Orange Liqueur

Time to get your hooch on.

I am over the moon about the arrival of this book for so many reasons.

First and foremost, the husband has taken it upon himself to learn how to brew beer. Provided that his first batch does not turn out to be swill, I will be sipping his beer while reclining in a wooden lounger in the backyard this summer.

Second, I vowed to add more booze to this blog. Lucky for me, John Wright (via River Cottage) is here to guide me with his amusing tone and knowledgeable hand. Welcome to the blog, Mr. Wright.

This cookbook highlights the four mainstays one might brew at home: infusions, wine, beer, and cider. Distillation of alcohol remains illegal, so no making any moonshine out there, my friends. (However, I have stories from the Prohibition Era that such illegal activities may have been prevalent in my family, on both sides.  People, that's probably the only commonality that both sides of my family share!) Infusions are the easiest to do (which is why I am highlighting one of them here) in part because equipment requirements are minimal, sterilization not required (although good hygiene is always encouraged), and the time commitment is sometimes as little as overnight and other times up to only about a month. Beer turns out to be the most complicated, and the recipe found on page 215 in this book is for Aleister Crowley's AK bitter. I am going to wait until the husband has mastered a few batches before I foist this recipe for a low-hopped and mild beer upon him. I have patience; I have all summer in front of me.

My friends, there are recipes in this book for Nettle Beer, Heather and Honey Ale, Black Pearl Porter, Stout (huzzah!), Sparkling Elder Flower Wine, Blackberry Wine, Sparkling Cider, and Cherry Brandy, among so many others. This book meets all your brewing needs, particularly if they feel British inspired. However, more importantly, I think, Wright walks you through the science and the process of whipping up your own batches of booze. He holds your hand in the cider section, explaining how to make a gallon or two with your usual kitchen equipment but then prodding you to expand into specialized equipment if you take to cider making. He explains specific gravity in beer making, encourages recycling of used wine and beer bottles, includes helpful drawings for each step in the beer-making process, and explains how to make a sweet wine a dry wine. This book is accessible for the novice (me!) but detailed enough for the expert (hopefully the husband by the end of the summer!).

To start my foray into the book, I chose the easiest recipe here, Orange Liqueur. Call it by (brand) name--Triple sec, curaƧao, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier--this infusion is a must for any well-stocked bar, for it is a necessity for your high end margarita, your tropical mai tai,  your jazzy cosmopolitan. Beyond the cocktail, however, orange liqueur is grand for whipping into cream to top a citrus-flavored dessert, for mixing in with brownies for a zesty surprise, or for drizzling atop semolina cake. Further, it's quite simple to make and gives almost immediate results--that is if you can wait a full day. Similar in smoothness to Cointreau, this infusion does depend on the quality of your vodka. No need to drop a mint on the bottle, but do avoid rotgut.

Finally a note about River Cottage and its series of cookbooks (of which this one numbers 12). River Cottage is a garden, farmhouse, and cooking school on the Devon/Dorset border founded by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall, an originally London-based chef and a veritable food celebrity in England but a relative unknown stateside.  Committed to cooking without "slaughterhouses, packaging plants, or grocery stores," River Cottage came about because Fearnly-Whittingstall decided to look the fantasy of living off the fat of the land straight in the eyes, even as he was about to kill it for dinner. River Cottage faces nature nail, tooth and claw as well as by tenderloin, brisket, and ham. Should one wish to visit this bucolic getaway, one can take classes on beekeeping, hedgerow foraging, meat curing, as well as the more traditional bread baking and pastry making. For those of you with a few acres to spare, you, too, can live a more River Cottage-like existence. Sadly, for me, I live with a cramped and pint-sized backyard with plenty of fog and not a lot of sun (thus tomatoes are often a failure, but lettuces and arugula are hits). (Here's a great link for even more information about River Cottage.)

Okay, enough talk.  Let's tipple a little, my friends. And cheers to you, John Wright and River Cottage. I see a wonderful summer in my future.

Orange Liqueur

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 orange, unwaxed and as shiny and as fresh as possible
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups vodka

1.  Use a potato peeler to carve off the zest of the orange. Put the zest into a 3/4 pint Kilner jar (or other jar--I used an old olive jar, properly washed, of course). Sprinkle with sugar and top with vodka. Close the lid and shake until all of the sugar has dissolved. Place in a dark cupboard and shake once a day.

2.  Remove the zest after no more than a week, as the liqueur can become cloudy otherwise. The liqueur is ready between 1 and 7 days, depending on the strength you prefer.

3.  Store in a cool, dry space for up to a year, but best used within three months.

Further, Wright suggests an equally appealing variation: kumquat vodka infusion, which needs twice as much sugar.  

Another variation would be to replace the orange zest with lemon zest. Combined with soda water, lemon juice, and crushed ice, this infusion makes a snappy alcoholic lemonade.


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