Simply simple

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
Confucius

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“Oh dear, she’s at it again”—and yes, I can hear you.
No this is not another batch of Cookie’s vanilla extract, but I must say that it has come to full maturation and I have been incorporating it into my baking—you may not realize it, but you are sorry you never made your own.

Today however we are looking at something so simple and yet so important that it’s almost frightening. And no, you are not beholding jars of moonshine. I know what you’re thinking, “She’s in the deep South isn’t she, don’t they all have a still or two out back?”

Lord no honey, the Revenue man came years ago and smashed that thing to bits.
You can trust me, I don’t know anything about moonshine which reminds me of Prissy in the movie Gone With The Wind when she lamented to Captain Butler “I don’t know nothing bout birthing no babies”. The rumor was, when I was a little girl, moonshine would make a person go blind because it was often distilled through an old car’s radiator. Who makes things that people consume from old rusty dirty car parts?? Those on a slippery slope I suppose. I did, however, once partake of a sip back in my college days.

Seems some stupid fraternity boy I was dating at the time thought it would be something to have a bottle of genuine Georgia Mountain mash. I have no idea how he came by this particular jar as moonshine was illegal to make and / or possess. It was indeed in a mason jar and it was clear and he seemed quite clandestine about the whole thing.

He screwed off the top and handed me the jar. It had a strange sterile aroma of rubbing alcohol and cherries. Now I have always been known to be adventurous when it has come to trying new things. I do draw the line however at the eating of scorpions on a stick or noshing on a handful grubs, or any other sort of insect… thank you very much Bear Grylls. Nor am I up for trying what my dad tells me his mother use to serve him as a young boy…eggs and brains. I suppose it is true what they say about eating all the parts of a pig, but I do have my limits and I am digressing.

I gingerly brought the jar to my lips, barely allowing the liquid to come into contact with my mouth or my very worried tastebuds. It was very stout I recall, as in very heavy on the alcohol end of things. I think it would probably have been a better antiseptic than a sipping cocktail. All I can say is that I tried it.

I found it not very different from the 190 proof bottles of golden grain alcohol the college boys would buy enmass, pouring into giant plastic trash cans, topping off with can after can of HI-C Hawaiian fruit punch…..dubbing the brew “hunch punch”—it was served at every fraternity’s “social”–aka, party. One’s date would go with cups in hand and dip cup after cup into the giant liquid filled trash cans. I now look back on those days with dismay and wonder how in the world I survived and give thanks that I am not blind, deaf or dead. What were we thinking!!?? Obviously we were not……

And at least moonshine is not bathtub gin—but then that sounds very similar to hunch punch…..oh the perilous concoctions Prohibition must have created…..

But my jars here are not mixtures of home-brewed spirits but rather a mix of mere water, sugar and, on this occasion, cinnamon sticks.

Behold, the simple syrup!

Simple syrup is just that, simple. But why bother to write about and / or share a recipe for something seemingly so simple you ask…..because it is a blank canvas waiting for you to get creative.

Over the weekend I was privileged to host a bit of a retirement shindig for one of my dearest friends. As this is the Fall of the year, it just seemed fitting to offer some sort of Fall inspired libation. What comes to mind when you think of Fall? Apples that’s what!! Of course…Apples. I made a pitcher of what I christened Cookie’s Apple Heart Warmer and boy were they good. A lovely smooth amalgamation of Apple cider, cinnamon, Amaretto, Bourbon, lemon and cherries. One of my friends took one sip and sweetly cooed “oooo, this tastes just like Fall!!”

My concoction required that I fist make a simple syrup. The easiest ratio for this is to use one cup water and one cup sugar—or in my case I used 2 cups water and 2 cups sugar. Put water and sugar in a pot or deep sauce pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir as it comes to a boil, making certain all the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar dissolves, remove the pot from the stove. Here is were I added my cinnamon sticks. You could add a vanilla pod, star anise, whole cloves, sliced ginger, a couple of chili peppers, thyme sprigs, basil leaves, rosemary sprigs, cardamon pods (not all together mind you)—whatever your heart desires depending on the flavor you’re going for and what you want to mix it with later.

As I was making an apple concoction, I wanted a cinnamon flavor, hence the brown sticks you see above. Once the liquid is cool you may transfer it to a glass jar or bottle. You must keep it in the refrigerator. It will last a couple of weeks. If it should start to turn cloudy, it’s time to throw it out.

Simple syrup may be added to ice tea. I made a large pitcher of tea, added sliced lemons, oranges and a handful of fresh mint and enough cinnamon simple syrup to taste. I’m not one to measure, just pour and taste until the ratio seems just right. I also tend to not like my drinks overtly sweet so I tend to be a bit conservative with my pouring. Perfect for a warm summer evening out on the veranda—as everyone thinks all southerners all have verandas.

The apple beverage consisted of 20 oz of apple cider (Simply Apple from the grocery store’s juice section is perfect) 16 oz bourbon (Bulleit or Makers Mark is nice), 4 oz of Amaretto (you could just use 20 oz of bourbon if you prefer but I think the Amaretto helped to produce that oh so smooth taste), 4 oz of fresh lemon juice (I used the bottled Key West All Natural Lemon juice which is pretty stout but if using real lemons, you may need to adjust the amount), 4 oz cinnamon simple syrup, and an entire bottle of all natural, no dye, Maraschino cherries with the juice, plus a handful of cinnamon sticks. Here is were you need to taste and adjust. If it’s not sweet enough, more simple syrup–I also threw in some more Amaretto and a little more cider.

I served it in sugared rimmed flutes. To sugar the rims pour a little lemon juice in a shallow saucer and then a mix of sugar and cinnamon in another saucer. Carefully turning your glass upside down, dip the rim of the glass in the lemon juice, let the drips fall back into the saucer, then dip into the cinnamon sugar, allow to dry. Garnish with dried apples chips. I did dry my own apples but you can easily buy a bag of dried apple chips at the store.

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I think this beverage would be even better heated as a heart warming hot toddy savored by a crackling fire. I just hope you enjoy—my little gathering of friends surly enjoyed as they polished off 3 pitchers…hummm, must have been the cherries. And speaking of, one of my friends even carried home the cherries that had been at the bottom of the pitcher…hummmm

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