I really, really miss summer. Farmers’ markets in summer had a lot of ingredients that were terrific for fun, refreshing cocktails. I miss cucumber gimlets, muddling peach in a margarita and infusing vodka with fresh mint and basil. One of the best-tasting things I’ve ever made was a jar of sweet, syrupy strawberry-tarragon liqueur, which could easily be substituted for orange liqueur in a margarita.

On the other hand, fall is a little strange to me. I grew up eating mostly Chinese food, so every week when I go to the farmers’ market there’s something new to discover. Some produce I see is perfectly normal to most people, but I’ve never eaten kale or roasted a squash before. Other things are a little more exotic, like persimmons and kiwi-berries.

Once you’ve had some time mastering the classic cocktails with standard spirits and ingredients, the next step is to start innovating. There’s no better place to find inspiration than your local seasonal market. Just walk around and ask yourself, “Could I use this in a cocktail? What spirit would it pair nicely with?” In fact, ask the farmers that very question. They know the most about their product and love talking about it.

It’s incredibly stimulating to think about incorporating produce in drinks. If you’re like me, it forces you to try things you’ve never eaten before. Thinking about pairing ingredients and spirits helps you understand both better. Seasonal drinks are perfect additions to seasonal-themed meals.

There are many ways to incorporate seasonal produce into drinks. The easiest is to simply muddle some of the ingredients in your shaker before making your drink. It’s quick, easy and doesn’t require any planning. If you have more time, you can extract a clearer flavor by infusing vodka or making a liqueur.

FARMERS’ MARKET RECIPES:

FLAVORED SIMPLE SYRUP

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

A handful of your ingredients

Bring water and sugar to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Add your ingredients and let simmer for five minutes; strain and pour into a bottle or jar. Add a teaspoon of vodka or rum, stir and refrigerate. This works especially well with mint and basil. Substitute in any recipe that calls for simple syrup.

 

LIQUEUR

(adapted from “Serious Eats: Drinks”):

1.5 cups vodka

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

A small handful of your ingredients (fruits, for example, be sure to remove any woody parts like stems).

Herbs and spices (depends on the main ingredient being used — tarragon and basil for strawberries, maybe cinnamon and nutmeg for pumpkin).

Combine all ingredients and shake thoroughly. Store in the pantry for about three days, tasting and shaking every day. When you like the taste, strain out the solids and store in the refrigerator. Add in small amounts (~1/2 ounce) to your favorite cocktail.

 

BOURBON MAPLE CIDER

(from “Serious Eats: Drinks”)

1 ounce bourbon

1 ounce applejack

1/2 ounce maple syrup

Angostura bitters

4 ounces hard cider

 

Shake all ingredients but the cider; strain into a cocktail glass and top with cider. Suggested garnish: Rim the glasses with nutmeg.

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