One of my latest posts was about reducing your consumption and making Christmas cards, and this one's about making fruit liqueurs. I can hear my mom laughing from here, thinking I'm turning into Suzie Homemaker. But don't panic, I'm still the same old me. I'm just... trying to be resourceful these days! Last year, in September, we went for a long Autumn walk locally to pick up berries. We came home with a nice harvest of sloe berries, crabapples, rosehips and a handful of tasty little apples. There were also wild blackberries but I ate those on the way home...
I had my heart set on making homemade liqueurs for the first time, and was curious to see whether they'd be as good (or better?) than the ones we buy in shops. It's only once the fruit and sugar was dropped in the large glass jars and that I'd clipped the lids shut that it sank in - I'd have to wait many months before finding out whether they were any good.
Now, a year later, I'm thrilled with my homemade liqueurs crop and can't wait to give them away in beautiful little bottles as Christmas presents. And the best part of it? It was really easy to do!
Making your own fruit liqueurs
You will need:
- Fruit or flavourings
- Base liquors
- Sugar or simple syrup
- Large, clean glass jars
Choosing the fruits or flavourings
First, pick or buy fruits you'd like to use to make your liqueurs. Berries, plums, peaches, apples work very well, but if you're feeling creative, try herbs, vanilla, espresso coffee beans or even chilli peppers.
Clean the fruits or flavourings to get rid of any grit or residue that will be unwelcome to the liqueur.
- For apples and peaches, cut the fruit in pieces, removing the core or pit.
- For berries like sloes or blueberries, put them in the freezer for a few hours. This will cause the fruit's skin to burst open, letting out more flavour once it is steeping in the liquor of your choice.
- For rosehips, top and tail them and slice them in two.
- For herbs, vanilla and chilli peppers, they can be left whole, as they'll look prettier in the glass jar. However, if you intend to strain the flavourings out before giving them away, it's possible to cut them into pieces to allow them to steep quicker.
Choosing the base liquor
You may want to experiment with the base liquor to use, but vodka and gin are the most popular ones. Vodka adds very little flavour to the mix, giving the fruit the whole spotlight.
Others, like gin, are the staple alcohol to use with sloes to make the traditional sloe gin.
Preparing the mix
Once your fruit or flavouring is clean, chopped or partially frozen as necessary, it's time to mix it up!
First, clean your glass jars in very hot water or put through a hot dishwasher cycle. Any residue could add unwelcome bacteria to the mix and ruin your liqueur.
Then put the fruit and sugar in equal parts in the jar. The rule of thumb for berries and apples is one part fruit, one part sugar to 3 parts base liquor. Of course, this will vary depending on the flavour and ripeness of the fruit you're using, and the flavour you want to achieve.
Caring for the liqueurs while they steep
Keep the jars in a dark, cool cupboard. For the first few weeks, you will need to shake the jars every 2-3 days to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved.
From there onwards, it's a waiting game. After 2-3 weeks, the base liquor will have changed colour and be sweetened by the fruit. With chilli peppers, now is a good time to begin tasting the liquor to test the flavour.
With berries, 3-4 months will give a rich flavour, but I've waited as long as a year to bottle some of them.
Bottling the liqueurs
If you're intending to drink them yourself, the liqueur can stay in its original glass jar along with the fruit or flavouring. If you want to give them away as gifts, filter the contents out using a muslin cloth, coffee filter or strainer.
You can buy decorative glass bottles or reuse wine bottles and decorate them with a homemade label.
Using the steeped fruit
If you're feeling brave, you can use the steeped fruit in a recipe like a trifle, but be careful, the fruit will be flavoured by the alcohol and be quite strong. As my friend Simon says, "you'll need to have the constitution of a goat" to ingest the steeped fruit without using it in a recipe.
Enjoying your homemade berry liqueurs
Drink the liqueurs straight, on ice or drizzle over fruits or ice cream. Substitute your own fruit liqueurs when recipes call for similar liqueurs when making cocktails. Most of all, enjoy the fruits of your labour!