In this post, we’re going to explore giving cordials as Holiday gifts. First, we’ll learn what cordials are and their usefulness as a food preservation technique. Then, we’ll honor my teachers and introduce you to additional resources. Finally, we’ll make a couple of my favorite cordials, bottle them up with cute labels to give as Holiday gifts.
What are cordials?
Cordials are an alcoholic drink that highlights the flavors of seasonal fruits and herbs. Using potent alcohols such as vodka, brandy, and grain alcohol, the seasonal cook can preserve fresh harvested fruits and herbs to create enjoyable cocktails. They are meant to be enjoyed in one-ounce portions as a pre-meal digestif or aperitif, or an after-meal desert-drink. Cordials can be added to baking recipes and salad dressings to bring unique and wonderful flavors to your dishes.
Uses for these alcoholic preparations include immune enhancement (cold prevention), sleep tonics, and many other medicinal uses. However, I am not a trained herbalist, so these cordials are solely intended to be responsibly enjoyed as a drink that complements seasonal menus.
DISCLAIMER: Alcohol, even fun drinks you handcraft, must be enjoyed responsibly. Cordials are best enjoyed in moderation as the alcohol content is high and the flavors robust. If you over consume them bad things will happen, as with any over-consumption of alcohol. Be smart people!
Teachers and workshops ~
I’ve taken several local workshops on cordial making, but my favorite cordial making resource is Kami McBride’s The Herbal Kitchen. I recommend taking a hands-on workshop and purchasing Kami’s book to get a firm grip on the cordial making process. Recipes need to have the right percentages of alcohol to safely preserve the ingredients without worrying about mold or unfriendly bacteria growing in the concoction. Following the recipes in published resources like this blog post will keep you safe and healthy, while you enjoy preserving your fruit and herbal harvests.
Three additional resources I found to help you with handcrafting cordials as Holiday gifts:
- Indie Herbalist: living the life botanica – this link will take you to her superb post on preserving herbs with alcohol.
- The Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism has a very instructive post on the cordial making process.
- And, one final primer from Becca Piastrelli on her enthusiasm for cordial making that comes with a recipe.
Two Recipes ~
Below are the basic details for two cordial recipes. The first is a very easy recipe for a traditional cordial from Italy, limoncello. The second cordial recipe I created over time based on my enjoyment of the rich flavors of red wine, spices, and fresh berries. To me, it is reminiscent of a Port wine.
Limoncello is an Italian cordial originating in the Isla of Capri and commonly served across that country as a pre-meal aperitif or an after-dinner digestif. We’re starting with limoncello because it is so tasty, has many uses, and is one of the easiest cordial recipes to follow.
Ingredients and Supplies:
10 organic lemons
1 750ml bottle of vodka
Zester or Potato Peeler
2-quart mason jar and plastic lid
Pure cane sugar and water to make a simple syrup (Make your simple syrup by bringing 1 cup of water to a boil, adding 1 cup of sugar and returning to a light boil. Stir until the sugar is well dissolved and then let completely cool. Store the simple sugar in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks.)
Use organic lemons because the cordial making process concentrates the flavors and nutrients of its ingredients. We don’t need a concentration of chemical pesticides and preservatives in our handcrafted cordials, just its delicious lemony flavor. Zest these fresh and organic fruits by using a zester or potato peeler to remove the top yellow layer of the rind. Do not include the white pith as it will make your drink bitter. Place all your zest in the 2-quart mason jar. Fill the jar with your vodka and cover with the plastic cap. Shake or stir the jar once a day to mix for 4-6 weeks. The longer it sets the stronger the lemon flavor and the brighter the yellow color.
After 4-6 weeks use your hand strainer to separate the zest from the vodka. You can save the zest for future use, like garnish in a drink or on ice cream. Using a small spoon, taste the vodka. If left as is, this is called lemon-infused vodka. Use it to flavor cocktails. To make limoncello, we need to sweeten the liquor. Add your simple syrup to the liquor a quarter cup at a time until you have your desired sweetness. I’m light handed with the sugar because I think most limoncellos are too sweet. But, the nice thing about handcrafting is your creations are to your liking!
Enjoy limoncello the traditional way, chilled and served in a 1-ounce cordial glass. It can be served as a syrup on top of ice cream or sorbet. Food and Wine magazine has these recommendations for using limoncello in mixed drinks.
What to do with the lemons, you ask?
I juice the lemons and freeze the juice in ice cube trays. Then, I pop them out when needed for cooking seafood, making lemonade, or simply flavoring my soda water. If you like organizing your kitchen this way, follow The Kitchen Ecosystem.
I created this recipe and am in love with its rich, warm flavors. I used frozen berries from my summer harvests. Completely thaw frozen berries before starting this recipe. This lessens the likelihood of mold or bacteria growing in your concoction. As above, I recommend organic berries as the cordial making process concentrated the contents of its ingredients.
1 750ml bottle of Shiraz red wine
1 cup each raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries
A cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups brandy
¼ cup simple syrup (added at the time of decanting, see directions above)
2-quart mason jar with plastic cap
Potato sackcloth and hand strainer
Combine all ingredients in your mason jar and let sit in a place out of direct sunlight for 3-4 weeks and up to 3 months. Adding the brandy raises the alcohol level to the point where mold or bacteria will not grow. Be sure to add the brandy or the cordial must cure in the refrigerator and be stored in the refrigerator after it is created. Shake or stir the concoction daily. Strain out the berries using flour sack cloth and a strainer. Taste and amend with simple sugar to taste. You can add more wine if the berry flavor is too strong.
This cordial is reminiscent of Port wine and is quite potent. Drink moderately by a warm fire with friends and lovers.
I am offering a class on cordial making November 5, 2017, from 1-4pm. During the class, we will try these cordials and several others. Participants will watch me create a finished cordial from beginning to end. There will be 3 workstations for participants to begin their cordial making journey. Participants can make one or all of the cordial recipes designed for that class. I know for sure participants will have the opportunity to make limoncello and Kami McBride’s Christmas Cordial which I call Winter Warmer. There will be at least one more workstation for a total of three. I haven’t created that recipe yet.
Contact me for more information. Thanks!
My Bloody Mary recipe that takes you from tomato to cocktail.
Finally, my Rhubarb Shrub recipe. Use it in cocktails or add just a splash in some sparkling water!
That should keep you entertained for a while! Let me know how it goes by posting on Instagram tagging us and using the hashtag #SRFcordials. Can’t wait to see what you’ve done!