When it comes to garnishing a sweet drink, the sky’s the limit. Even if you don’t resort to umbrellas and plastic swords, there are lemons and oranges, pineapple wedges and bright red cherries. If you’re feeling a little bold, you can throw in a starfruit. There are peppermint sticks and cinnamon sticks and all manner of other fruits and fripperies that can turn your tropical drink into a veritable candy bowl.
But if you’re looking to garnish a savory drink, the options dry up. Sure, there are olives of all stripes and cocktail onions if you’re feeling a little more inclined toward a Gibson. If you’ve got a Bloody Mary, you can throw in a celery stick or a pickled stringbean, and if you’re experimenting on the Scandinavian side of things, you might toss in a dill sprig. But, by and large, you’re severely limited by option and convention.
Recently, my search for bizarre cocktail garnishes took a strange turn. I was in Vermont, visiting my friend Tom, who has become fully, unironically, converted to his state’s near-cultish locavorism. One afternoon, the two of us were cooling our heels at the Fiddlehead Brewing Company, a beer maker down the street from his home, tasting our way through the recipes of the day and trying to decide what to bring home in growlers. This being the Fiddlehead Brewing Company, they also had pickled fiddleheads, the prehistoric-looking fern sprouts that, I’m told, are on their way to becoming the new ramps.
The pickled fiddleheads were crunchy and tangy — reminiscent of a New Orleans pickled string bean or a pickled asparagus shoot. But, unlike those fairly quotidian plants, they were also downright freaky-looking. For those of you who are not up on fern biology and the latest locavore trends, fiddleheads look kind of like a little, green elephant trunk or the tail of a tiny, green monkey. They look otherworldly, like something Captain Kirk would have perched on the side of his drink. Or, alternately, like something that would kill a guy in a red shirt during an away team mission.
Tom and I tried the fern heads in a Vermontini, which is a lot like a regular martini, except that the gin and vermouth are both made in Vermont. It worked well, nicely taking the place of an olive and giving an interesting visual counterpoint to an otherwise normal-looking drink. However, while I was sipping my way through the second (or was it the third?) cocktail, it occurred to me that the bizarre Star Trek weirdness of the pickled fiddlehead deserved something a little weirder than a martini.
As a pickle, fiddleheads go best with savory drinks. So, while they would look really awesome in a Blue Motorcycle or a Pink Lady, the combination of sour and sweet might be less than ideal. On the other hand, they’re the perfect counterpoint to a Bloody Mary. As an added plus, the sight of a creepy curled vegetable poking out of a big glass of tomato juice definitely adds a note of whimsy. And, perhaps, terror.
For those who like their drinks a bit lighter, pickled fiddleheads also go nicely with Pimm’s Cup. As an added plus, the brownish liquid, mixed with the curled fiddlehead, bring to mind the trash compactor scene in Star Wars. I call this one a “R2D2, Get Us Out of Here!”
I’m still looking for other places to drop a fiddlehead. I’m thinking perhaps a classic gin rickey might be a good bet. In the meantime, I might try pickling my own. Before long, they’re going to be available in my local green market, and there are a few online recipes that look exciting. And, if worse comes to worse, I can always order some more here.
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