Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sakura Soju

I made this a few weeks ago, when the cherry blossoms were at their most spectacular. I was enamored with the copious exuberant trees in my neighborhood: they opened the floodgates of spring and that's something I always welcome after even a mild Olympia winter. Their smell is really an exquisite expression of new life, even the night air in the neighborhood was imbued with that diaphanous odor. I have the impression that the cherry blossoms lay the groundwork for our noses to smell the stronger flowers which follow throughout the season; right now the heavier-scented lilacs are full throttle intoxicating, and later in the summer, there will be deep smelling roses. I wish I could save the smells of spring, though, to remember...

Jean told me about this celebration in Japan called hanami. It means "cherry blossom viewing", and people go and sit under a cherry tree in bloom and eat and drink and welcome the spring. We didn't schedule a hanami this year, I definitely want to do it next year. While reading all about this celebration, I read a few blogs with people talking about sakura (cherry blossom) flavored food items; sakura mochi, sakura sugar, even sakura udon noodles. I know I love the flavor of flowers, so I tried to find some recipes for sakura foods. A lot of them called for sakura extract or flavoring, which I couldn't find on a trip to Uwajimaya.

Based on my successful experience with rose brandy, I made an infusion with a Korean neutral spirit distilled from sweet potatoes called soju. Without a roadmap, I only made a small jar, in case it didn't work out. I stuffed a half pint jar full of blossoms. I read that a lot of sakura-flavored foods derive their essence from the leaves more so than the blossoms, so I grabbed a few of those, too, and filled the jar with soju to the top.

It sat for a week and a half, during which the flowers turned light brown and macerated, releasing a surprising flavor. Words fail, really, it's not like anything I've ever eaten. Unlike the rose brandy, it's not the taste of the smell of the flowers, it's something new. And delicious! Fragrant, perfumey, definitely floral but not as delicate. I imagined using it as a mixer, but ended up serving it as the main course, just with club soda and ice. I wish, I wish, I wish I had made more than one little half pint, but I guess there's always next spring...

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