Farm to Wet Bar

November – leaves are falling, the number of mustachioed men increases tenfold, and we brace ourselves for the prospect of a monthlong marathon of consumption and family visits. Plenty of pixels and ink are devoted to gourds and turkey at this time of year; I’m going to focus instead on a holiday survival guide with legs, albeit wobbly ones. (As a side note, should I open some sort of artisanal pop-up shop called Pixels&Ink? I'll sell vintage chalkboards and typewriters, and the citizens of Brooklyn, Oakland and Hackney will flock to it.)

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Anyhoo, if the prospect of feasting with family two months running leaves you weak at the knees, I say bolster yourself with booze. And in order to allay any potential self-recrimination, let’s make it festive, seasonally appropriate booze, all the better for daytime drinking. Reader, I am not suggesting you grab your nearest bottle of Wild Turkey (though depending on your relatives, do what you must). Instead I propose three produce-led libations that will make you seem a foodie and a locavore rather than, you know, an alcoholic.

The Tangerine Martini, the Pomegranate Gimlet, the Blood Orange Margarita – such are the makings of your urban farmer/winter cocktail arsenal. I do realize that if you’re reading from outside the US you likely don’t have the prospect of Thanksgiving looming, but a little exploratory drinking never hurt anyone, and this way you can knock your daily fruit quota on the head as well.

If you’re lucky enough to be reading from Northern California, I highly suggest a trip to the much-loved Flea Street Café in Menlo Park. (The other way to survive the holidays is by eating out.) Owned by the incomparable and appropriately named Jesse Cool, Flea Street has been serving sustainable, seasonal and sublimely delicious food for thirty years (happy anniversary!). This year they have kindly shared the recipes for their fruit-based winter cocktails. Read on for the breakdown of making the drinks and growing the requisite fruit.

Pomegranate Gimlet

  • 2 oz North Shore No. 11 gin
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz pomegranate syrup

Pour ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Cover and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker becomes frosty. Strain into a coupe glass.

Notes: To make the pomegranate syrup, reduce about 5 cups of fresh pomegranate juice with 10 oz of raw blue agave in a saucepan over low heat.

Extract pomegranate juice from its fruit by pureeing the seeds in a blender for 1 minute. Work in batches of 2 cups. Leave the pureed pulp in gauze over a bowl, and allow the juice to drip through.

Tangerine Martini

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz fresh tangerine juice
  • Splash of agave syrup

Add gin, juice (this is getting OG) and agave syrup to an ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled Martini glass.

Blood Orange Margarita

Will you see triple sec here? You will not, because it does not have a place in a proper margarita. Agave, lime juice – these are the bones of the drink. Leave the triple sec to Chevy’s.

  • 2 oz tequila
  • ¾ oz blood orange puree
  • 1 ½ oz fresh lime juice
  • ¾ oz Cointreau
  • ½ oz agave syrup

Rub a slice of blood orange or lime along the rim of a double-old-fashioned tumbler (single-old-fashioned always feels stingy to me) if you like your margies on the rocks, or a coupe glass if you like them straight up.

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and go for it. Strain into the glass you’ve prepared (remember, big is better) and serve with a slice of lime or blood orange.

Now sip on, and read my pomegranate growing tips so that we might repeat this delicious process each holiday season, and enjoy our family gatherings with gusto and grace. And a little buzz.

Growing Pomegranates 

Pomegranates are easy to grow in mild climates, essentially zones 7 through 10. Small trees or multi-trunked shrubs, they tend to reach 10 to 20 feet in height, and they need full sun but not a deluge of water. Foliage turns yellow in fall; new growth is bronze; summer leaves are bright green. The plant can bloom in spring or summer, and the flowers are either bright vermillion, light coral or white. Fruit is harvested in late summer through autumn and often sits on branches after leaves have fallen, making this specimen plant even more ornamental.

“Pomegranate juice stains and tends to splatter, leaving the kitchen looking like the set of a bad slasher movie.” – Rosalind Creasy, Edible Landscaping

In her manifesto Edible Landscaping, which should be required reading for anyone who has ever eaten, grown or cooked a fruit or vegetable, Rosalind Creasy suggests processing pomegranate fruit underwater. (Hands alone suffice; no need to whip out the scuba gear.)

In the garden, the pomegranate is both a beautiful and practical plant. Ms Creasy likes it with Nandina domestica, also known as heavenly bamboo.

Pomegranates prefer hot, dry summers so aren’t a great choice for tropical regions, the Pacific Northwest, the UK, and other wet regions. It is a great choice for a Mediterranean climate; it can withstand desert heat; and it can survive as far north as Washington DC, though in a colder climate, a south-facing, heat-reflecting wall will prove an invaluable security blanket.

The plant is relatively drought resistant. Save deep watering for after fruit harvest in order to avoid the fruit splitting. Harvest when you see fruit beginning to color and ripen, but do taste a couple pomegranates before you pick a whole tree’s worth. They store for a long time if kept cool and dry.

If you have a pomegranate tree that needs a little love or are planting a new one, fertilize it with organic nitrogen fertilizer in late winter or early spring. Don’t continue to add nitrogen throughout the year, however, as it promotes vegetative growth and thus inhibits fruit production. The best thing you can do for all your plants is to top dress their surrounding soil with organic matter, such as compost, in the spring and again in the fall.

We'll look at growing citrus separately, as the topic is a meaty one. In the meantime, consider this: water, food, sunlight; turkey, loved ones, tequila. Our plants' needs are not so different from our own. Surround yourself with the things that matter and do the same for your plants, and your house will be a home, your garden a sanctuary and your wet bar a place of refuge.

More reading:

Simply Organic, Jesse Ziff Cool

Edible Landscaping, Rosalind Creasy