Recipe: watermelon berry mojito
Do you ever say to yourself, “I haven’t done X as much as I would like to”? X being whatever it is that you would like to do. I found myself saying that over and over again this summer with regard to hiking. Obviously, we can’t go backpacking right now because of Kaweah (who is doing quite well at the moment), but even scheduling hikes is conflicting with meetings, client work, and other things that demand our attention. We managed to get out the other morning to see the grasses of the high country starting to turn. In a few weeks, Colorado will start going gold when the aspens change from lush green to brilliant yellow. It’s an amazing time of year.
indian peaks morning
fiery moody sunsets
Jeremy and I did a good bit of hiking last summer, which has a lot to do with the fact that we weren’t splitting our time between two places. I also learned foraging last year, which is fun. Except lately I’ve begun to scrutinize “foraging” as an activity. This has been cycling through my mind lately whenever I’m outside like yesterday morning’s hike. I was overjoyed to be moving at a good clip, getting somewhere and seeing all of the familiar features of the mountains – places I’ve hiked countless times before. I am no forager. I am a hiker. You could say I’m a noodler when it comes to foraging because I don’t care about the haul so much as satisfying my curiosity of what grows where and when. I prefer the physical exertion of hiking. I’m in it for the journey and the challenge. The extra nibbles are a bonus for me, not the purpose.
sweet wild raspberries from late august
The idea for a watermelon berry mojito crossed my mind one evening and I made a mental note to pick some. Watermelon berries (Streptopus amplexifolius) or twisted stalk berries or wild cucumber are plump red berries that have a slimy texture (think ripe hachiya persimmon) and lots of seeds. The flavor is that of a slightly sweet cucumber. It’s lovely. Wendy introduced me to them last summer and they remind me of holiday ornaments dangling from their stalks. They grow across North America in mountain and subalpine zones.
you see why the plant is called twisted stalk
and if you look underneath, lots of berries
I find these berries to be easily identifiable, but as with all things foraged – you really need to know what you’re putting in your mouth or else things could go very badly for you. Jeremy and I picked the berries at about 9600 feet in a shady mixed stand of aspens and conifers near a stream in the mountains. They were everywhere. It was the same day we foraged huckleberries (which were not everywhere) for the huckleberry ice cream. On our way back to the trailhead, I felt dissatisfied and said as much. We both agreed that we’d be happier with less foraging and more hiking.
a cup of watermelon berries
watermelon berries, lemon, water, sugar
That’s not to say that I won’t forage for huckleberries or the occasional mushroom, but I’ve been fooling myself thinking that foraging could be a substitute in any way for hiking. Recognizing this and making the distinction in my mind allows me to make happier decisions regarding my time in the mountains. Now, on to the berries! I’m sure some folks may encounter difficulties sourcing watermelon berries. Because the taste is so similar to a cucumber, I’d suggest using a cucumber simple syrup if you can’t get watermelon berries. It’s basically the difference between a wild cucumber mojito and a domestic cucumber mojito.
place the water and the berries in a saucepan
mash the berries to break them up
strain after simmering
Once you have made the watermelon berry juice, you make a syrup out of it by adding a ton of sugar and a little lemon juice. I tripled the amount of lemon juice that the recipe called for because it was just too flat otherwise. If you’re using the cucumber simple syrup instead, just skip to the part with the booze.
add juice to the sugar
pour in lemon juice
watermelon berry syrup
Now we’re ready to make a mojito. Call it whatever you want. Watermelon berry mojito sounds fruity and implies the false impression that this mojito is somehow made with watermelon and berries. Wild cucumber mojito gives the most accurate description for the flavor. And then twisted stalk berry mojito, or twisted mojito is just fun to say.
watermelon berry syrup, mint, lime, bubbly water, white rum
add syrup to the lime juice
muddle the mint and juices
pour in the rum
top with soda water
The verdict: awesome!! If you are a fan of cucumber mojitos, then this is not much of a stretch. And the wild version has a lovely orange color to it. Since I only foraged a cup of the berries (hey, it was really mosquitoey), I quartered the recipe for the juice/syrup and ended up with 3/4 cup of syrup. That was enough for three very pretty mojitos!
a twisted mojito
Watermelon Berry Mojito (Twisted Stalk Berry Mojito)
1 oz. lime juice
2 oz. watermelon berry syrup (if you can’t get watermelon berries, you can use cucumber simple syrup)
1/4 cup mint leaves
1-2 oz. white rum
watermelon berry syrup
from The University of Alaska, Fairbanks Cooperative Extension
4 cups watermelon berries (aka twisted stalk berries), rinsed
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice (I used more than the original recipe called for)
Make the watermelon berry syrup: Place the berries and water in a saucepan. Crush the berries with your fingers or a potato masher. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the juice through a cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer. There will be a lot of seeds. The yield should be about 1 cup of watermelon berry juice. Rinse the saucepan and wipe it clean. Place the juice, sugar, and lemon juice in the saucepan and heat to 160°F, but do not let it boil. The syrup can be used on pancakes, waffles, ice cream, or other desserts.
Make the watermelon berry mojito: Place the juice, watermelon berry syrup (or cucumber simple syrup if using), and mint in the bottom of a glass. Muddle the leaves so they are bruised. Add ice. Pour in the rum and then top the whole thing off with seltzer or sparkling water.
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