Thursday, November 18, 2021
This aromatically tart and sweet ferment has a strong spicebush presence.
Spicebush is the fruit of Lindera benzoin, native in the Northeast and also east of the Rockies. It grows naturally in the understory or on the edges of woodlands. The flavor and scent are reminiscent of orange zest, to me. I use spicebush more than any other wild flavor in my kitchen (consult Forage, Harvest, Feast to learn more about it and see lots of recipes).
This cranberry-spicebush mixer plays beautifully with applejack, bourbon, whisky, dark rum, or Tequila reposado or añejo, and Lillet. Also sparkling wine (just a dash before topping with bubbly). It has a great affinity for apple ciders and apple syrups, citrus, ginger, and Earl Grey tea. Think hot toddies and no-alcohol mocktails, too: Mixed 50-50 with sparkling water it makes a zero octane drink.
And use it to deglaze a roasted carrot, parsnip, duck, or pork pan. It loves yams and pumpkin. And tropical fruit salads.
Compared with most of the flowers and fruits I use in fermenting, cranberries ferment slowly. I used to think it was because they were too well washed, so were rinsed of microbes. But it is probably because cranberries contain antimicrobial properties, which inhibit fermentation. So I add some unpeeled apple slices to my mixture to help the yeasts along.
Start one week before you need it.
12 ounces cranberries, lightly crushed
½ an apple, cut up (cored but not peeled)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup freshly ground spicebush berries*
5 cups water
* Substitution: If you have fresh spicebush twigs from your own tree or a wild one, scratch them up to release more scent, then tie them in a bundle that fits in your jar. The bundle's cinched waist should be about a half-inch in diameter, for enough flavor to seep into the infusion.
Place the fruit in a clean jar. Add the spicebush and sugar, and top with water. Stir well (or screw the lid on and shake). To ferment, either leave the lid on loosely, or cover the jar with cheesecloth or a paper towel secured with elastic or string. Stir daily. Small bubbles rising are a sign of fermentation. It could take several days. After the bubbles have been active for at least a couple of days (and up to seven, but each ferment is different) I strain the fruit from the liquid twice: through a double mesh strain and a double folded, damp cheesecloth. The spicebush can clog up the straining, so use fresh or rinsed cheesecloth if the liquid stops passing through. Bottle the strained, amber liquid and keep in the refrigerator until needed.
If fermentation didn't take place (too cold, perhaps), don't worry - the flavor will still be very good. Give it a taste.
If you have not foraged your own spicebush fruit, buy dried spicebush (sold as Appalachian Allspice) from Integration Acres, online. The quality is excellent.