S Is For Strawberries

Or is it for Swiss chard?

because my chard is doing quite well, thank you very much. I am now harvesting two big bunches a week, and with all that rain, and that nice temperature, it’s growing and growing and growing – as you can see from the photo taken just after a harvest, a couple of days ago, of ‘Lucullus’, a chard with a white respectable-sized stem and pale green leaves. It has grown remarkably well in the 7 weeks since I transplanted it out.

swiss-chard-lucullus-2009-05-124

I also have planted perpetual Swiss Chard, ‘Golden’ Swiss chard (with, you guessed it, has yellow stems), ‘Rhubard’ Swiss chard (with red stem) and another one with dark green leaves and white stem which label has been lost. And the one self seeding from last year. Those are not as far along as ‘Lucullus’, because I started them later.

Yes, I like Swiss chard.

I like strawberries too. And Tristar, is, again, not disappointing: small, abundant and bursting with flavor.

strawberry-tristar-2009-05-032

So, of course, I am making sorbet. I am also making strawberry jam – successfully! not a small feat, since I refuse to add fruit gel and the like, and in past years, my strawberry jam was on the runny side. But this year, I had a secret weapon, I added some white currant puree (from last year’s currants, frozen)- and yeah, it looks beautiful, set AND tastes like good strawberry jam. One must rejoice in small things, you know…

Nonetheless, after the smashing success of last year’s home-made peach liquor, I decided to make strawberry liqueur. I love macerating fruit in alcohol, with spices or herbs, to capture their color and their fragrance. And since I often use mint in my strawberry sorbet, I wanted something a little different – and I picked lemon verbena. I had recently made a fruit salad with a little lemon verbena syrup, and it got rave review. Who knew so many people liked lemon verbena? I knew… they didn’t, until they had it. Anyway, the liqueur needs to age and mellow for a few months, so the final taste will have to wait. But the combination of sweet-tart strawberries and the herbal citrusy note of the lemon verbena should work. Really… how bad can it be?… Right!

And the “recipe” is easy. Just make sure to use ripe and flavorful strawberries – otherwise you are wasting your time. A run of the mill quality vodka will do: premium would be overkill here, as the flavors from the strawberries are going to saturate the alcohol. Great strawberries matter more than great vodka for this.

So jar away! In 2 months, you’ll have an extraordinary liqueur to sip, one that captured the fleeting essence of early summer (it’s not very pretty while it’s aging, as the flavor is being extracted from the strawberries but it’s well worth the wait – and the final color – in 2 months – will be glorious: strawberries in a bottle!).

strawberry-liqueur-in-process

Homemade Lemon-Verbena Strawberry Liqueur.

  • 4 cups, washed, hulled and quartered strawberries, any bad spot removed
  • 3 cups vodka *
  • a 1/2 cup of fresh lemon verbena leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 heaping cup sugar

In a large lidded glass jar, combine all 4 ingredients. Stir well. Cap. Stir daily for 2 weeks until the sugar is fully dissolved. Then place in a cool dark place for 6 weeks and let age. Strain strawberries through a clean butter muslin cloth. Let drip for several hours. Discard solids. Repeat straining to have liquid as limpid as possible. Bottle. The cloudy part of the liqueur may settle. Decant into new containers. The cloudy part is fine to cook or drink – it’s just not as pretty.

* Note: in those states that allow the sale of pure grain alcohol (180 – or so – proof), you may replace the 3 cups of vodka with 1.5 cup of grain alcohol. After aging and straining the liquid, add 1.5 cup distilled or well water.



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