Pyrotechnics and Strawberry Infused Vodka

Bremerton knows how to blow stuff up. (Photos: Eric Adams)
Bremerton's Bridge Blast, held annually on the Saturday before the Fourth of July, draws the whole town down to the waterfront with food vendors, live music, and a top-notch fireworks display. The normally tranquil marina fills up with visiting boats, and crowds pack the breakwater to watch the pyrotechnics launched from the entire span of the nearby Manette bridge. This year a dozen friends spent the sunny evening with us. Many, including two who have a Space Needle view, commented that the spectacle was unparalleled in their experience. 

Early Saturday morning we biked to pick up the last of our supplies for bún thịt nướng (Vietnamese rice noodle salad with lemongrass grilled pork). On Thursday, I picked up lettuce, basil, carrots, scallions, and cucumbers from my favorite stall at the farmer's market, and Wayne collected limes, lemongrass, and rice noodles at Uwajimaya. We still lacked mint, cilantro, pork, lemonade, ice, and a few other items. 

By 11am we were back on board cleaning produce, preparing the pork marinade, and making nước Mắm (seasoned fish sauce to dress the salad). Our guests would start arriving around 4pm, so we spent a relaxing day playing with food together, Wayne working marinade magic in the cockpit and myself in the galley washing and cutting vegetables. We both love working with food, and preparing for a party brings nearly as much joy as feeding our guests and socializing. 

Two weeks before the party, when the first local berries arrived at our farmer's market, I started a batch of strawberry-infused vodka. I first learned to make this dangerous concoction in 2009, when Artisan Books approached me to throw a dinner party using recipes from Frank Stitt's cookbook Bottega Favorita.  This is my version of the process from memory because the book was destroyed when my kitchen flooded several years ago. 


Strawberry-Infused Vodka 
or How to Make Friends and Influence People

From start to finish this takes about 2 weeks. It is worth the wait. Also, make more than you think you will need. The clear red liquid looks gorgeous, so any extra (ha!) can be put in small decorative bottles and taken with you as a hostess gift if for some reason you don't think you will consume it. If you live in a warm climate, this is the perfect drink for a hot summer evening sitting on your porch swing.

You will need:

6 pints ripe, fresh strawberries A half-flat, or roughly 6 pounds, will leave you with some leftovers for sampling or other uses. Use the best, ripest berries you can find. The quality of the berries is directly related to the flavor of the finished product. If you can get locally grown berries, they will be sweeter and riper than those grown for shipment. Every year I look forward to getting super-sweet and tiny berries at the farmers’ market.  Better yet, get out there and pick your own.  Sunshine is good for you, and the finished product will taste better for the effort.  (Don’t forget the sunscreen.)

1.75 liters good quality vodka Use unflavored vodka. I use 360 brand, which comes in a resealable bottle with a metal clasp thingy (like the old Grolsch beer bottles), but any decent brand will do. If you aren't willing to use it in a cocktail, your lovely berries don't want to drink it either. 

a big glass jar with a lid that seals well  Mine has a rubber seal and metal clasp, but anything with a tight-fitting lid will do. A wide mouth makes it easier get the berries in and out. I think mine holds about a gallon.

a strainer of some kind (a colander with small holes will work, but I use a fine mesh stainless steel strainer)

big bowl or pot (preferably stainless steel) that your strainer fits over


cheesecloth or muslin for squeezing out the last of the goodness from the berries


a small-neck funnel for putting the infused booze back in its bottles.

Especially during the bottling process, an apron is a good idea, unless you’re into the pink-polka-dots look.


The tiny, sweet local berries pack a huge wallop of flavor.


Instructions

1.  Rinse the berries.

2.  Cut off the leaves and stems, then cut any large berries in half.  Sample a few, just to make sure they’re okay.  Quality control is important!  Discard any berries that are under-ripe, moldy, or overly squishy.  A few bumps and bruises are fine – cosmetics are not important, and ripe berries are easily dented. 

3.  Put all of the prepared berries in your big glass jar.

4.  Pour vodka over the berries until they are all covered. Save the empty bottles for storing the finished product.

5.  Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark place.

6.  Wait 2 weeks. 

7.  Set the strainer over a bowl that’s big enough to hold the contents of the whole jar.  The strawberries will shrink and give up their tasty juices, so you will have more liquid than when you started.

8. Pour the berries and vodka into the strainer. 

9. Place the strainer over another bowl or a plate to catch any drips.

10.  Put the funnel in the neck of the vodka bottle and carefully pour the lovely red liquid back into the bottles.  It might help to have someone hold the bottle and funnel while you pour.
Product of the initial draining. So pretty!

10. Drape the cheesecloth over the bowl you just emptied. Put about 1/3 of the berries in the middle of the cloth. 
This batch retained more color than usual. Often they turn into ghostberries.

11.  This is the messy part.  Gather the ends of the cheesecloth together and squeeze out as much juice as you can, taking care not to let any pulp leak out.  If some pulp escapes, you can always strain it through the cheesecloth again, but it’s less work if you can keep it out in the first place. 

12.  Once you have squeezed out as much juice as you are willing to squeeze, discard the berry pulp and repeat step 11 with the remaining berries.
Strawberry guts

13.  Pour the berry-squeezin’s into a separate bottle or jar, then seal and refrigerate.  This syrupy stuff is tasty over ice, or you can use it the same way you would use the finished vodka.  I bet it would be good over ice cream, or maybe soaked into a pound cake. This part has more fruit, so refrigerate it and use it within a few weeks. 
The squeezed berries (left) make an opaque product in contrast to the clear, bright first straining. 

14.  Make yourself a drink.  Fill a glass with ice, then add 2 parts strawberry vodka to 1 part lemonade.  I like Simply Lemonade for this. For a lighter version, substitute sparkling water for lemonade to taste. Or make lemon simple syrup (1 part boiling water, 1 part sugar, stir to dissolve the sugar. Add zest of 1 lemon, steep 10 minutes, strain out zest, and refrigerate). Mix 2 parts strawberry vodka, 1 part lemon syrup, and 2 parts sparkling water over ice. Yum!

15.  Call your friends and invite them to come over and try this ridiculously tasty concoction.  Suggest that they bring more berries and vodka so you can start another batch, since this one will be gone before you know it.

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