Searching for the perfect Thanksgiving-themed cocktail is somewhat of a challenge. Cranberry, the obvious choice, seems a little too easy and frankly, boring. A pumpkin-flavored concoction crossed my mind, but even the smoothest pumpkin puree is a little too thick for an easy sipping drink. Some ideas crossed my mind that were just plain silly, like a green bean gimlet or a sweet potato-scented Manhattan (garnished with marshmallows, of course.)
My search came to a screeching halt when I came across this recipe for Celery Juleps in Simple Fresh Southern by Matt and Ted Lee. It was as if the Lee Brothers read my mind. Here is a cocktail that incorporated celery and celery seed, two of the primary ingredients in the stuffing I grew up eating, into a fantastic cocktail.
This unlikely combination draws inspiration from the Kentucky Derby classic, the mint julep, and from Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda. As you might imagine, Cel-Ray is a celery-flavored soda popular in Jewish delis, and the perfect foil for a fatty corned beef sandwich.
I decided to do a test run of these juleps last night, and the results would have made any mustachioed mixologist proud. The celery syrup was crisp, refreshing, and not at all too sweet, set off perfectly by the fresh lemon juice and earthy bourbon. Garnished with a leafy rib of celery, I know exactly what I'm going to be serving my Thanksgiving guests as an aperitif.
Win Simple Fresh Southern
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Simple Fresh Southern to give away this week.
- 10 ounces celery (about 4 large ribs)
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) Kentucky bourbon or Tennessee whiskey
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)
- 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) seltzer water or club soda (optional)
- Celery tops, for garnish (optional)
Chop the celery into pieces, put them in the food processor with 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the celery seeds, and the salt, and process until the celery is a loose puree. Pass the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing the pulp to extract as much flavor as possible. You should have about 1/3 cup.
Add the celery juice and the remaining sugar to a small saucepan, and warm the mixture over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves. You should have about 1 cup celery syrup. (Covered with plastic wrap, the syrup will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week.)
Fill six 9-ounce julep cups to the rim with crushed ice. Add 2 ounces of bourbon, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons of celery syrup to each glass, and stir. Top up with seltzer, if desired, and garnish with the celery tops if using.