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What's Seasonal: Cocktails at Back Forty
Eating seasonally isn’t just trendy—for much of history, it was a way of life. Before refrigeration and widespread shipping, people ate whatever was growing within traveling distance of their homes. During the winter months, they depended on the kinds of food that could be preserved. They salted pork, kept root vegetables in the cellar, and they used alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.
Alcohol is still a great way to preserve summer flavors long after the harvest is over. As an alternative to canning or freezing, alcohol makes preserving fruit decadent (and dangerous, as anyone who has had a few too many rum cherries can attest). The alcohol kills off the microbes that would normally start breaking down the fruit, preventing it from rotting and saving it to be enjoyed several months later.
Fruit, which is full of sugar, is also great for making alcohol. Fermentation turns grapes into wine, which preserves a farmer’s grape crop and—bonus!—provides the world with an amazing beverage. Distill that wine and you end up with brandy. Or, make the brandy from apples and you get Applejack. Today we see this as simply stocking a great liquor cabinet, but turning fruit into alcohol was once more of a necessity: if the fruit wasn’t fermented, it would go to waste.
As we head into the holiday season, alcohol is likely to make a few appearances. There’s nothing like a festive cocktail party, and one way to make cocktails even more fun is to use seasonal ingredients. At Back Forty in the East Village, the cocktail list takes advantage of several different seasonal elements, and judging by the packed bar on a recent Friday night, the results are intoxicating (sorry, we couldn’t resist).
On our visit to Back Forty, we tried two of the cocktails on their list. The first, called The Perfect Orchard Manhattan, uses Laird’s Apple Brandy instead of traditional rye whiskey. Laird’s has been making Applejack in New Jersey since the early 1700s, and according to the company’s website, even George Washington wanted the recipe. Accompanied by vermouth and Fee’s Bitters, this cocktail has a serious kick that’ll warm you up in a hurry. Make no mistake: apple brandy may be made of fruit, but it is definitely powerful, so you might want to have some seasonal snacks in your system before knocking this one back.
If you want something a little less aggressive, try the Quince 75, made with quince syrup, Prosecco, gin, and lemon. Quince is a fruit that comes into season in late summer and can be found through the end of the year, depending on how early winter comes to your part of the country. It’s too acidic to enjoy when raw, but when made into a thick jam (called “membrillo” in South American countries) or added to applesauce it’s delicious and sweet. This cocktail uses quince that has been cooked down with sugar into a syrup (another good way to preserve fruit over the winter) and the cocktail is refreshing without the cloying sweetness of many fruit cocktails. Try one with the Grilled Pear and Chestnut Salad, or at brunch as an alternative to the mimosa.
If you don’t know what kinds of fruit and alcohol combinations are traditional to where you live, ask your favorite bartender, or even one of your grandparents! We bet they remember cordials and cocktails that would be fun to take for a spin this season, and chances are the recipes will involve at least some local ingredients.
Whatever holidays you’re celebrating this month, we hope you’ll get a chance to raise a glass to the history of our favorite preservative. Cheers!