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
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
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.
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
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.