In my dream life, my family and I would live in an old Georgia plantation home on 100 acres complete with a pond and an orchard of peach trees. I would throw weddings in my beautifully restored big red barn and be a telecommuting contributing editor for women’s magazines. My pantry would be fully stocked with home-canned fruits and vegetables; my freezer full of primal cuts from an animal whose name I knew. The garden would be plentiful in excess, to the point that I would use the surplus to trade with the neighbors for some of their fresh eggs or raw milk.
To dream. Until then, we live in our tiny two bedroom apartment in southeast Michigan. I implement tiny pieces of my dream life when possible – most recently, in the form of strawberry-rhubarb infused vodka. There’s something very mid-century Southern summer picnic about the combination of strawberry and rhubarb that I absolutely adore. I had to take advantage of the seasonality of strawberries and wanted to extend my time enjoying their flavor. Time and space constraints abound, and as such, a vodka infusion – as opposed to canning – was the way to go.
This was my process, which yielded a-ma-zing results.
- Cutting board
- Vessel (I chose the vodka bottle itself)
- Extra container for straining vodka into – like a pitcher or carafe
- Half gallon (1.75 L) mid-grade vodka – You don’t want to go super cheap and have it taste bad, but the flavor the fruit will provide is enough to eliminate any need for a more expensive brand. I chose a certain very common red-labeled brand.
- Fruit – for each phase, I used 2 pints of strawberries and two large stalks of rhubarb.
- Dump half of the vodka out of the bottle and into whatever you’re using for overflow. In my case, I refilled a recently emptied pint. This is to make room for the fruit, which will displace the vodka in a big way.
- Rinse and cut your fruit. The smaller the better, as increased surface area is the friend of flavor. Also, if you’re using a vessel with a long, narrow neck as I did, you want to be able to shake the fruit out when it comes time to switch it out. If you have to coerce it in, you’re probably not going to get it out (and that is a bad thing.)
- If there is a straining screen piece on your bottle – keep it! It will be your friend later. Put the fruit in the bottle. Close it up, stick it in the fridge for 3-4 days.
- 3-4 days later, strain the vodka into a pitcher or carafe. This is where the straining screen piece that may or may not have been provided with the cap assembly on your vodka bottle. If not, you can just loosely hold your thumb over the opening of the bottle, or heck, use a pasta strainer. I discarded the fruit, though I had many people scolding me for this. If you have a use for it (maybe stick it in the freezer and toss it into a sort of frozen margarita later), keep it, by all means.
- Put the (now pinkish red) vodka back into the bottle.
- Repeat steps 2-5 until you get a flavor that makes you crazy happy. For me, this happened at day 11. Your mileage may vary.
Serve any way you want. It is great as a vodka tonic or screwdriver, and downright dangerous with cranberry juice.
There are a million variations on this and many different methods. Some people opt for keeping the same fruit in it the whole time. My reasoning for changing out the fruit is this – I’m infusing vodka, not making a wine. I want the flavor of fresh fruit, not fermented. Some people opt for keeping the fruit at room temperature, but this again goes back to the flavor profile I was looking for. Lower temperatures slow the fermentation process. Really, do what gets you the results you want.
Other fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices do equally well. Just remember: surface area and damaged cells are your friend – the more you can chop or otherwise rough up your ingredients, the better. So slice that cucumber, squeeze those raspberries, crush that basil. And have fun!Donna Matthews is a little nerdy, a little rockabilly (nerdabilly?), and a lot booze enthusiast. She is a culinary grad using her powers mostly for good, and spends her days herding her toddler daughter and studying the art of bean counting. As soon as she acquires an operating TARDIS, she will only be found during the months of September-December, probably tailgating. You can follow her on Twitter @trooper346.