Bitter Orange Drink (Vin apéritif à l’orange amère)

Inspired by a recipe from Provence.

A fragrant, Campari-like drink that you can serve as an aperitif in a tall glass with a splash of seltzer or tonic water, an orange slice, and just a couple of ice cubes.

The drink is extremely easy to make, but the fruit need to macerate in the wine for at least 40 days.

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MAKES 3 quarts

5 bitter (Seville) oranges, preferably from the garden, or organic (see NOTE)
1 orange, preferably organic (see NOTE)
1/2 lemon, preferably organic (see NOTE)
1 tablespoon cloves
1 cup granulated sugar
2 bottles rosé wine from Provence, or Greek rosé (Megapanos, Akakies) , or any good quality dry rosé wine
2 pieces (about 4- inch) cinnamon stick
1 pint eau de vie or grappa, or 80-proof vodka

1 large, 4 quart glass jar, or 2 smaller
2 cups good quality dark rum
1 cup simple syrup, or more, to taste (recipe follows)

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Wash very well the bitter oranges, oranges and lemon. Pat dry and quarter the oranges. Pick some bitter orange pieces with cloves. In the jar (or jars) you plan to use add the sugar (divide it if you use two jars) and the wine, and stir briefly to almost dissolve the sugar. It doesn’t matter if all the sugar is not dissolved.

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Add the oranges, eau de vie, grappa or 80-proof vodka, and the cinnamon sticks. Juice the lemon and add the juice to the jar (or jars), seal and carefully shake to mix the ingredients. Leave at room temperature for about 6-7 weeks or longer —the more you leave it the better it gets– shaking once a day the first week, and then whenever you remember, at least once a week.

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Pass the wine through a very fine sieve covered with wet, double cheesecloth. Add the rum and 1 cup syrup, stir and taste. If you find it too bitter and sour, add more syrup, but keep in mind that the flavor should be quite strong as it will be served with seltzer or tonic. Transfer to bottles and refrigerate for a day or two, before serving.

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NOTE: If you can’t find bitter oranges, use 3 oranges and 2 grapefruits (omit the lemon juice). Choose somewhat unripe fruits if you can. Quarter the oranges, halve the grapefruits and divide each half into 6 pieces. Proceed as described above.

SIMPLE SYRUP

Simmer 2 1/2 cups sugar with 2 cups water for 3 minutes. Let cool completely, and use as needed. Keep the rest in a sealed jar, in the refrigerator, to use in cocktails, over cakes etc.

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