By Julia Ritz Toffoli
One of my favorite childhood memories is going wild berry picking with my grandfather in the south of France. Papie Roger—Grandpa Roger—was a life-long lover of the outdoors, and knew more about edible plants than anyone else I’ve ever met. While my brother and I reveled in the berry-laden bushes—stuffing more blueberries into our mouths than into our little baskets, putting raspberries on our fingers like little hats before biting them off—my grandfather would forage for wild mushrooms, which would often end up featured at dinner in a delicious cream sauce in escalopes à la crème.
Whatever berries we ate in the woods were our treat, but the berries that managed to escape the clutches of our little fingers and make it all the way home would be whisked away by my grandmother, Mamie Madeleine, who would promptly boil them down into jars and jars of sweet and tart jam. They would get labeled, in her elegant, slightly shaky script—Framboise été 1994 or Mirtille été 1995—and then stashed away on a shelf in the cellar, to be unearthed the following summer for tartine and petit déjeuner.
Though we were always sad to see our harvests confiscated and vanished to the pantry, it was probably for the best; left to our own devices, we always indulged to excess, invariably resulting in a pair of whiny children with belly aches.
As an adult I love berries no less than I did as a child, and it seems that I have no more discipline than I did then either.
As soon as summer rolls around and those little pints of gems start popping up at grocery stores and on the corner fruit stands, I start stocking up. 3 for $5 pints of raspberries is too good a deal to pass up! Blueberries go in everything from cereal to smoothies to pancakes! When they’re ripe and sweet, blackberries are like little juicy bites of heaven.
The problem (a common one for single people unwisely buying in bulk), is that inevitably I can never get to them fast enough! And it breaks my heart to throw them away, as much as it did to have my hand-picked raspberry harvests end up in inaccessible jars.
So what can a berry lover do when you can’t stands to see another blueberry smoothie, but still have a fridge full of berries? A bramble!
The original bramble “brings together dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and crème de mûre,” but this is a whiskey column and September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, so try making a Bourbon Berry Bramble instead! I didn’t have crème de mûre, and since I was trying to use up leftover berries anyway, I substituted the liqueur for fresh fruit and a little bit of raspberry jam, which also serves to replace some of the sweetness of the simple syrup. To give it a floral note, I muddled in oh-so-fragrant Meyer lemons, and kept it light with a splash of sparkling water.
I used Larceny Bourbon, a wheated bourbon made in the Old Fitzgerald tradition. A delicious, very affordable alternative to Pappy Van Winkle (the unicorn of the Bourbon world), Larceny is approachable, floral, and sweet, yet buttressed by some more structured tobacco and cinnamon notes.
It’s wonderful neat, but the perfect price point for guiltlessly mixing into a batch of Bourbon Berry Brambles.
This jewel-toned cocktail is perfect for the changing seasons—honoring those last berry-filled days of summer, while easing in the autumnal spice of the bourbon.
Bourbon Berry Bramble
- 2 oz Larceny Bourbon
- 4-6 fresh berries (blackberries and raspberries work best) plus 3 berries for garnish.
- 1 tsp berry jam
- Meyer lemon (sliced and zested)
- 1 tsp simple syrup
- Sparkling water
In a mixing glass, muddle berries, jam, and 1-2 slices of Meyer lemon. Add simple syrup and bourbon, stir. Pour everything (berries, lemons and all!) into a tumbler over ice. Top with sparkling water, garnish with lemon zest and a few berries skewered on a stirrer.