First things first, some (I promise) brief history & trivia on the British Royal Navy, scurvy, DrPepper Snapple Group Inc., and what any of that has to do with a grapefruit lime cordial I made in my kitchen the other day:
Scurvy is a degenerative and ultimately fatal disease caused by not enough vitamin C. As we can get like 1,200% of our daily C from one glass of orange juice, we in the 21st century don’t often require bravery in the face of scurvy. But to sailors in the 18th century, it was a essentially a plague. In that century, the 1700s, the Royal Navy lost more sailors to scurvy than they did to actual war.
Not that some didn’t have good ideas. One commander, Admiral Edward Vernon stumbled onto something when in he decreed in 1740 that lime juice be added to his sailors rations, originally to make their gross, algae’d water more palatable. Surprisingly, his men thrived while the others’ teeth fell out. There was only one problem with this: the only way to preserve lime juice for long sea voyages was to add it to their daily rations of rum (a shit hot dirty rum at that, which direly needed lime juice’s charms anyway). With their “grog” (rum, water, lime) taken in the morning as medicine, sailors were falling out of the riggings drunk by mid-afternoon. Again, better to do that with teeth than without, so the lime juice stayed.
It was another 100 years before a young Scot named Lauchlan Rose patented a way to preserve lime juice without alcohol. That was 1867, the same year the Government got wise to the whole citrus business and mandated that all Navy ships give daily rations of lime juice to everyone on board. Rose’s “Lime Juice Cordial” became ubiquitous almost immediately, surviving over 140 years to present day. It pairs with gin to make a gimlet, and you can generally find a crusty old bottle of it behind most bars… But not mine. Rose’s is now owned by DrPepper Snapple Group Inc., and as such is made like a soft drink with the following ingredients: water, high fructose corn syrup, lime juice concentrate, sodium metabisulfite (preservative), natural flavors, and Blue #1. It is, with it’s lurid chemical florescence, precisely the type of saccharine bullshit that the cocktail resurgence defines itself against.
This puts us cocktail people in a uncomfortable dilemma, a kind of paradox of snobbery: you must use a lime cordial (not lime juice) to make a proper gimlet, but you also must use fresh ingredients. So what do you do? Enter: homemade cordial (I added grapefruits for a specific drink I was making; obviously this is not necessary). And what do you know, not only is it cheap and easy, it’s unbelievably good.
Grapefruit Lime Cordial
Step 1: Aquire a bunch of grapefruits and limes, an equal amount of each. I did 8 each, which ended up making roughly 45 ounces of cordial. Which is a lot if you’re using it 0.75oz at a time.
Step 2: Wash that shit. With a vegetable brush. Even organic citrus usually has food-grade wax on it to preserve freshness, and the peel is especially important here.
Step 3: Peel grapefruits and limes with a vegetable peeler, removing all the skin but as little as the pith as possible. Pile the skins into a large-ish bowl. This peeling business is difficult with the limes because of their thin skin, so this first time I ended up zesting them. I’ve since made a ginger/lime cordial where I said to hell with it and just peeled them, and it worked fine. This is good, because I absolutely despise zesting limes, and exponentially so in large amounts.
Step 4: Measure out 3oz of ultra-fine sugar per grapefruit, and dump it into the bowl. I used 8 grapefruits, so I covered them in 24oz (by volume) of sugar. Using a muddler, or potato crusher, or really any hard flat object, muddle (press firmly) the peels into the sugar, over and over. Your goal is to bruise most of the surface area of the peels, then surround them with the sugar. Cover and let sit on the countertop between 1-3 hours, stirring once or twice (if you want).
One of the charming characteristics of sugar is that it is oleophilic, which means that it likes to bond with oil. So for that hour, the sugar is drawing the naturally occurring citrus oils out of the bruised peels. When you come back, you find some thick, brightly citrus flavored syrup. If you were to stop now, it would be called oleo saccharum (literally “oily sugar”) a totally delicious sweetener used in punches and the like. But we’re not stopping now. Oh no. Strap in, friends, and put your juicing pants on.
Step 5: Juice the now-naked grapefruits and limes, and add that juice to the oleo saccharum. Because the size of the fruits will govern both how much peel and how much juice they give, this ratio pretty much works itself out.
Step 6: Add the mixture to a heat. Just a little, well before boil, just enough so gentle stirring dissolves the sugar. As soon as the sugar has been completely dissolved, remove.
Step 7: Strain out all the solids. The sugar makes it thick, so this is easiest done when it’s still warm. My method is to use a pasta strainer to get the big peels, then a tea strainer for the smaller pulpy business, but you do whatever you want. This is America, after all.
The pulp won’t ruin anything, but it’s better without. Step 8: Bottle, and refrigerate. Once it cools down, it’s ready to go.
Step 9: Enjoy.
It’s sweet and tart, with an unbelievable brightness from the citrus oil. The sugar more or less neutralizes the bitterness from the grapefruit, giving it a candied feel. Add carbonated water for an amazing soda, or mix with pretty much whatever you like.
BONUS COCKTAIL: I made this for the GQ Bombay Sapphire “Most Imaginative Bartender” competition. I would’ve ordinarily stopped at the basic drink, but that “imaginative” part demanded more. Thus the weirdness. It didn’t win or anything but I was still very pleased with it, and it’s been enjoying orders for 2nds and even 3rds at the bar.
0.75oz grapefruit lime cordial
0.5oz fresh lime juice
You could stop now, but what makes it way better is:
Rinse the glass with Batavia Arrack if possible; if not, an agricole rum or cachaca. If not, a funky rum. If you have nothing, or nothing but Bacardi, go buy better rum.
You could definitely stop now, but what makes it (whoooaaa!) “imaginitive” is:
Also rinse glass with Green Chartreuse; but first, rim cocktail glass with cinnamon, a pinch of sugar, and shaved macadamia nuts.
It works equally well with rum or tequila. Tweak the recipe or your expectations and you don’t need the lime juice. I find the acidity is nice for balance, but do what you like. And if you find something cool, tell me about it. Cheers.