Right as rain. That phrase used to puzzle me until I started living in the western U.S. Blessed rain is a relief, a cleanser, a gift. It’s like a reset button on all of that heat, the dust, the pollution, the wilted plants, the beleaguered creatures. I can’t tell you how many rainbows I’ve been sighting in the early mornings this past week. Some persist for several minutes and others appear, glow, and diminish in the span of 30 seconds – faster than I can grab my gear. In those instances, I don’t get upset like I used to. I do kick myself a little for missing a great opportunity, but I’ve learned to stop and simply take it in. Those magic moments when Jeremy is still asleep and Neva is sitting politely facing the dog food (her way of asking to eat dinner, which is breakfast or any meal) and there is no other conscious human around with whom to share the beauty… I’ve learned.
managed to capture this one
Jeremy and I planned on a big mileage trail run for a morning that had been forecasted to have overcast skies. By that morning, the forecast had changed to sun and heat and yuck. We scrapped our plans for a run, Neva jumped into the car, and we set off for a hike so everyone could get a little exercise. What was supposed to be a quick two-hour hike turned into a 6-hour forage. Some huckleberry patches were full on ripe, which was a surprise since the last two years totally sucked for huckleberries. I picked a few and offered one to Neva, who knows to actually chew a huckleberry (she doesn’t seem to chew much else, though). The instant she tasted it, she turned to the huckleberry bushes and began to eat them off the plants!
beautiful precious wonderful beloved huckleberries
Erin and I haven’t been able to coordinate a hike yet this summer, but we dutifully exchange trail reports to maximize our coverage and knowledge of The State of the Mushrooms (and huckleberries, but hucks are a separate matter for us). Our neck of the woods has been a late bloomer compared to other parts of the state who have been receiving their monsoonal blessings earlier and more than we have. As Jeremy and I hiked and Neva practically propelled herself up the trail by happily wagging her tail, I thought to myself that it would be nice to find one king – to find my first porcini of the season. Well, I found about eighty and harvested less than half. Talk about a flush. In a week, we went from seeing a few random mushrooms that nobody wants to the kings and queens of the forest fungi. I even found three beautiful patches of chanterelles which I’ve never found on the Front Range before this season (we typically forage them in the Central Mountains).
my beautiful little friend
another perfect bouchon
a party of five (one in the distant upper left and the fifth off camera)
strawberries and cream (not edible, but a favorite for its crazy weirdness and awesome name)
kings and queens: porcini and chanterelles
That was just my share. I gave Erin and Jay the other half of the porcini because they love them and know how to process them, and because I simply didn’t have the time to deal with that many. Foraging has a way of sending summer into a frenzy, especially when you spend the entire weekend in Hunter Education, which we (Jeremy and I) did.
neva is intrigued
Foraging is one of those activities that demands your time up front. You don’t forage when you feel like it, you forage when the mushrooms flush or when the berries are ripe. And you don’t dump them in your refrigerator to rot over the next week or two, you deal with them within a day lest the worms you didn’t dispatch when you field dressed your mushrooms eat through the rest of your prize. It’s irresponsible and unethical to take these treasures from the land and waste them. I suppose I have a similar mindset when I am at Costco. Sometimes Costco carries something special and rare and if you go back the following week, it might be all gone. So you grab one or two packages of those fresh figs in mid summer when you didn’t expect to see them for another month and then you wrack your brain on the drive home thinking of all the fig recipes you had written on your to do list and then you remember the easiest one of all: fig vodka infusion.
figs and vodka (that’s all you need)
I play around with a lot of vodka infusions, not because I like to drink them, but because I am mildly obsessed with extracting fruit essence into another form. If it’s particularly good, I’ll make more and give them as gifts or serve them in cocktails at parties. Also? Vodka infusions are easy. Cut up fruit, soak in vodka for several days, strain, and you’re done. Obviously, the more ripe the fruit, the better the infusion will taste.
cut the figs
place in a large jar
let sit in a cool, dark location for several days
They say to agitate the jar once a day, but I usually agitate it once and forget it again until it’s time to strain the infusion. Hey, we all get busy, right? Luckily, vodka infusions are quite forgiving. People often ask what they can do with the remaining fruit because they don’t want to waste it. I put mine in the compost. I have tried to eat the spent fruit matter after the vodka has sucked all of the yummy goodness out and they taste pretty blegh. Compost. If you want super clear vodka infusion, you can let it strain through a coffee filter, but I don’t mind a little murkiness from the fruit so I just use a fine mesh sieve and call it good. I store the vodka in jars in my freezer.
after a week
strain the infusion
put in jars and freeze or refrigerate
Whenever I want to make a cocktail, I ask Jeremy to research a drink he’d like to have based on an ingredient, like fig vodka infusion. So he came up with a few suggestions and we agreed that a Fig Blossom sounded like a perfect summer cocktail – bright and refreshing.
fig vodka, grapefruit, grapefruit bitters, elderflower liqueur
i prefer freshly-squozen citrus
the quantities plus a dash of bitters
pour everything into a shaker with ice
shake then strain the cocktail into your glass
After a particularly long day last week which began with that 6-hour forage, I had just finished shooting the Fig Blossom cocktail and offered it to Jeremy. The sun had dropped behind the continental divide a few minutes earlier and he plopped down to take a sip. The exhaustion on his face gave way to a smile as his eyes brightened and he lightly smacked his lips. It was fruity, floral, balanced, delightful – very good. When fresh figs find you, I highly recommend making a batch of fig vodka and storing some in the freezer. Imagine the look on someone’s face when you present them with a jar of vodka infused with summer in the middle of winter.
serve it up
don’t forget the fig
fig vodka infusion
3 cups fresh figs, rinsed and patted dry
4 cups vodka
Cut the figs into eighths and place in a large glass jar. Pour the vodka over the figs. Seal the jar and store in a dark, cool place for 5-7 days. Give the jar a shake once a day. Strain the vodka through a fine mesh sieve. Discard (compost) the figs. Store the vodka in the refrigerator or freezer for up to several months. Makes a quart.
fig blossom cocktail
2 oz. fig vodka (see recipe above)
1 oz. grapefruit juice
1/2 tbsp elderflower liqueur
dash grapefruit or citrus bitters
Combine all of the ingredients in a shaker and seal. Shake well for 30 seconds. Strain into a glass and serve.
more goodness from the use real butter archives
|crème de cassis (black currant liqueur)
|huckleberry vodka infusion & huckleberry moscow mule
|the muir cocktail