A few years ago group of friends have agreed that we will give one another Christmas gifts that cost less than R100 (yes, we do factor in inflation!) and are preferably ‘home made’. two years ago my contribution was home-made bitters. Everyone loved their gift.

It was delicious so I quickly made a few more batches for our own use and to share with friends. This recipe has now become our ‘house’ bitters.

There is still room for the traditional, commercially available Angostura bitters, but with craft gins being so fashionable why not add ‘craft bitters’?

I searched the internet regards the background of bitters. It appears to have had its origins in Canada and its purpose mainly medicinal in the late 1700’s.

I loved this quote: “People say bitters are the salt and pepper of the bar, but really, they’re like the spice rack,” says Brad Thomas Parsons about one of the most essential, and misunderstood cocktail ingredients. In his book Bitters, he examines the intensely flavored concoctions and how they’re made (usually from high-proof alcohol infused with fruits, spices, roots and barks like gentian and cinchona).”

Sometimes still marketed as digestive aids, bitters were once sold as patent medicines; they later became a key ingredient in classic drinks like the Manhattan.

You will find several recipes for bitters and I even found a site where you can order the specific ingredients required for traditional recipes.

My recipe has an orange base and I notice that many recipes on the internet call for orange.

Ideally you need to make batches of bitters when oranges are cheap and plentiful in the winter.

You need

zest removed from 4 oranges

750ml gin (I use the cheapest on the shelf!)

15 ml whole cloves

15ml whole all spice

10 Juniper berries

10 green cardamom (bruise the pods in a pestle & mortar)

15ml coriander seeds (you can lightly toast them for a more intense flavor)

A stick of cinnamon

To prepare

Place the zest on a baking tray & dry it in a cool oven (100-150°C) for about 1 hour or until dried.

Place gin, zest and all the spices in a glass jar

Allow it to infuse for at least 4 weeks, agitating the bottle regularly.

Strain & bottle in small bottles as you only need a few drops for each serving.

I have re-used the spices for a second infusion, but then it takes about 6 weeks.

Do not discard the orange peel. Place it on a dry plate in a warm place for a few hours. It will dry out. Grind in a spice grinder and use to flavor sauces, meringues etc! Last year I made a delicious Orange-Gin flavoured Pavlova. I filled it with orange curd and strawberries, a match made in heaven. I will repeat that this summer and bring you that recipe at a later date.

One of the most delicious ice creams I ever tasted was one my late Mother made. It was a rich vanilla ice cream, made with Jersey cream, but tinted a very pale pink with a generous dollop of Angostura bitters. I am going to try that this summer.

Experiment & enjoy!

Kitchen tip!

Do you have a collection of egg coddlers? Yes, these pretty porcelain dust collectors? As they have good sealed lids, I have decided to use mine to store whole spices. Just pop a label on the base. They keep the spices dark, dry and fresh for months.