Bottoms (and blackberries) up! Photos by Stacey DeWolfe
This July, I did something I had never done before: I went to Maine, hiked up a mountain and spent a glorious day hunkered down in a blueberry patch. In three hours, my companions and I picked enough blueberries to eat ourselves silly, and still had enough to make 12 jars of jam.
When I think of how plentiful wild berries are in Quebec and how easily they can be obtained (and for free, at that), I regret having spent so lavishly on them in the past. Still, the fact that so few people actually go out and forage for themselves means that those who do can bring home a pretty good haul. And because this summer of all summers seems to have extended the growing season by at least a few weeks, there are still opportunities to pick and preserve.
It had been my plan to head back to Maine this week to gather blackberries, but having other things that needed doing, I had to content myself with a trip to the market, where my need to be economical meant buying the smallest container of blackberries I could find. I had no plans for how I would use these delectable treats, but I knew that whatever I did, I would want to capitalize on both their flavour and their beauty. And then it came to me: I would make a cocktail.
It was only a few years ago, when I received a chilled bottle as a birthday gift, that I discovered the French wine-based aperitif Lillet Blanc. We drank it straight over ice and found its slightly herby, just-sweet-enough taste quite delicious.
I was raised to be budget-conscious; in fact, my mother would parse out raspberries with such frugality that a small dish could be savoured over days or weeks. This, combined with my love of the cocktail form, made me curious about the other ways that Lillet could be incorporated into my repertoire.
Though many people have not heard of it — including, problematically, some folks at the SAQ — Lillet has been around for over a century and, according to the New Bordeaux website, is still produced in the same Podensac cellars where the Lillet brothers invented it in 1872. What gives the drink something special is the addition of orange spirits and quinine (a taste familiar to fans of tonic). The latter ingredient balances out the sweetness of the fruit.
Through my research, I determined the classic Lillet-based cocktail is the one favoured by the ultimate martini connoisseur, James Bond. In both the original and the remake of Casino Royale, 007 lays out his specifications for the drink: three parts gin, one part vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet (the drink’s original name) and a twist of lemon — shaken, not stirred.
But to me, the Vesper, as it was later named, is a winter drink — and so what better way to lighten it up for summer than with the addition of fresh blackberries?
Though I took some inspiration from a nectarine-basil concoction my husband read about online, a thorough Google search would suggest that this particular combination is perhaps my own: I like to call it the Martini aux Mûres.
Several hours before making the drink, put half a cup of blackberries, five to six large basil leaves and (just because they are so darn good this year) two ripe peaches into a bowl. Mash them up and let them soak for awhile in their juices.
Later, when you are ready to imbibe, press the pulp through a sieve to extract the juice. Then, in an ice-filled container, add two parts gin, one part Lillet and one part basil-blackberry-peach extract.
Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with blackberries and a twist of lemon.
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