We’ve come to the point in summer where strawberries are on the wane. This is always a melancholy time of year for me because in my opinion strawberries are one of the greatest treats that warm weather brings. They are the first real fruit to appear in farmers markets after the spring thaw, and when they’re good, they’re incredibly good.
For these reasons, many among us aim to preserve some (or a lot) of the harvest. For all the many uses strawberries have when they’re fresh, there don’t seem to be many popular ways to preserve them, at least not in the U.S. Few people venture beyond making jam, but jam has a couple problems that irk me when I’m dealing with extremely good fresh strawberries. First, jam is cooked. Cooked strawberries are still good, even very good, but they don’t capture all the complex aroma held within the fresh fruit. Second, jam is sweet. Depending on who’s making it, it can be extraordinarily sweet. All that sugar acts as something of an equalizer among berry crops. It can make okay strawberries good, but it can also mute the potential of great ones. No, if we want to capture something of the true greatness of peak season strawberries we need to look somewhere other than jam.
That’s why when a friend gave me a small bottle, and I tasted the almost luminescent pink liquid within, I knew I had to try making some of it myself. She said it was called Chamberyzette, and she had a recipe for how to make it.
So what exactly is chamberyzette? I had never heard of it before being introduced by my friend, but it turns out to be quite popular, or at least it used to be. It is pretty difficult to find in the U.S,, but in France, it’s country of origin, it enjoys a longstanding popularity. It is an aperitif made from white sweet vermouth from the Chambord region of France that is mixed with a liqueur made from alpine strawberries. The two flavors compliment each other in an amazing way. You can hardly tell where the flavor of the strawberry ends and the vermouth begins. But making liqueur is no simple business, so luckily the recipe with which I was provided only involves steeping chopped berries in vermouth. This also guarantees the berries will remain uncooked throughout the process thereby retaining more of the aroma that makes us want to preserve them in the first place.
The method is honestly so simple it’s almost hard to believe the end result can be so sublime. To make your own chamberyzette, you’ll only need a 750 ml bottle of Doolin Blanc vermouth, and a pint of the best strawberries you can get your hands on. I can’t stress this enough. It is worth going out of your way, well out of your way, to procure truly great strawberries. This is not a time for a clamshell of Driscoll’s from the supermarket. I got my strawberries from a farm in Ithaca called Stick and Stone where they grow (among others) a variety called Sparkle, and they are the best strawberries I’ve ever tasted. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have great strawberries for this recipe. It is the only ingredient you have any control over.
Once you have your ingredients, the rest is pretty simple. Just wash and cut your strawberries (I cut mine into quarters), and place them in a container large enough to hold them plus 750 ml of liquid. Then just dump out the bottle of vermouth on top of the berries and let them sit at room temperature for 4 1/2 - 5 hours. If there is any danger of fruit flies, you will want to cover the mixture as it steeps.
After the allotted time, simply strain and bottle. You could just put the finished product back in the Dolin blanc bottle, but it will last longer (3-5 months) if you move it to a swing top bottle. Either way, you ought to keep it in the fridge.
The finished chamberyzette in a multitude of swing top bottles
Since this is based on vermouth, typical vermouth storage practices apply here. Namely you want to protect it from oxygen. The best way to do this is to eliminate as much head space from the bottles as possible. This will ensure the longest possible lifespan of your precious pink nectar.
No headspace in the bottle
Now simply enjoy over ice for as long as it lasts which, given its delicious nature, will probably not be as long as you hope (just make more next year).
Now that you have strawberries taken care of, why not learn about how to preserve more of summer’s prodigal harvest in our Summer Canning and Pickling class coming up this Saturday, July 15 at 11am at Lincoln Square? You'll make and go home with a 1/2 pint jar of each of these delicious recipes:
- Blueberry Preserves
- Red and Green Hot Pepper Jelly
- Pickled Zucchini and Yellow Squash
- Fresh Tomato-Herb Sauce
Just four spots are left!