Spirited Infusions

By Kate Payne
Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo 

The spark that set me in the direction of infusing liquor and simple syrups was a stockpile of trash—preservers’ trash, that is. I always ended up with all sorts of things that didn’t go into a jar of preserves, but might be (as I learned) used for other delicious projects: pits, juices, skins, various bits of still-useable ingredients from the perspective of any smart Depression-era granny. 

Imagine my delight, then, when discovering that one of the answers to my post-preserving pile predicament was to pour alcohol over it and ignore it for two weeks. The best kind of two-for-one arrangement!

This project is beyond easy—you can’t kill anyone (the alcohol prevents bad stuff from growing), and you can’t really mess it up. Using a high-proof booze and either adding or not adding sugar during the process results in a sippable liqueur or cordial in the former, or in a basic bitters in the latter.

No booze at your house? No problem. Try infusing simple syrups, instead. Add club soda to infused syrups to make your own local, homemade soda!

Makes about 3 cups

My peach, plum and nectarine escapades last year left me with a pile of pits. I learned that stone fruits are related to almonds, and my hunch that the pits would make a tasty cordial was correct. I added a cinnamon stick, which is optional. If you don’t have enough pits, toss in a handful of raw and lightly chopped almonds.

1 c. stone fruit pits, picked clean and left whole or lightly crushed
2 c. grain alcohol (Everclear) or a 100-plus-proof vodka
2/3 c. sugar
½ c. water
1 whole cinnamon stick (optional)

Combine the pits and alcohol in a quart-size jar, seal and let sit for 2 weeks in a dark cabinet. Swirl it around every few days. After 2 weeks, make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan and dissolving the granules over medium-low heat. Raise the heat to medium-high to bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool completely before adding 1 cup of syrup to the pits/alcohol jar. Add the cinnamon stick (if using) and seal the jar again, and let it sit for 2 more weeks. Strain the solids from the liqueur and sip over ice or add to a cocktail for an almondy twist. Store liqueur either at room temperature or in the freezer, tightly sealed.




Makes about 1 pint

1½ c. sugar
1 c. water
1 lemongrass stalk (or any fresh herbs), minced

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and dissolve the granules over medium-low heat. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lemongrass or fresh herbs. Cover the pan and cool to room temperature. Muddle with a potato masher or wooden spoon to release any extra oil from the lemongrass, then strain and refrigerate. Syrup will keep for up to 3 weeks.



Makes 1 cup

I’m not much of a bitters connoisseur but I’ve sipped fancy cocktails made by the hands of bearded men in Brooklyn—drinks that touted rhubarb and blueberry bitters. Our early summer berries inspired the experiment that resulted in a tart and tangy bitters that bearded men and all others would proudly drop into cocktails or gladly drizzle over a warm peach cobbler.

6 oz. blackberries (about 1½ c.)
Peel, including pith, from 1 organic lemon, minced
½ t. whole allspice berries
5 white peppercorns
1 c. grain alcohol (Everclear) or a 100-plus-proof vodka
2 T. sugar
1 T. water

Combine the berries, lemon peel, allspice berries, peppercorns and alcohol in a quart-size jar and lightly mash the berries with a wooden spoon. Cover with a lid and let the mixture sit in a dark, cool place for at least 1 week. The day before you plan to complete the bitters, make a syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir to keep the sugar from scorching. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat, pour into a small jar with a lid and let sit overnight at room temperature.

Strain the berries and solids first through a fine wire mesh sieve, and again through a coffee filter. Add the simple syrup to the strained bitters—omitting any sugar crystals that formed overnight. Store the bitters at room temperature in a tightly sealed jar or bottle.

The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking is available at all major booksellers and locally at BookWoman and BookPeople. For more information about classes and future projects, visit Payne’s blog at hipgirlshome.com or her website at paynekate.com.