In addition to the fruitcakes, I've got a few drink infusions aging in out-of-the-way places around the kitchen, too. First, I wanted to try making a birch bark liqueur, because I adore root beer and licorice and all those sweet root/pod spice flavors. I infused dried birch bark in vodka for a week or two (I wanted to stop before it took on a bitter edge, as I'd read that birch bark is most commonly used as a bittering agent!). I strained the bark out and put the vodka back in a dark cool cupboard for another week (or two? hard to remember). Last week I added a couple of tablespoons of honey to sweeten it and put it back in the cupboard. I shake it up every other day, and plan to let it sit and mellow for a month or so before I try it. The ageing process (especially once you've added a sweetener) really changes a spirit; it mellows it and gives it body. So, we'll see. I'll report back closer to the holidays as to whether or not this was a success (and if it is, you can be sure that I'll be making more).
So much for the jar on the left. In the little glass bottle on the right I'm infusing saffron into gin. I ran across this cocktail on the anthropologie blog yesterday and wanted to try it, but I couldn't justify going out and buying a bottle of Bourdier's Saffron Gin (for one thing, money's tight; for another, I don't like to buy a whole bottle of something before I can taste it and make sure I'll like it). So I simply poured off 4 ounces of gin from a bottle I had on hand and placed several generous pinches of good Spanish saffron (I stocked up when we went to Granada last year; I wish I'd bought even more, it's so much cheaper there), then poured the gin over it. I suppose it's a little low-tech, but I hoped that my heavy hand with the spice would make up for the fact that I didn't have a better technique. Within an hour or two, the gin already had a strong forward scent of saffron, so it seems promising. I'll strain the saffron out in a day or two - again, I want to be careful that no bitter edge will creep in. I left the chamomile flowers infusing in my would-be chamomile liqueur too long and the result was a powerful bitter. I've learned my lesson!
Last but not least, I'm trying out the recipe for homemade apple cider from Yvette Van Boven's Home Made Winter cookbook (wow, it's currently out of stock!). I have to admit, I feel a little wary of this method: grated apples are combined with water in a bucket and left to ferment for a week. There is no pasteurization/boiling beforehand, no tablets are added to kill harmful bacteria (and thus, no yeasts are added to replace those which might have been killed by such a tablet). I didn't wash the apples beforehand. That might sound crazy, but I knew that if the apples were going to produce fermentation without added yeast, I would need to leave any wild yeasts that might be on their skins intact. So .... no washing. I just took this photo - it's day five. All the little bubbles are kind of cute and cheerful, aren't they?
After a week, you're supposed to strain out the solids, and add sugar, fresh ginger, and cinnamon sticks to the liquid. Then it goes back in the bucket to continue to ferment for another day. Then it is poured into sterilized bottles and goes into the fridge. Van Boven says you can drink it immediately or store it for a month or two - and that it will become more effervescent the longer it sits. I save beer bottles with Grolsch-style closures for reuse for picnics and such, so I think I'll sterilize those and use them for the cider ... and we'll see? I'm definitely curious, and I'm excited to finally be trying this process out!