The Portuguese have become very skilled at distilling the fruit of the arbutus (Medronho) in late winter, after weeks of fermentation, to create the famous Algarvian liqueur.
Medronho trees grow wild on poor soils in rural regions of Portugal and the inner Algarve.There is no commercial plantation and the fruits are mainly hand collected by local farmers, and processed privately. Therefore, the best Aguardente de Medronhos is not necessarily found in supermarkets, but instead bought directly from these farmers. Very few farmers have a license for distillation, but are tolerated by the authorities to keep this traditional Portuguese specialty alive.
Although not as well known as the famous regions of Cognac and Armagnac, the third of the only 3 regions designated for the production of spirits in the world surprisingly is Portuguese,the region Lourinhã, a municipality northwest of Lisbon.If the truth be known,I made this experiment partly because of the masses of arbutus berries on our tree that were succumbing to the appetites of the birds.They were in season and I always feel increasingly guilty if I don´t do something to save them .I suspect however they will turn out to be peachy keen and I will end up making this recipe every year.
I have adapted this seasonal Algarvian recipe to make it both accessible and more affordable.I am giving you the recipe in its original form followed by my adapted version.In its original form the recipe uses two different types of aged Portuguese fire water (Aguardente vinica,brandy, and aguardente cana,rum )Aguardente de cana can cost from €30 to as much as €250,and an aged aguardente vinaca could set you back a bit too.So you can see why I was looking for an alternative that would supply the same sort of flavour.My first solution was to use a cachaça rum from Brazil,but then I came over all Cuban when I found two bottles of white and dark rum respectively in our larder.Almost like for like, this would fulfil what the recipe set out to achieve.Well I hope so,anyway i will get back to you on that.
Medronho Açucarado em aguardente
500g de medronhos
500g de açucar amarelo
500ml aguardente vinica
500ml aguardente de cana
raminhos de funcho fresco
Dissolver o açucar na agua e levar ao lume até fazer "ponto de sarope" - uma calda espessa.Deitar sobre os medronhos,adicionar as aguardentes e, finalmente,os raminhos de funcho fresco.Deixar em infusão em frascos de boca larga,pelo menos 15 dias decorridos os quais ser pode consumir.
*Esta bebida preparar-se como qualquer licor.Quanto mais tempo estiver em infusáo melhor.Pode mesmo ser guardado durante um ou dois anos
Medronho preserved in rum and syrup
500g arbutus berries
500g golden caster sugar
500mlWhite rum or cachaça
500ml aged rum
Dissolve the sugar in the water and and heat over a medium flame until the sugar has formed a syrup.Put the arbutus berries in a kilner or mason jar big enough to accomodate the liquids as well.Pour over the syrup followed by the two types of rum.Use a plastic strainer slightly smaller in diameter than the jar itself to make sure the fruit remains submerged in the liquor.Leave the fruit to infuse for 15 days or up to two years.