There are times, in the claustrophobia of summer, when I try to remember what it is like to be cold. In late June, when I gather up a dozen blue quart boxes of fat black cherries from the Greenmarket, I imagine what it will be like to sip cherry-infused bourbon against the sudden afternoon darkness. And by the time February rolls round and the allure of the short days is wearing thin, winter has become an excellent reason to drink.
Those black cherries have been sitting in good bourbon since summer, and I decant it now—saving the fruit for a winter clafoutis, an adult incarnation of its innocent summer self—and bottle the perfumed liqueur. Sipping it contains all the pleasure of biting into a high-class alcoholic cherry chocolate, without the aggravation of the candy.
Because cherries in their abundance overexcite me, I also buy enough to make a summer-preserving syrup. Mixed with red wine, it makes an excellent kir rouge. In a winter glass of cava with a dash of dry vermouth, the syrup is an arterial red and sinks like a drop of blood into the sepia bubbles. Stirred, the cocktail turns an innocent pink.For variety on the party-drinks tray, I arrange Champagne coupes of hard cider laced with very cold, spicebush-infused Cognac.
Late last fall I picked the bright-orange spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries way uptown in Inwood Hill Park and dried them before slipping them into the hard liquor. The berries are sharply lemon-flavored with the intensity of the citrus’s zest. A tablespoon of the infused Cognac added to the pan juices of a pork chop, a slurp of cream, and you have a wonderful winter supper.
More syrup: I picked juneberries (Amelanchier canadensis) in Battery Park’s shaded South Cove early last summer and preserved their sweet red, almond-laced essence in a scarlet bottle that lives in the fridge. I eke it out sparingly, knowing juneberries come only once a year. Added to chilled sparkling wine, it is an electric pink. I’ve strained more juneberries from Calvados, the apple brandy warm with a vein of the berries’ marzipan running through it. Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) gin is transparently green on the drinks tray.
Overlooking Lady Liberty, South Cove is an excellent source of the leaves, and I need only a few to scent the gin (too many turn it bitter). A Baybreaker is northern bayberry-infused gin with dry vermouth and a little juice from pickled field garlic gathered last April in Inwood. Strong juju. Take that for a foraged cocktail.
In the woods and parks, life has paused. Between sips that give long sight to short days, I try to imagine being too hot again. Happily, I can’t.
Photo credit: Marie Viljoen