Friends, my friends, make the cocktail bar (and the world) go round. Exhibit A: recently, and good pal of mine had an extra helpful or two of bitter oranges, the big, sometimes gnarly-skinned, oranges that live up the bitter name, and which are used in making a number of things, medicinal to marmalade-y to booze-y. She made it all, and still gave my wife and I some leftover oranges, mostly to make Vin d’Orange (the French-styled wine-based aperitif; we used, as did said pal, the recipe from Bon Appetit, or slight variations thereof). But I had a few of the ol’ bitter oranges left over, and decided I should try to make another sipper with them. Now, here’s where the friend quotient jumps to another level, as another good pal had in the past given me some swell fennel seeds they’d harvested. Sadly, this second friend, passed away recently, far too soon, which makes every sip of the below a tribute, as well as a way to remember. Drinks aren’t always for bubbly laughter, but sometimes for different types of celebration, the celebration of a friend or family-member much-loved, but now gone, in this case. Fennel and orange deliver a wonderful slightly bitter, slightly citrus-y, slightly herbal-y, layered homemade liqueur, which, if you can find the ingredients, is well worth making and drinking while you remember, tell stories, think of friends old and new. You’re a friend, too, after all, too. And don’t forget to hug your friends between sips, as you never know when they’ll be gone.
Fair Nature Bitter Orange and Fennel Liqueur
Peels of four bitter oranges
1/8 cup juice from a bitter orange
1/4 cup fennel seeds, plus 1 tablespoon
2-1/2 cups vodka
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1. Add the orange peel, juice, and 1 tablespoon fennel seeds in a large glass container with a good lid. Muddle all the above well, friendly-like. Add the vodka, stir, put that lid on, and place container in a cool, shady, place. Let sit for two weeks, swirling occasionally.
2. Add the sugar, water, and remaining fennel seeds to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil, stirring regularly, and let simmer for five minutes. Let cool completely, and then add all to the container in Step 1. Stir well. Let sit for two more weeks, swirling.
3. Strain through cheesecloth into a pitcher, and then strain again through another layer into a glass bottle (I like the flip-top types). Serve neat, over ice, or try it out in cocktails.