Unwind with homemade aperitifs with fresh fruit

Unwind with homemade aperitifs with fresh fruit
Photo by: BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER

I came across a great article writen by Catherine M. Allchin of the Seattle Post that I wanted to share. There are a lot of fruits in season right now, so it seems like the perfect time to not only enjoy fruit based aperitifs but also to make them. A bit of culture in one’s life never hurt anyone 😉 Enjoy!

France taught me some important customs: Substitute perfume for a shower in a pinch, buy bread and produce fresh daily, and cap the day with an aperitif.

Fruit- or herb-infused aperitifs are the right refreshment to make the transition from work to home and gathering with our favorite people. While you can buy aperitifs such as Pernod and Lillet, they are easy to make at home, experimenting with everything from fresh peaches to fennel seed, orange rind and peppercorns.

As a student in France half my life ago, I noticed cafes overflowing with locals sharing animated conversation and aromatic drinks in the evening. Friends come together to “prendre un pot,” or have a glass, with or without alcohol. There’s something magical about the in-between moment when day slips into night. As we transition from work hours to personal time, a drink gives us a moment to pause and reflect, to reconnect with special people in our lives.

“L’aperitif is both a beverage and a social activity,” writes Georgeanne Brennan in her book “Aperitif: Stylish Drinks and Recipes for the Cocktail Hour” (Chronicle Books). More than just a drink before a meal, she says, it is a national custom.

Unlike the quintessential American after-work martini, classic French aperitifs are made from herbs, spices and fruits to pique the palate and stimulate the appetite. In someone’s home, you might be offered a vin maison, or house wine, made from local bounty such as walnuts or oranges from Algeria or Spain. Traditional vin de pêche is made by steeping leaves and blossoms of peach trees in white wine.

In fast-paced, recession-rattled America, the homemade aperitif is one custom worth adopting. Many people these days entertain at home rather than dine out. Inviting friends over for a casual drink lets us connect without the added time or stress of preparing a full dinner. I enjoy the ritual when I can, on nights free of children’s games, school events and music recitals.

Making fruit- or herb-infused wine takes only 10 minutes and costs about what you would spend on a cocktail at a bar. In my Seattle kitchen, I usually have an unmarked bottle in the refrigerator with flavors of the season. A few times a year, I gather flavorful local fruits and herbs, and douse them with a Northwest wine. The bottle sits in the fridge, ready to sip with my husband or to offer guests.

To make your own vin maison, you can use either red or white wine, although I prefer white in summer. I generally buy a dry Northwest white in the $10 to $12 range, such as pinot gris or sauvignon blanc, but it’s fun to experiment with slightly sweeter wines like gewürztraminer or riesling. The basic recipe is one bottle of wine, one cup of chopped fruit, a scoop of sugar, and a generous splash of a neutral vodka or eau de vie to preserve the fruit. That’s it. The hard part is waiting three to four weeks for the flavors to mingle.

Sometimes called ratafia, infused wine can also be made from leaves, herbs or vegetables. Pete Wells in The New York Times (“Bottling the Bounty of the Season,” Aug. 29, 2007) called ratafia “a gesture of hospitality as well as an expression of . . . faith in food made or grown nearby.” We may not live near orange trees, but the Northwest gives us heaps of peaches and raspberries in summer, pears and apples in fall and strawberries in spring. Each season finds a different flavored wine in my refrigerator. Some are more successful than others — one pear-cinnamon vin maison tasted too strongly of vanilla bean. My latest concoction contains cucumber, orange rind, fennel seeds, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaf.

As I serve aperitifs, I remember the French family who taught me the art in their old country home in Poitiers, a city in northwest France. The father would rush home from a day at work, in suit and tie, and we all sat over a collection of small glasses, mysterious dark bottles, nuts and olives. In France, children are included in the ritual with lemonade or other fruit drinks. The aperitif is distinctly different from dinner — in a separate room, intimate, peaceful. It’s a simple way of giving thanks for the day and for each other.

While I have adopted this particular custom from my days in France, I still prefer a shower over perfume.

Vin Maison

1 cup chopped in-season fruits, vegetables or torn herbs

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup vodka

¼ vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise (optional)

1 bottle wine, red or white

1. Place the fruit, sugar, vodka, vanilla bean and wine in a large glass jar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover tightly and refrigerate 3 to 4 weeks.

2. Strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth, pressing down gently on solids. Using a funnel, pour the wine into a clean bottle and cork tightly. Store in refrigerator.

To serve, pour into small wine or juice glasses. Serve straight, over ice cubes or with a splash of sparkling water.

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