A couple of years ago, Diana Henry put out a book called Salt Sugar Smoke, which is all about preserving things.
I’m terrified of preserving things, because my kitchen is always full of dirty dishes and I’m convinced that no matter how careful I am about sterilising jars, I’m going to give everyone botulism.
However. There was one collection of recipes that that looked so simple that it was basically irresistible. Also, they are completely full of alcohol, and I defy any botulism bacteria to find a way in to something that is basically alcohol and sugar.
Also also, it’s November, and I’m about to get consumed by Christmas singing. If I don’t get onto Christmas now, I’m basically stuffed. And what could be more Christmassy than fruit preserved in excessive quantities of alcohol and sugar?
So on Sunday morning I hied me to the Farmers’ Market for stone fruits, and then to the bottle shop, where I proceeded to buy more alcohol than I have ever seen before (and probably considerably more than I have consumed in my lifetime to date, come to think of it), under the helpful supervision of the kindly Hannah at Dan Murphy’s, who took pity on my complete confusion about what eau de vie was and which kind of rum might work better in Confiture Vieux Garçon, and helped me find options that were not too outrageously expensive.
(She also very kindly did not look at me as though I was a total lush, though, to be fair, my obvious ignorance of what most of the things I was buying actually tasted like probably made it clear that I wasn’t a very promising candidate for alcoholism. Though I did get quite distracted by a Sicilian blood orange liqueur which I could absolutely not justify buying…)
Anyway, first, I want you to know that putting fruit in alcohol is awesome, and so is Diana Henry’s book. My personal favourite recipe so far is the aforementioned Confiture Vieux Garçon, which is essentially a thing where you take fruit as it is ripe, mix it with sugar and cover it with brandy, kirsch or rum, and then leave it until the next round of fruit is ripe, at which point you sugar that and add it and cover it with more alcohol, and so on, until your jar is full of layers of different kinds of fruit, all thoroughly sozzled.
But the reason I’m really writing this post, the magic, glorious thing that I discovered this weekend is because I have discovered the ultimate Christmas gift recipe. You can make it in November and then forget about it while you do all your mad Christmas parties and singing in December. In fact, you want to make it in November, because it needs time to steep and become glorious. It looks beautiful. It tastes divine. It is luxurious. And it takes less than five minutes to make.
Do I have your attention?
Here it is:
Your shopping list
500 g dried nectarines
750 ml white muscat
Now what do you do with it?
You put the nectarines in a jar, and you pour in the muscat. Then you seal the jar.
That’s it. You’re done. All you have to do now is wait a month. And check the nectarines after a few days to make sure they are still covered with muscat even after the liquid has plumped them up. You may need to add more muscat. This is actually important, because the muscat is what is keeping this whole thing safe.
But seriously, how good is that?
The original recipe calls for dried apricots and muscat. I feel that you could play this game with any pleasing combination of fortified wine and dried fruit. Pears soaked in port would be lovely. Raisins, obviously, in rum. Apples in marsala or brandy. Or calvados, if you are feeling really evil. Dried cherries in kirsch. Or go a step further – why not add some Frangelico or creme de cacao to your pears? Some butterscotch schnapps to your apples? I don’t drink so I really can’t tell you what to add in terms of exciting liqueurs, but you get the picture. A stick of cinnamon or a scrape of nutmeg or cloves might go well with some of these. The world is your oyster. Do not put oysters in this recipe. I’m fairly sure that would be disgusting.
I seem to be on variations already, and hooray, this recipe is vegan (assuming you use vegan alcohols, I understand not all are) and gluten free and nut-free and full of fructose and TERRIBLY BAD FOR YOU but who cares? It’s fruit in alcohol and it looks beautiful and that’s good enough for me. The recipe isn’t all that sweet, so you might consider adding some sugar with the muscat, and shaking the jar gently to to help it dissolve.
Also, my whole house smells of brandy and rum and calvados and kirsch and vodka and honey and spices and poaching peaches and I am not sure I am entirely sober at this juncture because the fumes are pretty intense.
But I have discovered the Holy Grail of Christmas Present Recipes, and so a certain air of elation does not seem unwarranted.
If you are keeping some of this for yourself – and you should – I think the obvious choice is ice cream. But amaretti biscuits would work, too. Note that this is going to be a REALLY alcoholic dessert. The fruit might be nice with crepes, and I bet you could get a serious flambé going if you tried. And I suspect it would bake rather beautifully into a cake, if you wanted it to.
Oh, also, you can drink the muscat separately, of course. It will be infused with a bit of nectarine flavour – homemade liqueur!