I love the challenge to create something based on an idea or theme. When Maven Collective asked me to create a drink to serve at an art opening for Overgrowth, I was thrilled. I was already a fan of Overgrowth's collaborative portraits and I soon began to run with a few ideas.
For those of you unfamiliar with Overgrowth:
"Overgrowth is a new and ongoing artistic collaboration between photographer Parker Fitzgerald and floral designer Riley Messina.
Inspired by a pursuit of beauty, Riley combines classically thoughtful botanical designs with Parker's carefully considered film images in an expression of the multifaceted relationship between humankind and nature. The two artists contrast anonymous portraiture with sweeping landscapes in an attempt to capture both the malleable and untamed aspects of the natural world."
Their combination of plant, man, and environment creates beautifully moody images. If you were unable to attend the opening, the prints are up at Maven through the end of the month. Overgrowth books are also available at Maven. I would run over there and grab one.
Kudos to the wonderful Maven Collective team. The event was a blast! I had the best time meeting so many wonderful people. It was a real pleasure to spend an afternoon listening to records, tasting jam, sharing sips, and exchanging stories and inspiration. I worked alongside the lovely Suzanne Fuoco of Pink Slip Jam. She is a kindred spirit! It is so nice to meet people who also obsessed with fruit and flowers! Her jam is heavenly, and is now available at Maven too.
So now I want to share a bit about the drinks. I wanted them to play against Parker and Riley's gorgeous portraits. This meant something related to flowers and branches. As I was gathering ideas, our front yard cherry blossoms were about to open up, but then we had a series of snow and ice storms, and the blossoms disappeared. This made me want to try to capture the transition from winter to spring. It was a fun challenge.
The branches represented winter, and for inspiration I only had to look out my kitchen window to see our spruce tree covered with snow. I had made spruce tip syrup before, so I decided to make spruce needle syrup. The blossoms, of course, were spring, and since I no longer had access to cherry blossoms, I decided to capture the fresh scent of flowers by using dried flowers and herbs.
I made three drinks for the event: Spruce Sour with gin; Fields of Flowers, made with with flowers and vodka (I garnished each drink with safflower threads and petals from calendula and cornflowers); and my Blood Orange Cardamom Soda that I posted here recently.
The Spruce Sour was the big hit, and for good reason; spruce, gin, and lemon are meant to be together. The Fields of Flowers really tastes like the scent of cherry blossoms. So much so that I renamed it Sakura. With the addition of egg white, it is a jewel of a cocktail. I can't wait to have another one soon.
Both of these drinks feature homemade syrups, so they make delicious sodas too.
This combines the flavor of mellow simmered spruce with the bright herbal flavor of fresh muddled spruce. I added a little juniper to the syrup to amplify the gin a bit. This make two cocktails.
3 ounces gin, I used Tanqueray
2 ounces lemon juice
1.5 ounces spruce juniper syrup
Small bit of spruce (I used a 4" twig)
Splash of Zirbenz, stone pine liqueur from Austria, optional
On a cutting board or clean surface, take the spruce twig and smack it with a muddler or a clean hammer to break the outer layer of the needles. In a cocktail shaker or mason jar, muddle the fresh spruce with the spruce syrup. Add lemon juice, gin, liqueur, and ice. Shake and strain well into rocks glasses. Use a fine strainer, if necessary, to keep those pesky spruce needles out of the drinks.
Garnish with a lemon slice. I used salad burnet in the photos of the sour. I wouldn't recommend using spruce as a garnish because the needles are so thick and sharp - very unpleasant, if not dangerous to swallow.
Spruce Juniper Soda
1 - 2 Tablespoons spruce juniper syrup
Quarter of lemon or lime
Add syrup to glass, squeeze citrus into glass and drop fruit in. Add ice and stir. Pour seltzer in and stir gently.
Spruce Juniper Syrup
This makes more syrup than you need for the cocktail and soda above, but it is also good on yogurt, spongecake, or panna cotta. Try a little drizzle of syrup on manouri or chevre for an unexpected addition to a cheese plate. If you don't have spruce, feel free to use edible pine or fir. This syrup also provides Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and proanthocyanins. It will keep a week in the fridge.
2 –3 small spruce twigs, plus the needles from 1 small twig
6 fresh or dried juniper berries (available in the wild, or at health food stores and herb shops)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Process spruce needles with some of the sugar in a food processor until needles are somewhat broken down and very fragrant. Add the needle sugar mixture to a small saucepan with the remaining twigs, juniper berries, sugar, and water. Simmer over medium heat until sugar is melted, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Let the brew sit until completely cooled. Strain well through a fine sieve into a bottle, making sure that there are no needles left in the syrup.
NOTES ABOUT FORAGING FOR SPRUCE, FIR, OR PINE - I suggest that you take only what you need for these drinks, just a few small twigs. I was lucky enough to gather mine from my backyard. Please keep in mind that there may be local restrictions to gathering plant material in your area and a permit may be required. Try to find a friend with a tree and make enough syrup for both parties.