Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mark your calendar for slivovitz season

Homemade slivovitz with
my grandfather's glasses.
The new year creates a great excuse to raise a glass of deep amber slivovitz, a sort of plum schnapps I associate with my grandfather and the familiar comforts likely enjoyed by Eastern European immigrant families who savored the taste of home while seeking a better life in America.

I never sipped it or, to be honest, thought to look for it at the liquor store. But when I saw a post by Cathy Barrow (@MrsWheelbarrow) back in August, I decided I had to try it. I'm so glad I did and, I think, so are the friends and family with whom I shared this luscious elixir at the holidays.

Her recipe used small Italian prune plums, which were not available the day inspiration hit. Wikipedia claims that the Damson plum is most traditional for slivovitz. I opted for a roundish, gold-flecked red variety that was seasonally abundant and on sale at the market. 

Because they were larger than the variety cited, and I used a gallon-size Ball jar, the proportions had to be adjusted. One bottle of vodka barely covered the fruit, so I bought another and added an additional pound of plums and proportionately more sugar, orange peel and cinnamon. I also tucked in a small glass ramekin, pushing it down to fill and submerge to help keep the fruit from bobbling to the top.

Before adding more vodka, etc.

The only tricky part of the process is repeatedly turning the jar until the sugar is fully dissolved. I advise picking a jar that screws tight (the lid on mine only pushed on) to avoid any dribbles, which proved quite attractive to ants. Trust me: Like any inebriated houseguest, they can be annoyingly difficult to get rid of. 

When the sugar was no longer visible and, to ensure the ants were fully vanquished, I wrapped the jar in a double layer of Target bags -- one from the bottom up, the other top down, then secured with tape -- and tucked it out of sight for the requisite three months. It emerged from its cocoon with the elegance of a Monarch and, once relieved of its spent ingredients, yielded a glistening pour with a pleasingly smooth finish.

Don't bother imagining what you can do with those booze-soaked plums. They have given their best to the brew and will be fit only for the trash -- or perhaps the mulch pile, so long as it's not near anything combustible.

So take that new 2012 calendar, flip to August and make a note to yourself to make some slivovitz. I certainly will.

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