In the spirits
Henri is feeling especially fruity with his infused vodkas for the holidays
“Here, hold this,” Colette said, handing Henri her already overstuffed shopping bag as we strolled through the farmers’ market one recent Saturday morning. I nearly dropped the thing as she disappeared into a crowded stall.
She reappeared a couple of minutes later, holding two pomegranates. “Why is my bag on the ground?”
“I think I might have dislocated my shoulder.”
“You dislocated your shoulder dropping my bag?”
“Didn’t drop it. I set it down. Carefully. And yes.”
She scowled and shook her head, picked the bag up and put the pomegranates in next to a head of red lettuce. “Weenie.” She looked around. “Let’s go find some mandarins.”
I followed her through the crowd until she stopped at a stall with various citrus arrayed on tables. She set her shopping bag on the ground and bought a 10-pound bag of mandarins and a couple of lemons. “OK, I think that’ll do it. Ready?”
Indeed I was. Ready for an ice pack and a Marie sanglante, actually. I carried one of the lemons as we made our way back to the parking lot.
I thought we were heading home, but apparently not—she started driving up Mangrove Avenue. “I can wait till Monday to go to the doctor,” I said.
“I can self-medicate for now.”
“I wasn’t taking you to the doctor,” she said. “I’m going to get some vodka.”
“Oh, bless your heart!”
“I’m buying vodka because I’m going to infuse it this afternoon,” she said, “not for your…” She took her hands off the steering wheel and made little quote marks with her fingers. “Pain.”
Turns out that Colette and one of her husbands—she thinks it was her fourth—made infused vodka as Christmas presents one year, mostly with fresh fruit, and it had gone over well. She wanted to try it again, not necessarily as Christmas gifts but to take advantage, she said, of the late-fall fruit harvest here in the Chico area.
Which is why just a couple of hours later our dining table was almost covered with a variety of different vodka concoctions and why our cupboards are now full of batches brewing.
And the infusions are easy to make, as I learned, watching her from the couch.
Best ingredients: Pineapple, berries, lemon and other citrus, apples, pears, kiwi, pomegranate, vanilla bean, hot peppers, cucumber, cantaloupe, garlic. You can also infuse vodka with herbs and spices, such as rosemary, basil, cinnamon and ginger, and some recipes call for combinations (apple-pear-cinnamon, and strawberry-kiwi, for example).
Basic instructions: Use Mason jars, or other canning jars with airtight lids—the seal is important. Wash and dry them thoroughly. Wash ingredients, and place in jars (slice apples, pears, etc.; break citrus into sections and include some zest; slice vanilla beans lengthwise; remove skin from garlic cloves). Fill jars with vodka, and seal. Store in a cool, dry place, shaking two or three times a day.
Infusion time: This will vary, depending on the strength of the ingredients, and just how infused you want your vodka. Ingredients with intense flavors, such as hot peppers, only take a day or two; cucumber, citrus, vanilla, two to four days; berries, peaches, herbs, a week or so; pineapple and ginger, a couple of weeks. Strain ingredients out and pour infused vodka back into jars. Note: It is possible to infuse for too long and ruin the vodka—which is why I made a huge sacrifice and volunteered to test Colette’s throughout the infusion process.
Results: I made a delicious vodka martini with the mandarin brew—and a bit of lemon zest—and the pomegranate batch, over ice, had a surprisingly pleasant kick. A vanilla-bean infusion—which we also drank over ice—was sweet, smooth and sumptuous, perfect for a wintry evening by the fire.
And my shoulder’s feeling much better, merci beaucoup.