Mother Earth Living

Sweeten Your Breakfast with Herbal Syrup

Homemade syrups taste brighter and inspire ­experimentation far ­beyond breakfast fare.
By Terri Pischoff Wuerthner
December/January 1998
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Need an easy hostess gift or a Christmas present for your brother with the sweet tooth or the grandma who makes the best waffles in the world? With herbal syrups, you’re covered.
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Have you ever considered making your own syrup? That gooey stuff we pour all over Sunday-morning pancakes and waffles takes on new excitement when it combines the intense flavors of the orchard, vineyard and herb garden. Generally less sweet than grocery-store varieties, homemade syrups taste brighter and inspire experimentation far beyond breakfast fare. Add a splash to a wine cooler or Italian soda, spoon some over ice cream or pound cake, or cool off on a hot day with syrup drizzled over shaved ice. You’ll find other suggestions for using them with the recipes below and in the box on page 32.

Syrups are easy to make. Use fresh fruits in season, a single favorite or a combination of several, or frozen fruits (cut down on the sugar if they’re already sweetened). Vary the herbs ­according to your whim or their availability. Consider the recipes below merely as starting points.

Store syrups in clean, tightly cap­ped bottles. Syrups may be refrigerated with little loss of flavor for as long as two months or frozen for up to six months (Vanilla Syrup with Lavender will keep, refrigerated, for at least eight months). Although syrups that have been frozen and thawed are somewhat less flavorful than freshly made syrups, they are unquestionably better than their store-bought counterparts.

When you discover how delicious these syrups are and how easy they are to make, you’ll want to make some to give your friends and family. Tie on a ribbon and include a tag with suggestions for use and storage. Don’t forget to save some for yourself.

Syrup success

Making syrups requires only ordinary kitchen equipment—a heavy, nonreactive saucepan, a food processor or blender, a mesh strainer and a candy thermometer. I use bottled or filtered water—the better the water, the better the syrup—but tap water may be used if you prefer.

Syrups vary in their thickness from very runny to just barely pourable, mainly because of their varying levels of fruit pectin. This natural substance found in fruits thickens syrups, jams, and jellies. Both the pectin and sugar content vary widely from one kind of fruit to another. Apples, gooseberries, currants and grapes contain a lot of pectin. Under-ripe fruits tend to contain more pectin and less sugar than ripe ones of the same kind. Using under-ripe fruits that are high in pectin in a syrup recipe may result in a jelly instead of a pourable syrup.

Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and peaches contain little natural pectin. Adding commercial pectin to these fruits and cooking them briefly with water and sweetener produces a slightly thickened, clear, colorful, fresh-tasting syrup. When using commercial pectin, follow the manufacturer’s instructions if they vary from those given in the recipes below. If desired, omit the pectin and simply cook the fruit mixture gently, stirring frequently, until it reaches the desired thickness. ­Sweetening with a combination of sugar and corn syrup results in a thicker syrup than when sugar alone is used.


Terri Pischoff Wuerthner is a food and travel writer who lives in northern California.


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