from Gail Norton
As much as I’d like to write a recipe for my hooch, it’s really a “huck it in a jar’” kind of thing and that’s the beauty of it. I usually go to the market, or pick fruit from my yard (sour cherries grow in abundance in Calgary) or from the back alleys around my house – think of all those raspberry bushes and rhubarb patches that go unused every year. Then I dig out as many giant, wide-necked jars as I estimate are required. For every 1 cup of fruit, add 1/4 cup berry sugar. You’ll need to adjust for the tartness of the fruit. I find that if you add the sugar in increments of a couple of tablespoons over the period of the maceration, the flavour of the hooch is more complex and interesting.
What you’ll need:
Large jars with lids, thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.
4 c. (roughly) tart crabapples (cleaned and quartered), black currants, raspberries or sliced rhubarb
1 c. + 6 T. (roughly) berry sugar
Bottle of vodka (I use the Prairie brand for its purity and lack of flavour)
1/4 c. armagnac (optional)
Sterilize the jars and lids by washing them well and rinsing them with boiling water. Add the cleaned fruit to fill the jar by half. Then add the sugar, but don’t stir. Pour the vodka and armagnac, if using, over the fruit to completely cover it. Seal the lids tightly. Gently roll each jar around to distribute everything evenly.
Place the jars at room temperature on the countertop in a dark spot – leave them alone for two weeks, then twirl the bottles around to distribute the sugar. Leave them alone for another two weeks, then have a wee taste. The taste should be slightly of the fruit but predominantly alcohol-y. You may need to add a bit more sugar; I usually do this, 2 T. at a time, over the next three weeks. Seal the lids on again and leave the bottles for another two weeks. Repeat until the flavour is fruity and sweetened to your taste.
After four or five months, I remove the fruit from the liquid by straining it through a very fine mesh strainer, reserving the fruit for cocktails or for serving over ice cream. I pour the hooch into a pretty bottle and store it in the fridge to serve to only my “bestest” friends. I serve it over ice – it’s best that way.
Other additions you might desire: a pod of star anise, one inch of vanilla pod sliced down the middle, a pinch or two of whole black peppercorns, half a cinnamon stick, a couple of cloves, juniper berries, a couple of blades of mace – the lacy “net” on the outside of nutmeg. Silk Road Spice Merchant is a good place to find spices, including blades of mace.
Here are a few tips:
- start with whole fruit (I tried using crabapple juice and two months later it had turned into a weird crabapple-vodka jelly-like substance that had a most unpleasant texture)
- use un-bruised, good-quality fruit
- don’t squish the fruit into the alcohol
- remove the “hairy” flower end from the crabapples
- leave stems and seeds
- clean the fruit but thoroughly dry it before adding to the jar
- for every 1 cup of fruit, add 1/4 cup sugar, then adjust to your taste as the mixture macerates by adding a tablespoon at a time
- use berry sugar – it’s finer-grained and dissolves more easily in alcohol
- use a sterilized jar that has a good seal; Weck jars are pretty and contemporary looking, with a simple design and a wide neck for easy access
- use good quality alcohol, something that you’d normally drink
- if you’re adding spices, keep in mind that the hooch is extracting the flavour for months, so be careful. For example, half a cinnamon stick is lots. Half a vanilla bean is lots. One star anise pod goes a long way…