Solar Sour (a non-alcoholic burst of liquid sunshine)
Some meditations on the wonder of citrus seasonality
That citrus fruits are ripe and ready to eat in the winter is, to me, nature at its most miraculous. Just when the sun is, at best, a watery, white eye peering coldly at us for a few brief hours from behind a hazy grey veil, and some days absent entirely, these densely concentrated parcels of bright, juicy sunshine, bound in skins the color of grass and flowers, become ready to eat. Lemons, limes, and oranges are nature’s Ball jars, fill with canned and preserved sunlight, just as we fill jars with summer and autumn’s harvest to eat it through the winter.
Though we tend to associate citrus based drinks with summer time— lemonades and limeades, grapefruit juice in palomas and greyhounds, lime juice in micheladas, and two or three recommended citrus juices in a margarita alone!— citrus drinks are more seasonally appropriate (in the Western hemisphere) right now than on the hot days when we tend to drink them. Though I am certainly not going to quit squeezing a lime wedge into my Monday Zero Alcohol gin and tonics come summer, I was finally opened to the real joy of citrus for winter drinks since reading (and rereading) Julia Momosé’s widely praised new book The Way of the Cocktail. While it contains some wonderful sounding non-alcoholic recipes, the whole book is a treasure trove of inspiration for cocktail ingredients, whether or not they have booze (you can bet I will be making some shiso juice and some salted cherry blossom saline solution in the spring). Most importantly, however, The Way of the Cocktail introduced me to the idea of “microseasonality.”
The book is divided into 24 chapters named after the sheki, Japanese microseasons
“that transition every two weeks to mark celestial events, solstices, and equinoxes. The organizational system was originally inspired by one from the Han dynasty in China, and many Japanese calendars still honor the scheme. Each season and microseason arrives accompanied by different events in nature, such as when the rivers thaw or when the caterpillars turn into butterflies. These in turn inspire food- and drink-driven rituals. Eating and drinking in tandem with the seasons helps us live in the moment. We appreciate everything when it’s meant to be enjoyed and stay careful not to force things out of their natural state. Thus, balance is maintained.”
There is even a Japanese word, shun, for eating and drinking according to seasonality.
Mid-January to the beginning of February is the microseason daikan, or Great Cold, when, apparently, “butterburs bud, ice thickens on streams in mountains, [and] hens start laying eggs.” (If anyone knows what a butterbur is, please tell me in the comments, because it sounds delicious, but also maybe spiky and not for eating?) For Momosé, daikan is a time of simple, warming comfort foods like miso soup and burdock root, but she also reminisces that her mother “would use the engawa1 like a refrigerator to store cases of mikan,” or as we know them here, satsuma mandarins, “for easy snacking. ”
This week’s non-alcoholic cocktail follows in Momosé’s mom’s footsteps, and embraces the seasonality of cool, refreshing citrus with a drink that is liquid sunlight. While it is certainly well balanced, it almost feels inappropriate to call it that because it tastes rather giddy! Remember that Marc Jacobs Daisy perfume spot that Sophia Coppola directed, with the four girls romping around in a field and reading books while in a cuddle puddle on a rock in a stream?
Subtract the occasionally sinister and voyeuristic feel of the camera work, and the remaining sensation of giggly, sundressed, barefoot leisure time and relaxation is what the Solar Sour tastes like.
The sprightly floral citrus flavors sparkling over a whole field of green botanicals are anchored by a bit of sweetness from an unexpected ingredient. A few months ago, my mother asked me if I’d had Bonne Maman’s apricot preserves, because, she said, they tasted just like my grandmother’s homemade version. Now, this is my paternal grandmother she was talking about, and as far as I know, my babaanne only ever made apricot preserves when she was in Turkey, where my mother had not visited since well before I was born. This should indicate just how superlative her apricot preserves were, since my mother can still remember their flavor 40-something years later. Obviously, I had to go out and buy a jar of them after her recommendation, and my mom was right. While apricots certainly aren’t in season, jam is in season all year long; after all, that’s the whole point of preserving fruits! There isn’t a strong apricot flavor to this drink, but a teaspoon or two of the preserves adds much needed sweetness to balance all that tart citrus, and another burst of sunshiny warmth and light.
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The inspiration to use fruit preserves in a cocktail came from a drink called the Breakfast Martini: a combination of bitter orange marmalade, lemon juice, gin, and orange liqueur (that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting your day with even if you do still drink alcohol!). I tried making a version with the apricot preserves, lemon juice, and non-alcoholic gin and orange liqueur, but the apricot wasn’t aggressive enough to go toe to toe with those flavors. The combination tasted alright, but it was very tart and not terribly complex. I suspect that it needs the bitterness of the orange peel in a proper marmalade to offset all that sour, though I definitely recommend grabbing a bottle of Monday Zero Alcohol Gin, some Sexy AF Triple Sexy, and some orange marmalade and letting me know how that turns out!
This drink is a bit of a departure from my usual concoctions, as you absolutely could not replicate this with booze, as both of the zero proof spirits used are unique to non-alc, rather than imitations of an alcoholic liquor or liqueur. That said, I think they’re both well worth purchasing for use even outside of this particular drink. Bax Botanics Verbena, with a veritable garden of herbs and citrus flavors, make it a great substitute for gin high balls, especially for an easy, just-add-tonic, Spanish style G&T. Aplós is great chilled, straight up or on the rocks, with a verdant bouquet of basil, rosemary, and cardamom, yuzu and calamansi lime juice, a pinch of sea salt, and dandelion extract that turns the liquid a gorgeous, pearlescent white. Aplós does have hemp extract in it, but the THC has been removed and it won’t get you high; at best, you’ll feel a little relaxed after drinking it, or maybe even sleepy. To really up the ante on these yellow and green plant aromatics, I went with fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice, rather than regular lemon or lime, though I think a mixture of lemon and (fresh squeezed!) orange juice would substitute fine if you can’t find Meyer lemons.
While I can’t guarantee that this will cure seasonal affective disorder or anything, it definitely elevated my mood during this dreary daika, and I hope it will do the same for you. (Putting on a sea-life printed dress helps, too.)
RECIPE: Solar Sour
½ ounce fresh squeeze Meyer lemon juice
1-2 tsp Bonne Maman Apricot Preserves or other fancy apricot preserves
1½ ounces Aplós
½ ounce Bax Botanics Verbena
Meyer lemon twist
Put Meyer lemon juice and apricot preserves into a cocktail shaker without ice, and stir until well combined. You’ll still have some small chunks of fruit, but you want the jelly and juice to form a uniform liquid.
Add the Aplós and Bax Botanics Verbena to the shaker, and top with ice. Shake vigorously, at least 30 seconds, until chilled.
Strain into a coupe glass.
Garnish with a Meyer lemon twist.
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There’s no time like the bleakest part of winter to fall into a beautifully written epic saga, especially one set somewhere as evocatively (and warmly) described as Ken Liu’s The Dandelion Dynasty. Yes, it’s fantasy, and the three published books read like historical fiction for a place that doesn’t quite exist, but clearly borrows elements from medieval history (in this case, culturally and politically from Imperial China, though with a kind of Polynesian, island hopping geography), but this isn’t Game of Thrones. Liu isn’t just a great storyteller, but can write the kind of breathtaking sentence that makes you stop and reread it just to experience the beautiful turn of phrase again. His characters are fully fleshed out, and the various cultures in the series are well developed and, for all of the fantastical creatures and “silkpunk” technological elements, feel lived in, real, and believable. The third book was released late last year after a 5 year wait, and was supposed to be the final one, but a fourth book is coming this June that is meant to, really, this time, end the series. Why not start now and catch up on The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms, and The Veiled Throne while it’s frozen over outside, so you can make Speaking Bones your summer beach and picnic read?
As always, thank you so much for reading, and please leave a comment below if there’s something you’d like to see in a future 5PM Eternal, you have a question, or you just want to recommend some epic sci-fi or fantasy sagas I should read.
Until next week, keep warm out there, keep your drinks zero proof, and your five o’clocks eternal!
In Japanese architecture, the part of the home that is a kind of lip or ledge outside of the walls, doors, and windows which runs around most of the house.