Flavor Bank

What to do when the flavor of summer is just too good to let go.
lemon verbena syrup

One of the first things my wife, Tara, did when she saw our Hamburg apartment was buy herbs to put in the planters, including two of our favorites: lovage and lemon verbena. The summer has been mostly cool and rainy, and the herbs have thrived, which means we have an embarrassment of herby riches. The flavors are precious and I want to find as many ways as possible to use them.

So I got to thinking about preserving agents, and I came up with some ideas:

Fat (think confit). I could make herb compound butters.

Salt, but that didn’t seem like a good idea.

Alcohol. That’s always fun, and Ian Knauer’s description of a wild cherry cordial he’d made reminded me of a great success involving sour cherries and bourbon.

Sugar. But Tara had already beaten me to it—she’d made a simple syrup by boiling equal parts sugar and water together, then pouring the hot syrup over the lemon verbena and straining it when cool. Lemon verbena is notorious for fading with heat, but this syrup was everything light and lovely about the herb. She poured a little over a plum crostata and the pastry positively sang.

The very best thing we’ve done, though, is to make Krautschorles. The Germans, as it turns out, are really into non-alcoholic drinks. The alcohol-free beer tastes like beer and people drink it all the time. The local soft drinks (including “Fritz cola” and “Bionade”) are fabulous and come in strange, unsweet flavors like lychee and ginger-orange. And then there are the Schorles.

Schorle means roughly “something mixed with sparkling water.” I’ve heard of wine Schorles but never seen anyone order one. Almost every day at lunch, though, my colleagues order Apfelschorle, or sparkling water and apple juice in roughly equal proportions. It’s incredibly refreshing. So we took to making our evening Schorles by adding a judicious amount of the verbena syrup to a cold glass of sparkling water, which makes them herb (Kraut) Schorles. It’s a delicate balance, herbal and citric at once, and it tastes like good weather. I’ll move on to lovage syrup soon, I’m sure. Just one more glass.

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