As a blogger, I often find myself running in the same circles as other bloggers I admire from afar, but haven’t yet had a chance to meet. Emily Han is one such blogger. We both wrote for Apartment Therapy, The Kitchn, and KCET, we both live in Los Angeles, and we both have a love of cooking, foraging, and exploring the natural world.
So when I found out Emily signed with Quarto Publishing (who’s also my publisher — we now even have the same marketing manager!) for her boozy new book, I was so excited to see what she came up with, knowing we share the same passion for fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices.
Wild Drinks and Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home is a fascinating and whimsical book for wildcrafters, herbalists, gardeners, and anyone who’s curious about what goes into a great drink. This is not your typical beverage book, and it’s certainly not for everybody. But if you love homemade elixirs, artisanal cocktails, and unusual ingredients, Emily’s garden-to-glass recipes are a refreshing take on the traditional drinks of yore, like mors, oxymels, cordials, and orgeat.
But the more classic wines and punches, juices and lemonades, and syrups and liqueurs also appear in the mix. Every single recipe uses fresh fruits (such as persimmons, cranberries, and kumquats), herbs (lemon balm, lavender, and anise hyssop), or spices (star anise, cardamom, and turmeric), as well as ingredients you’re likely to forage (nettle tops, conifer tips, and honeysuckle), grow in your garden (rhubarb, borage, and calendula), or have a little fun tracking down (prickly pears, hawthorn berries, and meadowsweet flowers).
Leafing through Wild Drinks and Cocktails feels like an adventure in itself. The recipes are more involved than just measuring and muddling a few things in a glass, but that’s the appeal of these small-batch, handcrafted drinks. You truly are your own apothecary.
I have my eye on a few recipes to try over the coming year as things come in and out of season, like her Peach and Pecan Bourbon, Fig and Vanilla Rum, and Wood Sorrel Lemonade. (Yes, the same wood sorrel that grows like a weed all over my garden in spring! Many people mistake this creeping groundcover for clover, but it actually has a wonderfully tangy flavor thanks to its high oxalic acid content.)
Last week for Thanksgiving, however, I knew I had to make Emily’s version of mulled wine.
Mulled wine is one of my favorite concoctions to share with friends this time of year, and I was intrigued with this recipe because it used interesting ingredients I already had in my kitchen: California bay leaves (which I’d recently foraged on a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains), pink peppercorns (which grow wild all over the central and southern region here), and fennel seeds (harvested from my own plants this summer). Emily calls for mandarins, but since mine are still a few weeks away from ripening on the tree, I used homegrown oranges instead.
What I especially loved about this recipe was that all the ingredients (minus the wine and citrus) can be mixed in a mason jar and stashed for future dinner parties or cozy nights in front of a fire. I toted a jar to my friend’s Thanksgiving feast, then made another to have at home. I can see myself mixing up more batches for cabin retreats, camping trips, and even hostess gifts.
And the mulled wine itself? Super smooth, perfectly spiced, and not too sweet, just the way I like it.
Makes 6 1/2 cups
6 mandarin oranges
2 dried California bay leaves or 4 dried Turkish bay leaves, folded in half down the center vein
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons pink peppercorns, lightly crushed
2/3 cup brown sugar or honey, to taste
2 bottles (750 ml) fruity red wine, divided
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the oranges in wide strips. Squeeze the juice from the oranges. Combine the orange peels and juice, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds, pink peppercorns, brown sugar, and 1 cup of the red wine in a large pot. Simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Stir in the remaining 5 1/2 cups red wine. Gently simmer (but do not boil) until the mixture is warmed through. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids. Serve warm.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Wild Drinks and Cocktails (Fair Winds, 2015). The publisher provided me with a complimentary copy of this book, but all opinions are my own.