by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes
Even while packing for her trip to Peru, where she'll be learning about pisco, Southern Wine & Spirit's Bridget Albert can get excited about farmers markets.
Albert's big on the seasonal. A taste of her cocktails or a browse through the pages of her book, Market-Fresh Mixology , reveals that. When she talks, it's apparent that her enthusiasm is genuine and not just a marketing ploy. If Bridget Albert's sending you anywhere, then it's to the Green City Market.
Now is prime time for shopping at the market. "Living in the Midwest," Albert observes, "our market season is short - it's very different than living in San Francisco, where their markets are open just about all year-round - and so we need to gravitate to them as soon as they open and see what the farmers have to offer, the best of the season."
If you want each farmer's best, then Albert recommends engaging in conversations. "Talk to the farmers," she says. "Talk to the people that run the stand. Get to know what's available and what they'll be bringing out in the following weeks. Become friends with them - and you'll be surprised, once you form those relationships, the types of fruits that they'll either hold for you, or they'll be excited to see you and show you what's new. Build on that and you'll always get the best of the season."
What's drawing Albert to the market? Strawberries, which are "really the most friendly flavor there is." Right now, Albert says, the berries are very sweet, with an enticing color. Mick Klug Farm and Ellis Farms have gorgeous strawberries.
When you bring those beauties home, Albert says you should put them in a daiquiri. Keep it simple: "a nice silver rum, some fresh lime juice, simple syrup, throw in a couple of strawberries. . . dump it in a glass and mush it up."
Asked about proportions, Albert admits that she likes her daiquiris "a little boozy." To follow her lead, take 2 ounces of silver rum, add equal parts fresh lime juice and simple syrup, chop up 1 or 2 berries and "shake that cocktail to death and strain it." How much lime and syrup you should use is a matter of taste - but finding the perfect balance should be no hardship.
Simple syrup is easy to make -- melt a 50-50 blend of sugar and water. Albert has an even more market-friendly option: honey. There are health advantages to using local honey, but the mixologist notes an economically comforting point: Honey is shelf-stable. Before using honey in cocktails, loosen it up with hot water. ("You don't want to have it be like you're working with Crazy Glue," she says.)
According to Albert, honey is adaptable stuff. It plays well with bourbon, rum . . . everything. She likes it in margaritas. If you're having a party, then tell your guests that you're using local honey and fruit in your drinks. It's a great talking point. And that's a perfect concoction: conversation, a long summer evening and a fresh strawberry daiquiri - just what the mixologist ordered.
(photos courtesy Kate Gross Photography)