Cordials image via Shutterstock
All over the northern hemisphere, produce has plumped up gorgeously on vines, branches, and stalks everywhere, and will be making its way into jars and freezers as well as eager mouths. Some will be dried, some will be added to baked goods, and still others might find their way into vats to be fermented into alcoholic beverages. There’s a splendid, tasty way to harness some of the flavors this season has to offer, and that is to make cordials out of berries and herbs from your garden or local farmer’s market.
Cordials, also known as fruit liqueurs, are lovely, fruit-flavored alcohols that can be used in a variety of different ways: you can enjoy them as aperitifs, add them to fancy drinks (like kir royale), drizzle them over desserts, or add them to jams and other preserves. A luscious cordial that’s been decanted into a decorative bottle can make a beautiful holiday or hostess gift, and a couple of sips in the dead of winter can remind you of summer’s sweetness.
What You’ll Need:
- Fresh or frozen fruit that has been washed thoroughly. Fresh fruit will have more flavor and be easier to work with, but if you freeze it at the height of its freshness, you’ll be able to make cordials year-round.
- Herbs and spices, if desired: these should complement the fruit that you’re using to make the cordial, so you should avoid mixing weird combinations like strawberry-dill, or plum-parsley. We’ll go over some ideas for combinations below.
- Alcohol such as vodka, brandy, whisky, rum, or even pure grain spirit. The alcohol you choose should be at least 80-proof (so 40% alcohol content) to ensure that it’ll act as a preservative. Vodka and white brandy tend to absorb the flavors added to them the best without imparting any of their own, but you can create some gorgeous cordials by adding fruits like plums, pears, or cherries to brandy, for example. Feel free to experiment!
- A notebook for documenting your recipe ideas and keeping notes about your process.
- A fine-mesh strainer for filtering the fruit.
- Cheesecloth or coffee filters for a final filtration: they’ll remove the tiny particles that the strainer may let through.
- Wooden spoons, for stirring and mashing.
- Granulated sugar.
- Measuring cups and spoons.
- Glass jars with tight-fitting lids.
- Funnel and decorative bottles, if intended as gifts (or you just really like everything you own to look stunning).
Create Your Cordial
When it comes to measurements, it’s sometimes best to go by the container that you’re using. Chop or mash your fruit a little bit, so that its flavors will be more easily absorbed by the alcohol. If you’re not sure how much fruit to use, cut or slice it up just a little bit, and then add it to the glass jar you’ll be using to store it: the fruit should fill the jar with an inch or so to spare. Pour that fruit onto a cutting board and either chop it finely or mash it up a little bit.
Sterilize the glass jar and its lid by boiling it in water for at least 3 minutes, and keep it in the hot water until you’re ready to use it. Add in the fruit, filling the jar approximately 3/4 of the way full, but don’t pack it in tightly—you need the alcohol to be able to swish around every particle. If you’ve overestimated the amount of fruit you need, just eat the leftovers or share them with whoever’s nearby. If you’re adding herbs and spices, reduce the amount of fruit just a little bit so that there’s enough room for the extra additions.
Add enough alcohol to fill all of the fruit and spices completely: the loosely-packed fruit should be able to “swim” in the container a little bit, but at no point should any item inside be exposed to air. To err on the side of caution, some people fill their jars with alcohol until there is just a sliver of space to spare at the top, before screwing the lid on tightly.
Store this mixture away from direct sunlight, and give it a bit of a shake every few days. In total, the cordial should be left to cure for 4-6 weeks. At this point, you’ll use that fine-meshed strainer to strain all the large particles from the cordial, and then you’ll strain it again once or twice through the coffee filter or cheesecloth.
Once strained, it’s time to add the sweetener: You can create a simple syrup by dissolving 1 cup of granulated sugar in 1/2 a cup of water, or you can use additives such as agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey. Add sweetening agent to suit your tastes, and then seal that cordial up again and let it sit in the back of a cupboard for 2-4 months before serving. The longer you let it sit, the smoother and more flavorful it will become.
The best cordials are often the simplest ones made with just one or two types of fruit. Plums, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, currants, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, pears, and apples are some of the best fruits you can use, but take care not to mix-and-match those that have very strong flavors, as they can turn out a bit weird. Strawberry-raspberry cordial can work well, or plum-blackcurrant, but apple-blueberry wouldn’t work well at all.
If you’re aiming for a cordial that blends fruit with herbs and/or spices, or even just uses a combination of fruits, there are some tried-and-true pairings that work exceptionally well. Try out some of the following, if you so desire:
- Peach and ginger
- Pineapple and basil
- Strawberry and mint
- Apple and cinnamon
- Blackcurrant and rosemary
- Raspberry and lemon balm
- Strawberry and basil
- Orange and coffee bean (puncture the skin of an orange and stick coffee beans in the holes)
You can also make cordials from edible flowers such as rose petals, violets, rosehips, meadowsweet, and hibiscus. If you’re only using flower petals or herbs, don’t cure the cordial for the several weeks that the fruit options require: 2 days should be more than enough to draw out their flavor without any bitterness.
An avid permaculture gardener, locavore, and novice (but enthusiastic!) canner, Lana Winter-Hébert joins Inhabitat after spending the last decade working as a writer and event guru for non-profit/eco organizations. In addition to her work with this site, she writes features and blog posts for Vegan Cuts, Green Pigeon, and several event planning websites based in London, UK. Currently, Lana divides her time between writing, and doing collaborative projects with Winter-Hébert: the design studio she runs with her husband. Best described as “endearingly eccentric”, she spends any spare moments wrestling with knitting projects, and devouring novels by obscure Czech writers. A Toronto native, she has recently chosen to leave that splendid city in favor of a tranquil lakeside nook in rural Quebec, where she and her Sir co-habitate with two hand-raised sparrows that live in their writing-desk.