A few weeks ago, I attended a class/seminar/expedition with Randy Rucker and the crew from Bootsie's Café out in Tomball. We were there to forage. Before we began our march through the woods, Rucker first offered a few words about the law of respect. Most important among these was to take only what we would eat.
Since returning from the trip, I've been trying to do just that.
Out of the many delights we brought back from the forest, I had been most unsure of what to do with American Beautyberries. They're lovely to look at, like tiny purple jewels, but possess a fairly mild flavor and aroma. A bit spicy, vaguely sweet-tart, with a slightly floral scent. They also pop nicely when bitten, like large fruit caviar. Unfortunately, none of this adds up to a berry that would offer much pleasure eaten out of hand.
My wife wanted to use them as a decorative element on a cake, to take advantage of their precious appearance, and to mitigate the fact that they don't taste like much. That would have worked pretty well, I suppose, but for the fact that we knew we wouldn't have the chance to do anything with them for a while.
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To store them, I flash-froze them, or got as close as possible in a home freezer, by sticking a sheet pan in the freezer until it was ice cold, then spreading the rinsed and dried berries on the sheet in an even layer and popping them back in the freezer. Once they were frozen solid, I moved them to a gallon zipper bag and squeezed out the air.
I decided to take advantage of their lovely color and to try to coax out their subtle flavor and aroma by infusing them. Jams, jellies, and simple syrups had all been discussed. Even a pickle had been suggested. I decided to toss mine in with a bunch of booze and see what happens.
My first thought was vodka, as its neutrality would allow whatever flavor I can get out of the berries to shine through. Then, my friend Chuck noted that the berries smelled a bit like juniper, one of the main flavorings in my favorite infused liquor, gin.
I talked the idea over with Yao Lu, one of the bartenders at Anvil, who has an infused rum drink of his creation on the menu right now, and got a few pointers. A dark, cool place is a good idea. As is tasting it every day. Aside from that, it's all a matter of time. I just got these babies bathed a day or two ago, so I figure they've got at least a week to sit, maybe more. Then, we'll see if the spirit has managed to capture that of the Beautyberries.