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Turning Sunshine into Moonshine

Disclaimer: Last week, I asserted in this post that some of my ancestors were moonshiners, only because that was what I was told. Let me preface this post by writing that I have never seen any of my ancestors or more recent relatives making moonshine; consuming moonshine either before, during or after production; contributing any component to the making of moonshine; constructing a still; owning or harboring a still on any property; socializing or visiting a location where a still may be present; or having anything to do with devil water and stills whatsoever. Never mind that they hail from an area where walking through the woods and hollers to this day would probably conjure up more stills than human beings. I’m sure that they all refrained.

Whew.

Having made that disclaimer, I will admit that I like to make moonshine of a sort, though my husband and I do it right in our very own kitchen, sans the still and secretiveness. Our backyard may be overgrown enough at times to hide a still back there, but we’ve found that the stove, a freezer, some basic ingredients and time can make some tasty hooch. Specifically, we like to make arancello and blackberry liqueur. Both of them are exquisite summertime sippers and toppers for ice cream.

For those of you who’ve never tried it, arancello is Italian in origin, an orange flavored sweet liqueur. While limoncello, the lemon flavored version, is very common in the United States, I rarely see arancello anywhere. In my own experiences with dining in Italy, arancello is what they often serve at the very end of the meal to cleanse the palate. Once we were introduced to it and couldn’t find it anywhere, we decided to try to make our own at home. Luckily, the sunshine smiles on our back yard orange tree enough to give us an ample supply of oranges for our tiny distillery.

Making arancello starts with the following tools: a large sealable glass container and a micro plane grater. You will also need a fine mesh strainer and some glass bottles further in the process. While many recipes call for vodka, we’ve found that Everclear makes a tastier, more rounded liqueur given time.

Arancello Ingredients

Zest of 20 oranges
500 milliters (2 cups) Everclear
1 cup water
2 cups sugar

Zest the 20 oranges with the micro plane grater. Place Everclear in the large sealable glass container and add orange zest. Store in refrigerator for 2 – 4 weeks, shaking periodically to distribute the flavor. Once the mixture appears ready (and this takes some experimentation), remove and strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove impurities.

To make simple syrup, dissolve 2 cups sugar in 1 cup water on the stove, stirring constantly until the sugar is fully incorporated. Remove from heat and let cool.

Mix together 2 cups simple syrup in 1 cup of the alcohol mixture. Place in glass bottles and chill in freezer for at least 2 months before tasting. Initially, the combination tastes like cough syrup, but given time, it becomes very sweet. The longer it is left in the freezer, the sweeter it gets. In fact, the batch we made two Christmases ago is at its peak right now.

Sip as a refreshing after dinner drink or pour over ice cream for a kick.

One final note: This process is more a technique than a recipe. You may prefer different proportions. Enjoy your time experimenting and tasting!

Tomorrow, I will post the variation of this recipe to make blackberry liqueur. Because blackberries are in season in much of the US right now, it’s the perfect time to try it.

The English Are So Bloody Nice

Why are the English so bloody, freaking nice? The thing, I think, that I will miss most about being immersed in England is the sing-song “thank you!” they attribute to almost every single minor event; the blissful “good mornings!” I received from my hosts, all of them; and the genuine kisses of “hello” and “goodbye.”

If I started going around kissing everyone, people would probably think me affected, but I wondered whether or not I could try to be nicer in some miniscule way. The English en masse made me aware of what a boorish prat I really am, in spite of my Southern-ness.

So, since I woke up entirely too early this morning, I decided to get my 5 mile Ravenel Bridge walk out of the way. What better way to test my English courtesy skills than on my first bout of exercise after three weeks of trying every cider I could find in the United Kingdom? Dragging my extra weight across the bridge in the hellish heat that I’m now not used to would certainly test my mettle, no?

In an effort to be completely aware of my surroundings, I left my i-pod at home and instead carried a big bottle of water. I charged up the bridge and immediately fell upon three victims of my booming “good morning!” As I continued up the incline, I sang “good morning!” to each person I passed, whether they acknowledged me or not. It felt liberating to be so nice.

Until I was about a third of the way up, with a stitch in my side, already sodden with sweat, and lugging a water bottle that felt like it weighed 10 pounds. My “good morning!” probably resembled a snarl more than a song by this point, but I kept at it, each recipient probably wondering about my sanity. The few regulars I saw likely thought I’d snorted something before I got out of bed this morning, because I normally don’t speak to anyone up there.

On the Mt. Pleasant side, I filled my water bottle at the fountain, as it was easier to gulp the dang thing down than it was to carry it. I stared back at the steep incline that was my return and felt defeated. Now, I had to go back and remember which people I’d greeted with “good morning!” so that I could say “have a good day!” to them, all while hiking uphill in a breeze that feels more like what happens when I open the oven door after it’s been on a while. My brain felt like hot mush.

I bared my teeth and persisted, all the way to the other side. While I may’ve looked more like a puddle who’d peed her pants by the end, I was actually strutting when I came off the bridge. I’d been nice to everyone, and most of them had been a surprised manner of nice right back to me. It felt really good to be more aware of the people around me up there than I normally am.

Maybe the English are on to something.

Baptized in Pimm’s

When we last left our hapless Aristocrat and his American wife, they were visiting my current hosts in an attempt to greet us Stateside folk. They proceeded to invite us over to their manse for drinks the following evening, something we Americans were gleefully anticipating. After all, this WAS the man who asked me if he could gnaw on that.

We walked over en masse at the appointed time, the English reverentially pointing out various features along the way and giving us a history of the house. When we knocked on the door, I thought no one was home, a let down because I’d boorishly shoved my way to the front to not fail to miss a speck of the action.

Our spacey Aristocrat opened the door, saliva pooled at both sides of his mouth like a sickly glue. He airily waved us into his home, where American Wife greeted us warmly, decked out in a floral Laura Ashley like prairie dress and boiled wool jacket. Aristocrat asked for some final help mixing up his concoction of Pimm’s, the very English drink that he would be serving us Americans. While my host skipped off to help him, we were led into the drawing room.

When we were suitably seated, American Wife picked up a Corning Ware casserole dish full of peanuts. “I don’t know how long these have been here,” she sweepingly proclaimed. “They may be a little off.” Munch. Munch. “No! I think they’re marginal. Have a handful,” she ordered as she forced them on each of us in turn, taking the things around the room at least five times.

Aristocrat then materialized with a big pitcher full of what looked like tea with fruit and veg in it. He was holding his secret recipe Pimm’s drink, something he must’ve copiously sampled in the process of creation. With fanfare, he offered us each a glass to partake of his self-made nectar. Because we were seated around the room, he decided to pour each drink for us where we were parked.

He approached our sofa first, pitcher tipped precariously to one side and leaking a little trail of Pimm’s on the carpet like the sinew of saliva that seemed to hold his mouth more closed than open. Aristocrat unwittingly unleashed a torrent of Pimm’s all over his first victim, the carpet, the sofa and basically anywhere but the glass. Still unaware that he was spilling more Pimm’s on the floor than was reaching the glasses, he moved on to me. Everyone became a practical chorus of shrieking, “You’re spilling it everywhere!”

At least one person was down on the floor scrubbing Aristocrat’s carpet. His American Wife burst forth with, “You’re baptizing everyone in Pimm’s!” He was oblivious, asking me if I’d ever tried chitlins, and I knew where THAT conversation topic was headed – to the abattoir again.

With people crawling around on the floor cleaning up after him, he glibly continued pouring Pimm’s for and on everyone. We were all baptized in Pimm’s – a situation that American Wife declared “dire,” but we thought it was hysterical.

Something like a Noel Coward play, only for real, and somehow fitting.

Because the Pimm’s was tasty, I’ve tried to create what I think must’ve been his recipe. Served in a pitcher like sangria, it was a very yummy, and pretty, summer drink.

3 cups Pimm’s No. 1
2 cups lemonade (for a citrus flavor) or ginger ale (for a ginger tang)
Sliced oranges, lemons and cucumbers

In a pitcher, mix all ingredients together and chill. Serve garnished with mint and a colorful rose petal (if you haven’t sprayed them with pesticide in your garden.)

Can I Gnaw on That?

Okay. So. On this trip to England, I realized that Charleston blue bloods have nothing on the English aristocracy. While at my current hosts, I was treated to shaking a hand that’s touched the Queen (not carnally – that I know of – lest readers’ minds veer in that unfortunate direction.)

Prior to his arrival, my hosts were all a-twitter, explaining that he’d lived in the local pile for years before abandoning it in favor of his son. They went further to say that it was one of the best examples they could cite of inbreeding run amok. Back peddling ensued, such that I was imaging a cross between Jesus Christ and the Beast with Seven Heads and Ten Horns, if such a conjuring is even possible.

Aristocrat arrived, with American wife and dog in tow. He was tall, thin and about 75 years old, with old fashioned coke bottle glasses, greased unnaturally colored hair and a complexion that advertised inside-ness. Of course, russet corduroys, striped shetland wool jumper and tweed abounded. He shambled up and sat down across from a totally unprepared and unwitting me, who was innocently cutting up peppers for salad.

With every utterance, he mumbled intelligible things, occasionally managing to make clear a “sheep’s intestines are fine eating” or “pigs really do squeal the most when they die.” I blandly cut up my peppers and tried to keep my expressions neutral.

Until he asked me “Can I gnaw on that?” Truly, I didn’t know whether he wanted to chomp on my leg after all the talk of butchering and killing animals, or whether he was referring to something else innocently sitting around my area. Who asks someone if they can gnaw on anything? Gnaw? On? That?

He rooted through the pile of vegetable refuse I’d created and tucked into a stray sliver of pepper with copious seeds attached. He continued to mumble about dead and dying animals as he spat seeds and saliva in my general direction, cleaning up every single shard of garbage in the process.

A hand that shakes the Queen’s also gnaws on garbage. Hmmmmmm.

Postscript to this post:

The English have reminded me that salad doesn’t have to be complicated. A fresh variety of lettuces plus a few just picked veggies and a small smattering of the lightest dressing can be yummy. Minus the scraps of garbage, of course.

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