When we discuss food preservation, we are usually talking about canning, dehydrating, freezing or fermenting. But did you know that you can also preserve fruit in alcohol, such as brandy or vodka? It is a way of preserving the flavor or essence of the fruit for later use.
This method consists of steeping fresh or frozen fruit in alcohol for several weeks. In the end, you end up with some “drunken fruit” (good as a dessert topping) and a flavorful alcohol that can be used to make dazzling cocktails, punch, deserts or sauces. But if you take it a step further and add a little sugar syrup to the mix , you now have delicious homemade liqueur! WOW!
Better than store bought and packed with flavor, these little liqueur gems are versatile in the kitchen and very easy to make. What’s more, they make terrific gifts at holiday time. What could be better than that?
And guess what? You can even make cocktails from jam! But that is another topic…
You can make liqueur from just about any fruit: apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, citrus, cranberries, peaches, pineapple, raspberries or even a mixture of fruit. My favorites are lemon, raspberry and cranberry, but they are all good. Fresh fruit is always best, but frozen unsweetened fruit also works in a pinch. In fact, if you want to make some liqueurs as holiday gifts this year, start now with frozen fruit or fresh cranberries and in a month’s time you will have many bottles to give away.
I prefer to use vodka for most liqueurs because it allows the flavors and the colors of the fruit to really shine. But brandy will also make a nice liqueur with peaches, cherries or any heavily spiced mixtures. You don’t have to use the most expensive brand of alcohol, but avoid the cheapest if you want a delicate flavor. You get what you pay for. You can also use pure grain alcohol if you have it in your area.
You can make your liqueur uniquely your own by including some spices in the steeping process. Try whole cinnamon sticks with cranberries or a teaspoon of allspice with peaches or a whole vanilla bean with…well ANYTHING! It is all good!
You can find very inexpensive, used glass bottles at thrift stores and garage sales or brand new bottles from sources such as Lavender Lane. When giving them as gifts, I stick with smaller sizes (6-8 oz or so) because a little goes a long way. Seal the bottles using either corks or screw tops.
Basic Homemade Fruit Liqueur Recipe:
4 cups fruit of your choice (or 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries)
2-3 cups of vodka or brandy
Optional spices such as cinnamon sticks, whole allspice or vanilla bean
Cheesecloth and coffee filters
Large funnel for straining & filling bottles
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
Wash fruit and remove stems or pits if necessary (depending upon fruit used). Cut large fruit (like apples or peaches) into bite-size pieces. Smaller fruit (such as strawberries or cherries) should be cut in half to release juices. Cranberries, should be chopped in a food processor for best results. Blueberries or Raspberries can be left whole.
Place fruit in a large, clean glass container. (I use my collection of vintage canning jars for this purpose. But any quart size or large jar will work.) Add 2-3 cups vodka or brandy or enough to cover the fruit. Some fruit will float and that is okay. Add any spices that you wish. Stir the mixture and cover the container tightly. Set container on a shelf, away from heat or sunlight for at least 4 weeks. Stir or shake occasionally.
After steeping, strain the mixture using several layers of cheesecloth. Once removed from the alcohol, store the “drunken fruit” in the refrigerator and use within a few days as a dessert topping, addition to tea bread, or addition to a dessert sauce.
Take the remaining flavored alcohol and strain again using fresh cheesecloth or better yet, coffee filters to get a clear liquid with no cloudiness.
Meanwhile in a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Heat to a boil, stirring constantly and cook for one minute or until the bubbling mixture turns clear. Remove from heat and set aside until completely cooled. (About 1 hour)
Pour half the sugar syrup into the alcohol base, stir and taste for sweetness. Some fruits are very tart and will require all of the sugar syrup. Others will only need a hint of sweetness. Extremely tart fruits (like cranberries) may even need a second batch of sugar syrup to really create a truly sweet liqueur. This is a personal preference, so use your own judgment. Continue adding syrup until you reach desired flavor.
Bottle your liqueurs in clean, decorative bottles and label with a date. The liqueurs will have the best flavor after a few months of sitting on the shelf (aging). They will begin to lose their bright color and some flavor after one year but they will not “go bad” because the alcohol is the preservative. I usually have no problem using them up within one year.