Tag: Mixology (page 2 of 2)

Nutcracker, Chestnuts Roasting, and Pecan Pie: Why nuts?

This winter, when you are eating  a slice of pecan pie while listening to “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” after just having gone seen “The Nutcracker” at the North Carolina Ballet…  perhaps you may be wondering, why nuts?  I remember a bowl of uncracked nuts with a nutcracker laying across them was a fixture on the coffee table at this time of year growing up.  In our world where any food is available at any time, it may help to understand these traditions if we remember times when this wasn’t so.

Starting in September and lasting until mid-November, you may notice walking down the sidewalk that nuts are all around you!  Acorns crunch under your feet and under you car tires…  You may see strong-smelling, green, tennis-ball-sized husks housing dark, wild-tasting black walnuts staining the sidewalk.  If you are really lucky, you’ll notice a pecan tree dropping its treasures for you to stomp on and pick up for a tasty treat.


Winter nut traditions are the obvious next step!  Foraged and farm-grown nut groves would have provided a valuable source of rich protein that is perfect for the decadence of the holiday season.  And at a time of year when other harvests and food processing are at a year-long low, there is time for the slow task of sitting around cracking nuts.  My grandmother tells me stories of her and her five siblings having the laborious task of cracking and picking black walnuts on their farm to make extra Christmas money at this time of year.  Back when English walnuts were still a more rare commodity, their wild American cousins were a valuable resource and in high demand at Christmas time!


At our upcoming event, Hot Nuts & Cider, we want to bring back that sense of laid-back, communal productivity while enjoying a warm beverage around a hot fire.  Come join us and you’ll have a chance to get crackin’ and then eat the fruits of your labor roasted over an open flame.  Then perhaps this holiday season when you are eating that pecan pie, listening to “chestnuts roasting,” or coming home from “The Nutcracker,” you’ll feel a tug back from the days when nuts were worth making a big deal about!

Now here’s a little something extra to try with those nuts…

Nut-Infused Bourbon

shelled nuts (pecans, hickory nuts, black walnuts)



Use whatever nuts are most available to you for this decadent treat.  Pecans will give you a lighter, toasty flavor, black walnuts a darker more evergreen flavor, and hickory nuts somewhere in between.

Soak the nut of choice for about 45 minutes to an hour in water to remove any bitterness.  Strain the nut pieces, spread on a cookie sheet, and season with salt.

Roast at 350 until they darken and are very fragrant (about 15 minutes).  Allow to cool.

Place roasted nuts in a clean, wide-mouth jar and top with bourbon until nuts are fully covered.  Feel free to add a vanilla bean or orange zest at this point.

Allow to sit for about one week, shaking daily.  Strain into clean glass bottles and enjoy.  Save those nuts!  And use in your favorite nut-based dessert…  bourbon-soaked pecan pie anyone?

It’s best to use your new pecan liqueur in simple cocktails where it can really shine.  Think of shaking it up with a few splashes of bitters, a sliver of orange zest, and a dash of maple syrup!

chestnut feet

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Revolutionizing Sweet Tea

As part of our Cocktails and Mayonnaise series, we decided to explore what a locally-foraged sweet tea could be using an herb called Bee Balm, otherwise known as Wild Bergamot.  Although you can technically grow a tea plant (Camellia sinensis) in North Carolina, they are not exactly widespread and prefer a slightly warmer climate.

Bee Balm, on the other hand, is native all across the United States and can therefore be foraged in meadows, clearings, and farmland across North Carolina (or if you are me – in your neighbor’s front yard!).  If you see it growing in your neighbor’s yard in the next month or so, ask them if they would mind if you gave it a little haircut for them.  It’s probably getting a little leggy by now anyway, and it won’t last past the quickly-approaching first frost anyway!


Wild Bergamot has a revolutionary past…

Bee Balm was collected and used by Native Americans as a seasoning and for its medicinal value.  It began its subversive hay day during the American Revolution.  Due to its common flavor with the ingredient Bergamot found in Earl Grey tea, Wild Bergamot was often used as a tea replacement as colonists began to boycott the tea coming from England.

This fun fact inspired us to see if we could recreate a more modern Southern favorite – sweet tea vodka – using this readily available wild ingredient rather than the imported tea variety.

Making Wild Sweet Tea Vodka

To make Wild Sweet Tea Vodka, you can use either fresh or dried leaves and blossoms from a Bee Balm (Wild Bergamot) plant.

To dry your leaves for later use, a particularly energy-friendly technique during the warmer days of North Carolina summer, is this super simplified “solar dehydrator.”  When I say super-simplified, I mean it:

Lay out your leaves on a metal rack on a tray. Cover this with something breathable that doesn’t let in a lot of light (light is the enemy of flavor for your dried herbs).  I used a paper bag.  Set the tray somewhere hot until the leaves/blossoms are dry and crispy.  My front brick walk works wonders!


To infuse the leaves and blossoms in vodka, you can again make use of the sun.  Think sun tea, but boozy.  Fill a jar with leaves and blossoms (dry or fresh).  Cover them with vodka so that all the plant matter is completely submerged under the liquid.  Set in the warm sun for 1-3 days.  Feel free to taste as you go until you get the desired flavor!  You can do the same thing with water if you prefer the non-alcoholic version.


Once the vodka is infused to your liking, drain the leaves and blossoms from the vodka.  Add enough simple syrup to make it the desired sweetness for sipping or leave unsweetened if you prefer to sweeten later on a per-cocktail basis.  [To make simple syrup, heat equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves.  Allow to cool.]

Enjoy mixed with lemonade (perhaps Wood Sorrel Lemonade?) over ice for an easy cocktail or on its own as a digestif chilled ice-cold with a wedge of lemon.  After all, bee balm was used by Native Americans to aid digestion…

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Preserving the Merriment: Making Herb Syrups

Our last few posts have featured some fabulous herbs – Borage and Wood Sorrel – that are great fresh, but how do we preserve their flavor to enjoy past their season?  A great way to do this is by making a flavored syrup out of them!  Infused herb syrups have so many uses and can bring a fresh, leafy flavor to drinks and dishes all through the winter.  My favorite ways to use herbal syrups:

  • Cocktails – So many cocktails call for simple syrups, so why not switch it up by replacing plain simple syrup with a flavored one?  You can make our Borage G&T all year long by using Borage syrup in place of fresh Borage.
  • Sodas and “Ades” – Mix herb syrups with water in a 1:3 ratio to make sodas by using fizzy water or still water to make “ades” like the Wood Sorrel Lemonade described below and hinted at in our previous post.
  • Desserts – Replace the liquid called for in cakes or muffins with herbal syrups or brush herbal or floral syrup between cake layers after baking to add that extra little something.

Borage Syrup and Wood Sorrel “Lemonade” Concentrate ready to give out to our give-away winners!

Making Syrup

Simply fill a heat safe bowl or pot with herb leaves or flowers.  The more you pack in there, the stronger your final syrup flavor will be.  You can tear or crush/pound them to release more flavor.

Pounded Wood Sorrel

Heat a kettle of water to boiling.  Pour enough of the boiling water over the leaves to cover them completely.  Let steep covered with a lid for at least 20 minutes, but ideally overnight.

Steeping Wood Sorrel

Strain leaves and squeeze out any liquid.  Reheat herbal infusion with an equal part sugar (i.e., 1:1 ratio) until sugar is fully dissolved.  You can also add lemon or lime juice at this stage if you prefer an added tartness.

Herb Syrups

If stored in a sterile jar in the refrigerator at this point, the syrup will keep for a couple of months.

Featured Syrup Idea:  Wood Sorrel Lemonade

As our previous post mentioned, a common yard weed, Wood Sorrel, can make a tasty all-local lemonade substitute!  Use the Wood Sorrel plants as the herb in the above recipe to make Wood Sorrel Syrup.  Mix the syrup with water in a 1:3 ratio and serve over ice for a delicious lemonade drink!

Wood Sorrel Lemonade

Stay tuned for our next post, when we’ll go over how to mix this with our Wild Bergamont infused vodka for a delicious sweet tea vodka and lemonade cocktail!  

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Borage: Nature’s Merry Maker

One of our other favorite inspirations for drinks at the Cocktails & Mayonnaise Picnic was the herb Borage – featured at the picnic in our Borage G&T.

What exactly is Borage?  

Borage is a plant that will grow in a cabbage-like shape with fuzzy green leaves that give off a cucumber-like smell and taste.  Eventually the plant will yield an 18-inch tall flower stalk of clusters of striking blue, star-shaped flowers that taste like honey.


The Borage flower is a five-pointed star and one of the only true blue plants found in nature.

Historically, Borage was much more commonly used than it is today.  This was, in part, due to the belief as far back as the height of the Roman Empire that consuming Borage could raise your spirits – making you merry and pulling you out of the doldrums (i.e., nature’s prozac).  Borage was also believed to have a cooling effect on the body, making it particularly popular in hot summer climates in salads and beverages.  Additionally, Borage was commonly found as an ingredient in Pimm’s Cup and was, at one time, often used as an ingredient in the making of gin.

As you can see, even when trying to frown while drinking Borage-infused cocktails, it is impossible due to its merry-making qualities.

As you can see, even when trying to frown while drinking Borage-infused cocktails, it is impossible due to its merry-making qualities.

Using Fresh Borage

So how do you use this plant in your kitchen?  The Borage leaves have a distinct cucumber taste, maybe even stronger than a cucumber itself.  Some people use them in salads, but their fuzzy exterior quickly put me off that use.  What is a way to enjoy the flavor of something without having to chew it?  Why, muddled in a cocktail of course!  After reading that Borage was historically often used as an ingredient in making gin, we thought this might be an ideal pairing, and the Borage G&T was born.  [If you can’t get your hands on Borage just now, cucumber or other herbs could make a good substitute, but try to get some Borage or grow it yourself if you can!  ]

Borage G&T

Daily dose of Borage to keep you merry.

Daily dose of Borage to keep you merry.


-Fresh Borage leaves


-Limes, cut in quarters


-Tonic Water

Muddle Borage leaves in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.  Fill the shaker with ice.   Add 1.5 jiggers of gin.


Squeeze one lime quarter over the top and throw in the lime.


Shake it up!  Pour into a tumbler glass, top with tonic, and enjoy!

[These also worked well made up by the pitcher ahead of time at the picnic.  Good to know for parties!]

For an added touch:  Freeze the Borage flowers (said to taste like honey) in ice cube trays to serve in your Borage G&T.  Fill the trays halfway with water and add the flowers to each cube.  Freeze.  Once mostly frozen, fill the tray the rest of the way with water and finish freezing.

Later this week, check back in for information on growing and preserving Borage – especially if you got one of our seed packets at the Cocktails & Mayonnaise Picnic!  

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Cobbler–Not Just for shoes (or pies)

So, remember when you used to get so frustrated getting the last sips out of a tall glass because you couldn’t reach the bottom and straws weren’t invented yet? Or when you really wanted a cold drink, and ice was only for fishing under in the winter? Or how hard it used to be to ride your horse-drawn carriage over the unpaved streets before cobblestones were invented?

Okay, maybe these problems were all addressed quite a few decades before you were born, much less drinking out of cups on your own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate their eradication today!

The drink in question that brings all these elements together is the cobbler. First mentioned in print in 1809 by Washington Irving, and rocketing to popularity by the 1830s, the cobbler at its most basic is made of sherry, sugar, and fresh fruit, poured over cracked ice, and drunk through a straw. It is an American invention, using an alcohol that was readily available at the time. Straws made from reeds were growing as a novelty (paper straws would not be patented until 1888), and New Englanders were shipping their ice to wider markets. (The name cobbler comes from chipping off bits of ice in shapes similar to the cobblestones paving streets, actually. ) These simple ingredients combined to blow the minds of drinkers in the United States and across the Atlantic to England too, well into the 20th century.

Because we thought this was a cool origin story, and because we had a ton of fresh fruits handy, we decided the cobbler would be a good addition to our inaugural Piedmont Picnic menu. Because you’re special, and because we like to make our friends work a little for their rewards, we decided you each had to make your own, crushing ice with a mallet included.

Felix testing out his mixing skills

To meet demand, here’s the recipe we used for the most popular DIY drink at the inaugural Piedmont Picnic:

Picnic Cobbler

  • bourbon
  • honey
  • lemon
  • fruit (blackberries, peaches, watermelon, etc)
  • ice
  • tonic water (optional)

Muddle fruit and honey in bottom of mason jar, and squeeze lemon over. Crush ice in a cloth with a mallet, and pour into jar over fruit. Add 1-2 oz. of bourbon, and top off with tonic water, if desired.


We didn’t let the rain spoil our view

Same basic idea of an alcohol, sugar, and fruit, just updated with some of our favorite local ingredients. Also, bourbon’s a lot stronger than sherry, so the tonic helped us not get daydrunk quite so fast.


Enough writing–go drink!

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