans that have been sliced up to get the vanilla out for some months, until it works like vanilla.

Herb liqueurs are good too - I like mixed fruit and herbs – apple-thyme, lemon-lemon-verbena, peach-mint.  But plain herbs are good, both as flavorings for baked goods and also as dessert drinks – a glass of rosemary thyme liqueur is very palate cleansing.  There is something of a fine line between this an herbal tincture – but what a pleasant way to take your medicine!

In his wonderful, wonderful book _Good Spirits_ Gene Logsdon suggests making lemon liqueur, getting it really cold, making lemonade and putting it in half and half.  I tried this, and it is very, very good.

Ok, other than finding new and improved ways to get drunk, what else can you do with alcohol?  Well, you can make rumpot.

 A rumpot (or Bachelor’s jam) is a bunch of fruit put together with alcohol to meld and make something that is syrupy, good and alcoholic.  You want a large stoneware crock or something like that is reasonably airtight but allows the venting of fermenting gasses.  You layer in fruits of whatever kind you have – peaches, plums, berries, currants, apricots, pears…chop the fruit, cover it with a layer of sugar (enough to cover) and pour cognac or brandy over it to cover.  Keep adding fruit as the season progresses, and then leave 3-6 months minimum. It is great on toast (for breakfast!) if you are the sort of person to eat this for breakfast, or it is wonderful over ice cream.

Any kind of dried fruit can be packed into brandy diluted with 1/4 water, and will keep indefinitely that way – the fruit is good to eat, and the now flavored vodka will be good too.  Nuts can be put away this way as well. 

Cheeses can be preserved in good quality wine – put the cheese in a jar, pour the wine over it, cover and store at room temperature.  The only problem with this method is that you might not want to drink the cheese-flavored liquor, and the cheese does get a strong taste.  But this might be ok if you like the taste involved.

Finally, there’s the making of alcohol itself, for food, medicine, fun and fuel. This is a bigger subject than I have any intention of dealing with at this point, so I will just say that everyone who uses alcohol should consider it – it is cheaper, in some cases the quality will be higher and my own limited experiences with home brewing and winemaking suggest that it is fun.  But I will leave you with two cool things.

1. Dmitry Orlov’s Grandfather’s Vodka recipe: http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2008/03/grandpa-orlovs-vodka-recipe.html

 2. How to make Applejack (apple brandy) – I have not tried this, but plan to.  For this you need unpasteurized apple cider.  My state recently went to all pasteurization ;-P, but you can still make your own or buy it occasionally if you plan to use it for “cooking.”  I get mine from a neighbor. 

Let the cider sit in a place warmer than a fridge but cooler than a sauna.  Keep a close eye on it – when it starts to go fizzy, check it more often or put it in the fridge, and keep testing it until there is a faint, sour taste that suggests it is about to go to vinegar.  Then, freeze it.  Because the alcohol freezes at a much lower temperature than the water, this operates as an entirely safe method of distillation.  Check it regularly and skim off the ice.  You can do this by putting it in a freezer, or leaving it outside in cold weather – the latter is traditional.  Do this two or three more times, until it is hard to get any water at all – you now have an apple brandy probably around 80 proof (estimate) and you may do with it as you will.

 Cheers, and happy drinking,

 Sharon

14 Responses to “Boozy Pleasures: Preserving With Liquor (and a Small Digression on Making It)”

  1. Meadowlark says:

    HURRAY! My favorite subject. :)
    I’ll try the applejack thing. Thanks.

  2. MEA says:

    On the did you really need to know this, Nelson’s body was preserved in rum — when he was decanted, sailors drank a toast to his memory in the very rum.

  3. ToilingAnt says:

    Obviously it’s already got a flavor, but I wonder what other purpose I might give the huge bottle of Triple Sec that’s managed to tag along through our last three moves?

  4. Jim says:

    Sharon, I’ve made the “applejack”/applekakk by freezing cider/wine and throwing away the ice, and it is utterly vile. Undrinkable.
    Not recommended.

    Just a thought.

    Jim

  5. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Boozy Pleasures: Preserving With Liquor (and a Small Digression… Another one of those ancient ways of preserving food is with liquor – in alcohol, most bad thingies cannot grow, so alcohol is a great way of making things last. The downside (or upside depending on your tastes and whether you are over the age of consent) is that the thing is imbued with alcohol (and the alcohol flavored with the thing). Now this means that while it was once considered reasonable to preserve meat in wine, this is no longer in fashion, because neither winey chicken (not coq au vin, but really, really winey chicken) or chicken-flavored wine is in favor. But there are many, many good ways to make this work for you. Circle of the Oroborous: More Global Cooling July 24th, 2008 [...]

  6. Sharon says:

    Jim, did you age it? Because generally speaking fresh booze of every sort is pretty awful.

    Sharon

  7. Matthias says:

    Following your posts for a few weeks now I find sometimes really strange serendipities happen – Like today, I was starting a rumpot with some of the tons of currants that cry out for attention…then I checked your blog and there it is. (By the way, my partner is juicing the rest and some of them were put to wine fermentation last week and of course syrup for desserts & fruit drinks, and jelly).
    By the way I also used some black currants although some people say they shouldn’t be used for rumpots – although I couldn’t discern why….

    Proof me wrong, and don’t post anything about canning beet roots tomorrow ;-)

    Greetings from Germany (that’s the country were one of your candidates is currently causing a bout of obamania)

  8. NM says:

    A little triple sec is good in cherry liqueur, made from the syrup leftover from canning cherries (worked well with sour cherries; this year, am trying it with sweet, too).

  9. Chile says:

    I’ve had a lot of fun doing more preserving this year with alcohol – merlot candied kumquats, kumquats in brandy, limoncello (divine!), ginger liqueur, extracts, and now I’ve got some cherry vishniak started. The only problem is I hardly ever drink. I need to find ways to use these in cooking, I think. Suggestions?

  10. Greenpa says:

    Ok, applejack. Two things;

    1) you don’t really have to have unpasteurized cider, any will work, if you just add a little yeast. Serious makers are fussy about which yeast, but in fact, any will result in serious fermentation.

    2) freeze distillation is basically different from heat distillation, and the product is not the same. Because- in heat distillation, the esters and very particularly the aldehydes that are also generated in fermentations, and are MORE volatile than ethanol- stay in your product, instead of boiling off first, and wind up concentrated. The aldehydes are quite intoxicating; with a serious emphasis on the “toxic” part- really good applejack can get you really really drunk- and may give you a hangover you will never forget.

    Moderation might be a good idea.

  11. Greenpa says:

    Oh, and my first guess about Jim’s vile experience with applejack would be that possibly the initial fermentation was not 100% anaerobic; a common thing for back porch fermenters – and a little vinegar fermentation was starting in there. That would do it.

  12. Jim says:

    Sharon and Greenpa,

    It was not aged in any way. Greenpa, I didn’t use apples; I used cheap Ohio wine, and you are right. It concentrated the ….. awful things, and the end result was vile. Perhaps ten years in French oak barrels would have improved it, but I had neither the barrels, nor the decade. :D It wasn’t vinegar. It was just yucky.

    Jim

  13. In the spirit of things (ha!) … anybody else like mead?

    We have a few batches on the go at the moment, and when it works … it’s the nectar of the gods. Honey is not hard to come by around here, and you can add all sorts of lovely things (fruit of just about any sort) and voila – a lovely taste of summer any time of the year. It does need to ferment for quite awhile, and age even longer … but it’s worth it.

    Lots of resources on the web … the only thing I’ll add to whatever else you may find is a recommendation: acquire some one gallon glass jugs and the stoppers & airlocks to fit them – making wine of any sort in smaller batches is easier (especially if you are just starting) and if something doesn’t work out, it doesn’t hurt your feelings so much!

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