I spent the Memorial Day weekend with my friend Joe Yonan up in Maine where he is taking a year off from his role as Food and Travel editor of The Washington Post to work on a book about vegetables and live on his sister and brother-in-law's homestead. He's growing his own produce, fetching eggs in the morning from his small gaggle of hens, and living as much as possible off the land.
With some gardening experience in my past, I volunteered to venture north and help with some homesteading chores. The very first challenge posed to me was by Joe's sister. She took me out to the garden, pointed at a tall stalky plant I knew to be lovage, and said, "What should we do about this thing?"
I get a particular thrill from hacking down a plant and using big amounts of it to make something small and satisfying. In my own garden, I often make simple syrups at the end of the season to use up herbs. They're great at the bar in sparkling wine and soda water, but they're also delicious toppings for ice cream and summer fruits, and whisked into iced tea.
Lovage is unusual. It shoots up tall and proud early in the season and has a really fresh but incredibly forward celery flavor. I've had it in drinks before, and so in that moment I smiled to myself at the idea of making a fancy cocktail ingredient there on the homestead. We'd serve it in cocktails with Champagne and sparkling water. So at the end of the first day of the long weekend, we agreed on our plan. Joe had at it with his clippers, and I started boiling a pot of water and sugar.
We made a double batch, used a good deal for a pizza party we threw for some neighbors. As for the rest, I was happy to leave these merry homesteaders with something sweet to "put up" for the season.
Lovage is not something you find often in grocery stores, but you will see it in farmers' markets. If the flavor doesn't interest you, try this method with other herbs, like basil or mint. Some flavors wouldn't work with wine — mint, for example — but will pair nicely with sparkling water for a non-alcoholic soda cocktail.
Lovage Simple Syrup
Makes about 1 cup
2 cups chopped lovage leaves and stalks (or other herbs) 1 cup water 1 cup granulated sugar
Place chopped lovage in a heat-proof glass bowl or 4-cup measuring cup. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the water and sugar to a boil then lower the heat to low and and stir constantly until the mixture is clear and sugar is completely dissolved, about 4 minutes.
Pour the mixture over the lovage and stir. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then strain out the lovage and pour into a glass jar or bottle with a tight seal. Store in the refrigerator. For a stronger syrup, let the lovage infuse overnight in the refrigerator then strain and bottle the syrup.
The syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.