Did you ever wonder why it was called fruit cocktail? I know I did when I was a kid. In my parents’ defense, it’s not like we were gurgling down quarts of the stuff: we were more of a fresh fruit family than a canned-sugary-globs kind of family. Still, it came up sometimes and I do recall wondering what “cocktail” had to do with it. An aside: I was an oblivious kid and I doubt I had any idea what a cocktail was until probably college. You’re welcome brain. You had so many years without alcohol contamination.
Anyway, fast forward to my 30s, and voilà, an answer! Fruit cocktail, sometimes called friendship fruit, is fermented. Fermentation plus fruit equals yeast fermentation which results in alcohol! Mystery solved. So fermenting fruit, even for a short time, will give you a kind of low grade, low alcohol wine (that is until it turns into vinegar). In high school, I had an (for real) excellent biology teacher who raised the question of whether alcoholism could have a purely genetic component, given that if there was no alcohol, there could be no alcoholics. Say, if a person were trapped on a desert island, then it wouldn’t be possible for alcoholism to exist because there would be no alcohol there and therefore could alcoholism really be a genetic condition? It was one of those choice versus biological imperative questions. Well, Mr. Bates, turns out, yup. Since alcohol kinda makes itself in nature in the form of fermented fruit, and plenty of animals who aren’t humans eat it and get addicted to it, and it’s pretty likely that alcohol existed before we did and probably people trapped on a desert island would figure out how to get those coconuts and mangoes to make party juice, I’d say it’s safe to hypothesize that we’ve evolved with alcohol and likely with alcoholism.
You can force lactic acid fermentation on fruit, rather than letting it do its natural thing, by adding lots of salt and/or some kind of lacto starter, but we’ll get to that in the future. For now, take a journey with me into a sweet, delicious, dessert ferment, that improves cocktails and ice cream alike. I even put some on this vegan, gluten-free pie I made, and it really, really worked.
A word to the wise: avoid berries. Even a few strawberries will make a horrible, almost bitter mess out of your tasty mash, and blueberries and raspberries aren’t much better. What works beautifully are stone and pip fruits of many varieties. My favorite combo is cherry-peach, so that’s what I’m sharing here, but by all means, try other combos, go nuts with herb and spice additions and play around with sugar levels. Be aware that if you substitute maple syrup or another sweetener it will take a bit longer to get going, but I think it’s worth it!
Feel free to play around with sugar quantities. I tried a few different levels and found I preferred a 2:1 fruit to sugar ratio. Remember, this is dessert! Also, sugar is the food of fermentation, so what you put in is not what you take out. Still, there is definitely residual sugar, and a good amount of it, during this short ferment. I’ve let a batch of this go for over a month in the fridge, where it got pretty alcoholic and pretty not sweet, so that’s an option for the sugar-avoiders (I’m pretty much one of you, but I don’t mind the very occasional sugar dose).
CHERRY PEACH FRUIT COCKTAIL
Yields ~1 pint
Inspired by The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz, and my Grandma
Save your cherry pits! Don’t rinse them! Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you how I used mine. If you don’t have a cherry pitter (as I don’t) you can use this handy method to remove the pits. It works great, saves on mess and makes what we’ll do tomorrow that much easier!
As you can see, I used weight measures for this recipe. Yes, you can sub volume (aka 8 oz to a cup), but I recommend doing weight if you have a scale. My cherries and sugar combined were over 2 cups in my jar when I began, and generally speaking weight is a more accurate measure. I got a skinny little kitchen scale that I shove into a cabinet corner for $15 over 4 years ago. I use it frequently, and it has greatly improved my baking! More than worth the investment. Having said that, this is a recipe that can stand to be played with, so if you want to eyeball it instead, feel free.
- 8 oz. cherries
- 2 ripe peaches
- 4 oz. sugar
- 3 sprigs of basil or lemon thyme or one sprig of rosemary (optional)
- Remove cherry stems, pit them and chop peaches into 1/8ths
- Mix sugar and fruit until sugar is dissolved, and there is some liquid accumulating in the bottom of your bowl
- Pour the whole shebang into a quart jar and give it a good stir. Cover with a cloth, paper towel or coffee filter, and secure with a rubber band.
- Add herbs, if using.
- Give it a thorough stir when you think about it, or twice a day (not less). It should be vigorously bubbling within 24 hours. Remove your herb sprigs, as best you can.
- Once it bubbles, put the lid on the jar, but keep coming back for stirrings. This is a super vigorous ferment. Bubbles (and therefore pressure) will abound, so it’s a good idea to burp your jar.
- After 3 days, my fruit was soft, and infused and a little boozy. Perfect, in other words.
- Take out what you want to use and top off your mix with a little more fresh fruit and sugar, mix thoroughly. You can keep this going indefinitely, as you would a sourdough starter or ginger bug. Or, you could eat the whole thing and start fresh next time you want some. Or, you could stick it in the fridge (where it will continue to ferment very slowly) and bring it out and feed it next time you want some. There are lots of possibilities! If you share the liquid from your “cocktail” with a friend, they can use it to start their own batch, thus the “friendship fruit” title.