Stoned (Fruit) Infusions
Emboldened by my recent success with apricots (previously), I decided to undertake some further exploration of stone fruit, again, before they completely disappear. But this time I set myself a slightly different challenge. I wanted to capture stone fruit flavors in a spirit so they could be used for mixing after the season was over. Motivations were two: first, I wanted to learn more about how best to do that and then play with the resulting flavors. Second, because I’ve been thinking about the possibility of a signature cocktail for the bar at Plum. Seems obvious you’d want something made with plums, only the bar won’t be opening until well after the end of season. Perhaps a well made infusion could capture the embers of the summer fruit season, keeping them safe and sound until needed?
Of Apriums and Pluots…
Once again, faced with piles of stone fruit at Berkeley Bowl, I felt bewildered by the choices even this late into the summer. Choosing an apricot variety for “When the Fat Lady Sings” was kind of a no-brainer because, frankly, there were no choices. But there are still plenty of plums, peaches, and nectarines to be had. There are also plenty of the crosses or hybrids: plum-apricots (or pluots) and apricot-plums (apriums), named according to the percentage of which fruit they most resemble—pluots being more plummy and apriums being, well, more apricot-y. Both crosses appear to be the brainchild of Mr. Floyd Zaiger, about whom wikipedia oddly enough, has very little to say. However, I did learn that man has trademarks on both “Pluot®” and “Aprium®.” (I wonder how much that’s worth?)
At any rate, you can see it was to the crosses was attracted. That’s in no small part because of the apricot component. It gave me a kind of psychic bridge from my previous success that I hoped would leave to more of the same. I poked and sniffed and even sampled a few pieces of fruit and finally settled on two: Rose apriums, cause they seemed like they had a lot of apricot nature, and Flavor Supreme pluots, for similar reason but they were intensely purple inside. I was also motivated by the texture of the fruit. I was concerned that very plummy fruit, with soft wet flesh would disintegrate when steeped in spirits. This seemed like it would make it hard to filter the infusion when it was ready and for some reason having a translucent (not cloudy) final product seemed important to me. Both of these varieties possessed a firmer, finer grained flesh.
I also had one further idea while in the store. Perhaps I could use dried plums (but not prunes) to make an tasty infusion? I had done this with dried apricots and pisco when making Ryan Fitzgerald’s “Il Terzo” cocktail for Left Coast Libations. Perhaps I could find and use dried plums to the same effect? And the advantage of that would be, honestly, the availability of dried fruit, into fall and winter. The Bowl did not disappoint: I found some rather moist (and tasty) dried plums in the bulk food section.
I cut up three of each of the fresh fruit into pieces about 1/2″ on a size or smaller. (I discarded the stones.) I put the cut fruit into to one pint canning jars, added 8 oz. of Plymouth gin, sealed them up. I treated the dried fruit a little bit differently, cutting them into smaller pieces, about 1/4″ wide, to increase the surface area during infusion. I put these in a pint jar too and added 8 oz. of Plymouth. The jars are now sitting in my relatively cool (and frequently dark) basement/garage/warehouse.
There are two reasons I chose to use Plymouth gin for this experiment. First, there’s a nice citrus/corriander component in the Plymouth which I always find very attactive. Its neither too juniper-ry not floral (like, say Hendrick’s). Second, Plymouth makes the best sloe gin, and sloe berries (as they are referred to) are close relatives of plums (both members of the genus prunus). So I already kind of know the two flavors can play well together.
So I am going to give my infusions about two weeks, sampling them along the way. They are already taking on quite a bit of color and scent. It’s also obvious that the fresh fruit is giving up a lot of liquid into the gin while the dried fruit is absorbing it. (I may even need to add some additional gin to this one.) I will let you know how all of them turn out and what sort of cocktails I come up with to showcase them in a future post. (Thinking ginger, thinking shiso.) And keep your fingers crossed I didn’t just waste most of a bottle of fine gin!
[A big shout out to Joel Baker for inspiring me to do this with his pear-infused rye. That's used in the "Claremont Affair" cocktail, a big seller at Bourbon & Branch, where Joel works as the Bar Manager.]