Turn Plum Blossoms into a Delicate Liqueur
By Ellen Zachos
I first drank plum blossoms in Denver. It was a rainy afternoon and I was hunting for morels when the scent of something floral and intoxicating distracted me. (It takes a lot to distract me from morels.) Looking up, I found myself in a grove of wild plums in full bloom. Their perfume was so intense that I knew it had to be captured in a cocktail.
Since this was a spontaneous decision, I was less than perfectly prepared. I picked up some vodka and a canning jar at the nearest shopping center, stuffed the jar full of flowers, covered them with vodka, and hoped for the best. Two days later, I strained off the plum blossoms, and the flavor of the liqueur was strong and seductive, just as the living flowers had been.
Since then, I’ve refined the recipe, using a double infusion method that works well for all strongly scented, edible flowers. Try it with pineapple weed, milkweed flowers, lilacs, violets, rose petals—any flower that’s safe to eat and has a strong and pleasant perfume.
In northern New Mexico, the cherry plum (aka Prunus cerasifera) is a common landscape tree. It’s drought tolerant once established, making it a low maintenance plant, and it’s tough as nails. Purple-leaved varieties are especially popular; you’ll find them at gas stations, in office building landscapes, and in parking lots. Because this is a smallish tree, topping off at about 15–20 feet in our climate, it’s perfect for small gardens.
Cherry plums self-seed generously, and it’s not unusual to find feral trees lining bike paths and arroyos. Each tree produces copious blooms, so you can harvest enough for a batch of liqueur and still leave plenty behind to make fruit in mid-summer. Birds (and humans) appreciate the fruit, which can be difficult to see on purple-leaved varieties, since it’s the same color as the foliage. Look carefully among the leaves the next time you spot a cherry plum in July; you may be rewarded with loads of small, tart fruit.
Plum blossom liqueur can be made with wild or cultivated flowers; what’s important is that they be strongly fragrant. And since northern New Mexico springs can be unpredictable, don’t postpone your harvest. You may wake up to find your precious plum blossoms covered in snow, rendered useless to the foraging mixologist.
Harvest freshly opened, turgid, fragrant flowers early in the day, and get them back to the kitchen as soon as possible to begin infusing your liqueur. I suggest using vodka for your first experiment so that you can appreciate the flavor of the plum blossoms infused in the neutral spirit. Later, if you’re feeling adventurous, try a variation with gin, pisco, or cachaça.
Plum Blossom Liqueur
- 4 cups plum blossoms, loosely packed
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups vodka
- 2 cups water
When you’re infusing vodka with flavor, there’s no reason to pay for the smoothest, purest spirits. Nor do you want rotgut.
Divide the plum blossoms into 2 groups of 2 cups each. In a canning jar, combine 2 cups of flowers with 2 cups of vodka. Cover the jar and shake, then store it out of direct sun.
In a plastic container, combine 2 cups of flowers with 2 cups of sugar. Stir well to combine, then cover the container and let it sit for 2 days.
After 48 hours, the sugar should smell strongly of plum blossoms. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan, add 2 cups of water, and stir over low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Don’t let the liquid boil. Remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and let sit for 24 hours.
Strain the flowers from the simple syrup, thank them for their service, and add them to your compost pile. Measure the syrup and set it aside. Strain the flowers from the vodka (which may now be a lovely shade of pink, depending on the color of the flowers). Measure the vodka and set it aside.
Combine equal parts vodka and syrup, and voilà! You have captured the taste of plum blossoms in a glass. Pour yourself a glass, and enjoy the flavor of spring.