When vodka and fruit get together over a couple of cups of sugar in a big preserving jar, good things happen. I discovered this last September, when I decided that Christmas would not be complete without a hefty supply of fruit-infused vodka.
It was Russian Standard vodka for me, especially as it was on offer. I’ll have some of that, I said, flinging two bottles in the basket. Then two punnets of fresh Scottish raspberries and two punnets of Victoria plums. Bag of granulated sugar. Two 1.5 litre Kilner jars.
I don’t have a traditional oven for sterilising the jars – it’s one of those halogen ones that uses less electricity so I had to improvise. Washed the jars, then put one inside the halogen oven with the extra-height attachment. Filled the jar with boiling water, dropped the rubber ring inside, shoved the oven lid on and cooked it for half an hour on 100 degrees. Once it had cooled down a little, took the whole thing out and repeated it with the second jar. Cooling them both down completely was essential – didn’t want any heat evaporating any of that luvverly vodka did I. Poured out the cool water, and fished out the rubber sealing rings.
Time for the big number. I’d heard that if you leave the plum stones in, it gives the vodka an almondy taste that I didn’t want for this batch. So out came the pits. Into the Kilner jars with the raspberries and the plums, equal amounts in each jar. A couple of small cups of sugar in each; I didn’t want it sickly sweet and prefer a bit of sharpness. Then the vodka went glugging in, all the way up to within a centimetre from the top to allow for the rubber ring and as little air as possible. Fitted the rings on, slapped down the lids and fastened them on.
There’s something quite bracing about pouring large amounts of alcohol out of a bottle. I felt quite recklessly abandoned and had a couple of shots of neat vodka to celebrate. Well it would have been gross incompetence not to.
There are times in life when valuable lessons smack you upside the head. This was one of those times. What I should have done, when I first bought the jars, was to test the seals by filling the jars with water and then up-ending them. What I now discovered was that one of the jars leaked ever so slightly when I turned it upside down to distribute the fruit and sugar. After a bit of twiddling and tweaking it wasn’t too noticeable, but, dear friends, I did worry that some of the alcohol might evaporate and that would have been tragic.
So, I shoved both jars in a cupboard, and every two weeks took them out and rotated them gently to help the infusion process. You should have seen how the colour of the vodka changed over those three months. It went from pink to the most beautiful deep red, and when you held the jars up to the light it was like a jewelled ruby. Gorgeous.
Managed to wait three months before tearing off the lids. Time to filter the vodka to get out any bits. The fruit was easy to deal with, but the challenge came when filtering the vodka to make it as clear as possible. Muslin would have been useless as the holes would have been too large, so for me it was paper coffee filters – two of them – held over a sterilised jug. Then re-filtered with two more coffee filters and poured into the vodka bottles I’d kept. It takes a while but it’s worth it for that jewel-clear effect.
I’ll tell you this. It. Was. Heaven. A little sweetness, just the right amount of sharp, and the kick of a shire horse. The plums gave it a little bit of round, earthy flavour, while the raspberries gave it that sharp, fresh fruitiness. Cor. I’m doing that again.