This is what happens when you marry a couple of months editing a seasonal and beautiful cocktail book (classy drinks flavoured with all manner of fruit, herbs, flowers and even vegetables), with one’s own crazy obsession with fruit and fruit trees!
It’s been an education, as editing always is. I’ve been brushing up on all the wondrous spirits and liqueurs of the world, and suddenly feeling that wine and beer are comparatively a bit boring! Cocktails can be so creative, and when there is fruit/leaves/spices involved, I’m there. (Although I feel I may be a spritz kind of girl – light, refreshing and a little less boozy.)
The idea of making something with peach leaves came about while I, fretting over what to do with our last precious peaches from our first-ever crop, was flicking through cookbooks hunting out the best peach recipes. I found an intriguing recipe in Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion for a peach leaf ratafia (infused, sweetened, fortified wine from France).
Weirdly enough, when you pluck a peach leaf from the tree and smell it, it has that bewitching almond (okay, marzipan) scent to it, which is also apparent in the kernels. My daughter actually discovered this when she pulled off a leaf one day, even before I found the ratafia recipe. I’m thinking nectarine trees must have the same scent? Plums and apricots don’t seem to, even though the flavour is in their kernels.
I’ve since found recipes online for cream-based peach-leaf recipes such as ice cream and cream brulee. But with drinks on my mind, I decided to make a syrup to mix with ice and sparkling wine as a simple cocktail. (Or my kids could have it with soda.) Mmmm. It’s of course nothing like the flavour of peaches, and not exactly marzipan either; there’s a floral twist to it. It’s good – you should try it!
50 fresh peach leaves – nice and bright, not too old
500 ml water
330 g (1½ cups) sugar
juice of ½ lemon
To serve – wine cocktail
prosecco or other dry sparkling white wine (dry is best)
extra peach leaves
slices of lemon
To serve – non-alcoholic soda
wedges of lemon
Wash the peach leaves. Bring the water to the boil in a saucepan, then remove the pan from the heat and add the leaves. Stir them in and put the lid on. Leave to infuse and cool gradually for 1 hour, stirring the leaves occasionally.
Pour the water into a clean saucepan, squeezing out all the water remaining in the leaves. Discard them. Add the sugar and heat slowly until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for 10–15 minutes. Add the lemon, then remove from the heat. Once cool, pour into a bottle and store in the fridge.
To serve as a wine cocktail, curl a peach leaf around the inside of a wine glass. Pour about 1 tablespoon of syrup into the glass. Add some ice cubes and pour on the sparkling wine. Add a slice of lemon.
To serve with soda, squeeze a generous wedge of lemon into a glass, then drop the wedge in. Add about 1 tablespoon of syrup and some ice cubes. Top with soda.
Makes around 500 ml syrup