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On the Rocks: Foraged Liqueur

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

During summer months and into early fall, California’s native berry-producing plants provide humans and wildlife alike with a delicious source of nutrients.

[Gathering fruit] required an intimate familiarity with nature and natural patterns. … Indians watched the other animals and linked their behaviors with the ripening of the fruit. Goldfinches, for example, would begin to whistle more frequently when it was time for the Foothills Yokuts to gather blackberries. Keeping a close watch on weather patterns was also important. For example, rosehips…tasted sweetest after the first light frost or cold nights of fall. The Karuk harvested California huckleberries after the first frost because that was when they were sweetest.

Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by Kat Anderson, 2005

While there are many edible uses for our native berry varieties, a few species are particularly useful for making liqueurs to add a little local flavor to your cocktail game. Our favorites are California blackberry (Rubus ursinus), pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), and blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea). Explore our foraging guide before you go out on the hunt and then try your hand at making your own liqueur with our recipe (below).

Foraging Ethics

Before you forage from natural landscapes, it’s important to Know Before You Go. Research the rules and regulations for the landscapes you hope to explore, study the species you may find, and be prepared to identify them accurately. Once you identify the species you would like to forage and you are confident that you are legally allowed to, consider how to do so in a way that does not cause harm. Only take what you will use and leave enough for wildlife.

Biologist of Potawatomi heritage Robin Wall Kimmerer provides an excellent blueprint for ethical foraging based on the indigenous principles of the Honorable Harvest:

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings by Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2013

Species and Seasons

Here’s when you are likely to find ripe fruit for the three native species you can use in our liqueur recipe:

Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea): July and August
Pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum): July and August
California blackberry (Rubus ursinus): April through September


Liqueur Recipe

elderberry liqueur

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup ripe berries

Instructions

  1. Shake together the water, vodka, and sugar to dissolve sugar.
  2. Gently mix together with the berries.
  3. Leave to infuse about 10-12 days until the berries have lost most of their color.
  4. Pour through a fine strainer and discard the berries.
  5. Pour into bottle of your choice to use for months to come!

Make a Macabre Martini with your liqueur!

On the Rocks: The Macabre Martini

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

In works of art, macabre refers to a grim or ghastly atmosphere. At the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, it heralds a season of oddities — when we turn our attention to the nooks and crannies of nature, looking for the strange, the puzzling, and the disturbing.

In honor of our annual event of creatures, curiosities, and cocktails, Museum of the Macabre, we’re mixing things up with a special concoction to give you pause — and we mean that! This cocktail requires some toil and trouble, but it’s well worth it in the end.

The Macabre Martini is a mysterious mixture, obscured by the darkness of a homemade sesame syrup. Another way to reach this deep black color is with activated charcoal, though you should look into the risks if you are on any medications.

Looking to add a little local flora to your cup? Substitute the crème de mûre with a homemade blackberry, elderberry, or black currant liqueur.

A black liquid in a martini glass lined with a black sesame seed rim.

Ingredients

Macabre Martini:

  • 1 oz gin
  • 2 oz crème de mûre (or homemade berry liqueur)
  • 2 oz black sesame syrup (see below for instructions)
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 large egg white
  • Blackberries for garnish

Black sesame syrup:

  • 1 cup black sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water (or more as needed)
  • zest of half a lime
  • 2 oz vodka

Instructions

To make the black sesame syrup:

  1. Toast the black sesame seeds in a saucepan over medium heat for about 2 minutes while constantly moving them around in the pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. Blend the seeds in a food processor, coffee grinder, or blender until they are a powder and set aside.
  3. Put the sugar, water, and lime zest in a small saucepan and bring to a low simmer, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. 
  4. Add the black sesame seed powder and bring to a boil. Let bubble for 2 minutes. 
  5. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
  6. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, and then again through cheesecloth, so you have a smooth and thick syrup. This is the trickiest part!
  7. Stir in the vodka. It will keep in the fridge for up to three months, so feel free to make this part in advance.

To make the Macabre Martini:

  1. Line the rim of a martini glass with leftover sesame seeds by first running a lime wedge around the edge and then dunking the edge in the seeds.
  2. Put all the cocktail ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously for 60 seconds.
  3. Add three ice cubes, and shake again for 30 seconds or until cocktail feels cold through the shaker. 
  4. Strain into a martini glass.

Explore our Museum of the Macabre line-up of events and activities.

Collections Close-Up: Curiosity Cabinets

A cabinet full of natural history pictures and objects

Peer into the wonderful world of wunderkammers — otherwise known as curiosity cabinets. Often filling full rooms, these pre-modern museums favored the eccentric and the esoteric. We’ll explore how our museum’s history is rooted in the Victorian versions of the curious trend, as well as more contemporary takes on cabinets.

About the series: Zoom into the stories, secrets, and science of our collections during monthly webinars with Collections Manager Kathleen Aston. This live event is an extension of our monthly Collections Close-Up blog, with added insights and intrigue. Members are invited to participate in this program before it is made available to the general public as well as ask questions directly of Kathleen. Watch last month’s webinar on the fossils and fossil collectors of Santa Cruz.

Not yet a Member? Join today!

Collections Close-Up: Santa Cruz Fossils and the People Who Dig ‘Em

Frank Perry works on a cast of a fossil sea cow skeleton.

Dig into the fossil record of Santa Cruz through the eyes of locals who find themselves captivated by these windows into the past and who made it their work to share this passion with others. One of these important contributors, Wayne Thompson, will share his history with the Museum and the unique potential that fossils have to engage students with science and the natural world, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.

About the series: Zoom into the stories, secrets, and science of our collections during monthly webinars with Collections Manager Kathleen Aston. This live event is an extension of our monthly Collections Close-Up blog, with added insights and intrigue. Members are invited to participate in this program before it is made available to the general public as well as ask questions directly of Kathleen. Watch last month’s webinar on preservation policies in Museum collections.

Not yet a Member? Join today!

Collections Close-Up: Preserving Our Past

The Museum opened its doors to the public 115 years ago this month, and though the doors have changed over time, the task of stewarding our collections has always been an inherent part of our mission. Explore the journey of our collections over the past century and gain a deeper understanding of what preservation looks like today.

About the series: Zoom into the stories, secrets, and science of our collections during monthly webinars with Collections Manager Kathleen Aston. This live event is an extension of our monthly Collections Close-Up blog, with added insights and intrigue. Members are invited to participate in this program before it is made available to the general public as well as ask questions directly of Kathleen. Watch last month’s webinar on malacology and the life of Hulda Hoover McLean.

Not yet a member? Join today!

Naturalist Night: Santa Cruz Habitats and History

Get the bird’s eye view of the factors that have impacted the habitats of Santa Cruz for millions of years, thousands of years, and very recently as we dive into this new series exploring the nature of Santa Cruz, habitat by habitat, with the aim of developing our skills as naturalists.

About the series: Join fellow nature enthusiasts for monthly explorations of the biodiversity of Santa Cruz County. Each month, our Public Programs Manager Marisa Gomez will share the stories of a specific Santa Cruz habitat as we develop our skills as naturalists.

This series will feature a presentation as well as an interactive session and is in partnership with Santa Cruz Public Libraries.

How to See Comet NEOWISE

This July, Comet NEOWISE is closer to the earth than it will be for another 6,800 years. Make the most of this moment by making thoughtful observations:

cellphone photo of the comet NEOWISE was taken at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve
This cellphone photo of the comet NEOWISE was taken at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve on July 18, 2020.

1. PICK YOUR LOCATION
Where is the best place to make observations of the night sky? How does light pollution and weather impact what you can see?

2. ADJUST TO THE DARKNESS
Look at the sky when you first arrive and make note of what you see. After a few minutes, compare what you first saw to what you’re seeing now. Has it changed?

3. USE ONLY YOUR EYES
Scan the skies for a “star” that looks different from the others. Can you find it? Here’s a hint: It will be below the Big Dipper.

4. USE TOOLS
Binoculars and telescopes magnify objects that are far away and are helpful tools for observing the comet more closely. A pen and paper are also tools to aid your observations — draw what you see and write down your thoughts. This helps to focus your observations and creates lasting memories.

5. WHAT ELSE DO YOU SEE?
There’s more to wonder about in the night sky than NEOWISE. Have fun exploring.

Explore more resources about SPACE
Explore more resources about NATURE JOURNALING
Post by Marisa

Collections Close-Up: Malacology

From curiosity cabinets to catalog cards, abalone pendants to olivella beads on baskets, the stories of our seashells are vast like the ocean and rooted, like our museum, in the history of women in science.

Stroll with us into the malacology collections, where we look at the legacy of local naturalist and seashell collector Hulda Hoover Mclean. In the 1970s, Hoover McLean wrote one of the first shell identification guides for this area, based on a lifetime of seaside sojourns. Alongside her story we will highlight various collections specimens and the creatures who formed them.

About the series: Zoom into the stories, secrets, and science of our collections during monthly webinars with Collections Manager Kathleen Aston. This live event is an extension of our monthly Collections Close-Up blog, with added insights and intrigue. Members are invited to participate in this program before it is made available to the general public as well as ask questions directly of Kathleen. Watch last month’s webinar on kelp and conservation.

Not yet a member? Join today!

Visualizing Science: Illustration and Beyond

Where does illustrator end, and infographer begin? How does data visualization fit in? And what does science have to say about the design decisions we make? With the goal of strengthening connections between communities, Jen hopes to get folks thinking about what they can learn from — and teach to — different visual sub-disciplines within the broader orb of science communication.

We are excited to learn about the role of science illustration in data visualization as we continue to feature our virtual exhibition of science illustration, The Art of Nature.

Jen Christiansen, senior graphics editor at Scientific American

About the speaker: Jen Christiansen is senior graphics editor at Scientific American, where she art directs and produces illustrated information graphics and data visualizations. She completed undergraduate studies in geology and art at Smith College, then happily merged the two disciplines in the scientific illustration graduate program at UC Santa Cruz. She began her publishing career in NY at Scientific American in 1996, moved to DC to join the art department of National Geographic, spent four years as a freelance science communicator, then rejoined the SciAm team in 2007. She writes on topics ranging from reconciling her love for art and science, to her quest to learn more about the pulsar chart on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover.

http://jenchristiansen.com/
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/sa-visual/

Collections Close-Up: Kelp and Conservation

This month’s Collections Close-Up explores two kinds of conservation: the preservation of biodiversity records in the form of marine algae specimens and the fight to save the kelp forests of the California Coast.

About the series: Zoom into the stories, secrets, and science of our collections during monthly webinars with Collections Manager Kathleen Aston. This live event is an extension of our monthly Collections Close-Up blog, with added insights and intrigue. Members are invited to participate in this program before it is made available to the general public as well as ask questions directly of Kathleen.

Not yet a member? Join today!

Resources: