Every year I wait for the arrival of the first batch of plump, sweet strawberries like a kid waiting for Santa to pay a visit down the chimney. Nothing signals the start of the spring/summer (what season is it when it’s 90 degrees in June, anyway?) growing season for me like strawberries. And I’d argue I get a better deal than a child on Christmas – the produce season in PA keeps on giving, week after week, month after month. I love Pennsylvania in any season, but from June through October – when each month brings a gift of a new selection of produce – I feel particularly lucky.
Sara Bozich, central PA celebrity and friend of the blog, asked me to suggest a summer drink and book “pairing.” I had my first pint of local strawberries sitting in my kitchen begging to be used, and an idea for a drink putzing around the back of my brain, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to craft a cocktail that tasted like summer in PA.
This strawberry basil gimlet beckons you out to the patio, suggests you pull up a chair in a bit of breezy shade, then convinces you to spend a few hours with it keeping company with a good read. (Not that I’d recommend TOO many hours with it…each drink does have 2 ounces of booze.)
To pair with the sweetness of spring strawberries and the refreshing tartness of a gimlet (gin and sweetened lime juice), I wanted something to balance the drink out. Basil is one of my favorite herbs to grow and use fresh, and just a few leaves add a nice herbal note that plays nicely with the strawberries. A few grinds of fresh black pepper finish everything off with just a little tickle in the back of the throat.
My strawberries came from Piney Mountain Orchard, my produce CSA. I’ve mentioned here before – I’m a big fan of the idea of Community Supported Agriculture, and Megan from Piney Mountain has been supplying my produce for the past few years. Piney Mountain is a small, family-run farm using sustainable growing practices to supply mostly veggies, some fruit, plus herbs and eggs to local consumers and markets. Each week I receive a new batch of fresh, locally grown produce. I can’t recommend Megan and the Piney Mountain CSA enough. You could probably still get in on this season if you wanted, and if not – she does do a winter CSA you could sign up for this fall.
My book pairing suggestion for Sara Bozich was The View from the Cheap Seats, a collection of short works of non-fiction from Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. He usually works in the fantasy realm, and does a lot of graphic novels and children’s fiction. The View from the Cheap Seats is his first published collection of non-fiction, and I think it will be perfect to pick through this summer, consuming it in little bites. I was introduced to Gaiman as a team through his series of graphic novels The Sandman. (In particular, I was obsessed with the character Death, as I was myself a wanna-be goth freaky chick.) I’ve since read any number of his graphic novels as well as his fiction for both children and adults.
In addition to The View from the Cheap Seats, some standouts I’d recommend from Gaiman:
- Good Omens, a novel he co-wrote with sorely missed Terry Pratchett about the end of the world
- Anansi Boys, a modern tale about ancient gods
- The Graveyard Book, a sweet story of boy raised by ghosts
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a terrifying exploration of childhood monsters
Pick up any one of those to read, shake up a strawberry basil gimlet, and try to tell me you don’t feel like a kid on a holiday.
Strawberry Basil Gimlet Recipe
5-6 fresh small strawberries, or 3 large
2 big basil leaves
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
A few turns fresh black pepper
2 oz. dry gin (I used Bluecoat)
Muddle the strawberries, basil, lime juice, simple syrup and black pepper in a cocktail shaker. Don’t be shy — you want the strawberries totally broken down and the basil well bruised.
Add the gin.
Fill the shaker at least half full with ice and give it a good shake.
Strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with another basil leaf, if you want to be fancy.