Like most gardeners, I spend all my time thinking about the plants I wish I could grow, and very little time thinking about the ones I actually do grow. Lately I’ve become convinced that I need a tropical garden so that I can cultivate all of my favorite cocktail ingredients. The problem is that I’d have to move to Southern California to do it. A few of these would tolerate my coastal Pacific Northwest backyard, but they certainly wouldn’t thrive here.
At the very top of my list is sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum). On a recent trip to Miami I ordered a mojito and it came with a swizzle stick-sized piece of sugarcane. I was entranced. Sugarcane is the one and only ingredient in rum and cachaça, but they are made differently: cachaça comes from freshly pressed, fermented sugarcane juice, while rum is made from molasses, the byproduct of heating sugarcane juice to crystallize the sugar.
I know I’ll never make my own rum or cachaça, but it turns out that heirloom sugarcane varieties are incredibly colorful and interesting. If I could grow it, I’d be haunting tropical plant nurseries in search of the burgundy ‘Pele’s Smoke,’ as well as a number of yellow and red-striped varieties. Farmer’s markets and Asian markets sometimes sell cut lengths of fresh cane—as long as you have a couple of nodes intact, you can bury them under a couple inches of soil and they’ll probably sprout.
Chinotto sour orange
Next up would have to be chinotto sour orange, a citrus tree with tiny, beautiful dark leaves and fruit that tastes just like Campari. Ever had San Pellegrino’s Chinotto Soda? That’s the flavor.
If only I had enough fruit, I’d be making chinotto sidecars. You can buy a chinotto from Four Winds Growers.
1.5 oz brandy
.75 oz fresh chinotto juice
.5 oz Combier or Cointreau (orange liqueur)
Shake the first three ingredients over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and add a dash of bitters.
Next Friday: Three more picks from Amy, and how to use them (including a recipe for homemade grenadine).