If you live in the West you can’t miss the ads, the store displays, the TV commercials and billboards – all screaming at us to buy, buy, BUY. Shop till you drop – Christmas is coming.
Never mind the fact that the original intent of the Christmas holiday had nothing to do with visits to your local shopping mall – for now let’s assume that you, like me, are somewhat adverse to emptying your wallet buying possibly useless gifts for friends and family.
You might be racking your brain right about now, trying to figure out what sorts of gifts you could you can present to your loved ones this year that would actually have some meaning (and hopefully be used and appreciated!)
More to the point – what can you make for holiday gifts?
It has to be something you haven’t already made for them before, and the ingredients and components need to be affordable. Most importantly (at least in my case) it has to be fairly easy to make in a reasonable amount of time.
I used to wrestle with the whole ‘what gift to make’ conundrum – until I got into herbs. Then I discovered that there’s a plethora of herb-inspired gifts that are quick and easy to put together – and that can bring a smile to the face of even the most crusty non-herbalist on your gift list.
Some of these gifts can be whipped up a day or two before the actual holiday, and others require some lead time. Over the next couple of months I’ll be sharing some of my favorite recipes for a variety of crafty, herbal gifts.
We’ve still got a few weeks before crunch time – if you get started soon you have time to make up some cordials. An old fashioned gift that can be enjoyed immediately, or stored to be savored over time.
What Exactly Is A Cordial Anyway?
You might be thinking, why would I want to make weird tasting chocolate covered cherries for holiday gifts? But, no – the cordials I am talking about are actually more like a homemade liqueur.
A cordial can vary in content and taste – from sweet and fruity, to tangy or spicy. Many countries have their own trademark cordial or liqueur, such as ouzo in Greece, or galliano from Italy, or kummel from Germany.
All of these can be made at home too, but the cordials I want to talk about today are of the original, tasty and herbal variety. I got into this cordial thing as an herbalist, and so usually I make herb-based concoctions to sip on and to give to friends.
But really your imagination is the only limit to the types of ingredients that can be included in a cordial.
It’s a good idea to get your feet wet by following a few recipes, and then if you’re the brave and creative type, you can jump off from there and create your own signature cordials.
Some of you may be wondering just how liqueurs and cordials fit into a blog focused on natural health and wellness.
Well, it’s true that alcohol consumption does not figure prominently into most wellness plans, however – I am a big fan of moderation and also of celebration. And what better accompaniment to a celebration than a moderate serving of a delicious cordial?
Not only does a well-crafted cordial offer a sensation for the taste buds, it can also help to lift away the cares of the day and inspire some smiles, jokes and stories.
So – if you (or actually your gift recipients) can tolerate small amounts of alcohol, give cordials a try. They’re unique, tasty and best of all – fun!
Some Tips On Constructing Your Own Cordials
Before you get started on your cordial-making adventure, you’ll want to be sure you have a few items on hand. Most cordials contain about 20-30 percent alcohol by volume, and it could be more, so the type of liquor you use is quite important.
Vodka and brandy are two of the most popular base alcohols, and they are often combined in one cordial. But again – no limitations. You could be using whiskey, rum or even pure grain alcohol (which you might have order from another country or state.)
After reviewing recipes and choosing what cordials you want to make, find the best quality liquor you can afford.
The water you use in your cordial matters too. Since a heavy mineral content can affect the quality of your cordial, you might want to choose distilled water. You could also boil tap water or well water to cause the chlorine and other minerals to evaporate.
Some cordial recipes call for food coloring to make the drink appear to be the color that matches the flavor. This is totally optional, I myself am not a big fan of food dyes. I don’t have a problem with my cordial being clear or brown-colored, but if you want to make your cordials appear festive, and you don’t mind adding the food coloring, there’s your option.
You’ll also need the basic equipment for making herbal goodies – glass canning jars in quart and half gallon sizes, a glass measuring cup, a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, coffee filters – these will all help to smooth out the process.
Package Your Cordials For Optimum Gift-Giving Delight
Once again, your only limit is your imagination! I just wish I’d thought to photograph the various batches of cordials I’ve made over the years so you could see the variety of bottles and labels I’ve used for holiday cordials.
It’s fun to roam second-hand stores in search of unusual and distinctive bottles. But of course you need to have good lid. Some people like to use bottles with corks – which require a seal of melted wax. You can purchase various-sized corks (and great glass bottles too) and Sunburst Bottle Company.
If you find a bottle (or bottles) you absolutely love, but the shape does not lend itself well to labeling, you can just create lovely tag-type labels and tie them to the neck of your bottle with a bit of ribbon or raffia. Again, your creativity is your only limit here, hand-write your label or create something stunning on the computer and print it out on some handmade paper. The labeling is all part of the fun.
My handwriting sucks, and I like to include the ingredients on my labels, so I usually go the computer generated route.
And Finally – The Recipes!
Here are just a few ideas to get you started. I’ve adapted most of these recipes from one of my favorite books on this subject: Cordials from Your Kitchen, by Pattie Vargas & Rich Gulling.
If this cordial thing floats your boat, I highly recommend purchasing this book. You’ll find dozens more recipes, ranging from fruity, to nutty, to creamy, and varying from super-simple to complex. The authors also provide much more background information on the making of a cordial than I possibly could in this blog post.
If you’re thinking about a gift of cordials for your sweetie, or favorite couple, check out the post I wrote about love cordials over at Crunchy Betty. (It’s worth it just for the yummy, quickie chocolate cordial recipe.)
Red Herbal Liqueur
So simple! All you need is some tea bags and kitchen herbs.
2 cups water
8 bags of Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger tea
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (or ½ t. dried if you can’t get fresh)
1/8 teaspoon clove powder
1 cup honey
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 cup 100-proof vodka
½ cup brandy
Combine water, tea bags and spices in saucepan over medium-high heat. Boil for seven minutes, and then use a fine-mesh strainer to strain the solid material.
Return the liquid to saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the honey and boil for another 2-3 minutes. Skim off any foam. Pour resulting liquid into a glass jar with tight-fitting lid. Add orange zest and let cool for about 15 minutes before adding the vodka and brandy. Cover and store in a cool, dark cupboard for about a month.
Strain the liqueur into your beautiful bottles and preferably let age for another month before drinking.
Cinnamon Stick Cordial
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
3 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon mace powder
1 cup 100-proof vodka
½ cup brandy
4 drops red food coloring (optional – you could also try adding some alkanet root to create a red color)
Combine sugar, water and spices in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Boil for five minutes, then remove from heat and let cool. Mix in the vodka and brandy and then pour into a clean jar with tight-fitting lid. Let stand for a month before straining into your final containers.
Liqueur Of Love
Damiana is usually the primary ingredient in love cordials , but apparently coriander was used in love potions during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. So, this is a nice alternative to the traditional damiana cordial. We made this one Christmas and I can tell you, it was a hit at the Christmas Eve party!
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cardomom seed
1 star anise flower
6 whole cloves
6 rose hips
2 cups water, divided
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers
3 teaspoons orange zest
1 cup 100-proof vodka
½ cups brandy
Grind the first 6 ingredients coarsely in a coffee grinder or food processor. Heat a cup of water with the honey and boil for 2-3 minutes, skimming off any foam. Add spice mixture and boil for another four minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for about five minutes.
Place hibiscus flowers in a bowl. Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain the syrup into the bowl. Let this stand for another 10 minutes, and then strain it all into a glass jar. Add orange zest, vodka and brandy and top off with the remaining water. Cover the mixture with a tight-fitting lid and let it rest in a cool, dark cupboard for a month. Strain out the orange zest before bottling.
This is another one that is best to let age for about a month before serving. (But we didn’t for that Christmas Eve and it was still fine – better a month or two later though.)
Since fresh citrus is easy to find during the winter months, I thought this would be a good fruity cordial for the holidays.
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 chopped orange peel
1 chopped lemon peel
2 ½ cups sugar
1 split vanilla bean
1 ½ cup brandy
1 cup vodka
Combine juices, peels, vanilla bean and sugar. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Allow mixture to cool and pour into large jar with tight-fitting lid. Add the liquor and allow to age for 1 month. Strain and bottle.
Here’s an easy one that will have that festive holiday look and flavor
1 lb. coarsely chopped cranberries
¾ – 1 cup sugar
1 pint light rum
Place the chopped cranberries in a large (at least half gallon) jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the sugar and rum. Place jar upside down in a cool, dark place and shake every day for six weeks. Strain into bottles and seal.
Another festive, fruity holiday liqueur
1 quart 80-proof brandy
2 large pomegranates, the seeds and pulp only (all white membrane removed), approximately 3 cups
8 ounces white granulated sugar (approx. 1-1/8 c.)
Crush the pomegranate seeds/pulp lightly with the back of a large spoon to release more of the juices. Combine with the sugar and brandy in a glass jar and leave for seven days, stirring occasionally. Strain the solid material through a piece cheese cloth, and then through a coffee filter. You’ll end up with a beautiful pink-red cordial that is tasty without being too sweet.
Have you ever made a cordial or liqueur? Tell us about your favorite recipes in the comments.