Among the recipes in my book, “Easy Growing: Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces” are three herb and edible flower infused spirits that I make each year from ingredients grown in my garden. Were more space available, I could have written an entire chapter on this exciting subject — narrowing it down to just three recipes was no easy task. Instead, I opted to throw in references throughout the book to those that are straightforward, including one in the section on Pinks aka Dianthus. Before I go on to the recipe, a little backstory…
The idea to infuse booze with herbs was first put into my mind on the month-long trip we took to the Caribbean in 2009. While in Dominica, we stayed in a small cottage that was the former servants’ quarters of what must have been at one time considered a fairly wealthy estate. We woke up on our second morning eager to explore and so we ventured further up the mountain road on foot where the very first thing we came to was a Snackette aka Snack Shack. I was talking to the proprietor about life on the island, when I spotted behind her a menagerie of bottles stuffed with what looked like very old, browned herbs. She explained that they were “bush rum” made by infusing a very high-proof cane rum with herbs, fruit, spices, and, well, just about anything you can dream up. Locals drink shots of this fiery alcohol as a tincture-like medicine of sorts, choosing their poison based on the constituents of its ingredients. It took me another week or so to get up the nerve to try some and when I did I chose basil. It was absolutely awful stuff: full of bitter tannins and far too potent for my taste.
Despite this bad experience, I left the island eager to try making my own “bush rum” at home. The trick, I surmised, was to infuse the alcohol with herbs, etc only as long as necessary to draw out the flavour rather than leaving it in indefinitely. That spring I set out to experiment with as many ingredients and combinations as I could imagine in as many different spirits as I could find at my local liquor store. By mid-summer our kitchen table was completely unusable, jammed up with dozens of tiny jars of this and that and the next.
Since then I have spent each growing season experimenting with new ideas, but there are a few that I keep coming back to. Dianthus is one of them. I can’t say enough good things about growing dianthus and have several different types in my garden that I enjoy for different reasons. However, the one I use most often as an edible are Cottage Pinks (Dianthus plumarius). They have a very strong, sweet yet spicy scent and flavour that is reminiscent of cloves. For this reason they make a great addition to baked goods. However, since we try not to eat a lot of sweets, I tend to use them fresh as a pretty garnish on salads, and when that first flush of blooms arrive in late spring, I collect them by the handfuls and make dianthus vodka and wine.
RECIPE: Dianthus-Infused Vodka
The procedure is simple. Harvest the flowers on a warm, dry morning, after the dew has evaporated. Clip a handful of freshly opened blooms with a pair of scissors. Pluck the petals from the hard stems by pulling gently — they pop out easily.
Stuff a small jar full of fresh petals and pour in enough 80-proof vodka (or white wine like a Pino Grigio) to cover. Try to use good-quality alcohol since you will not be adding any other ingredients that might mask or improve a harsh spirit.
Set the jar (with lid on) in a cool, dark place for a few days. I infuse the vodka only until the colour is gone from the petals and they have turned translucent white — this works out to be about a week tops.
Strain out the petals and store the finished vodka in the freezer. It taste best sipped slowly from tiny shot glasses. I’ve experimented with making pink cocktails from it, but am yet to hit upon an idea that truly rivals straight shots.