Summer has slipped out the backdoor, and with it went the tomatoes and fresh flowers. It’s full-blown pumpkin season, and I must admit that I am a bit squash-obsessed. I daydream about pumpkin ravioli and honey-glazed acorn squash. I’m filled with an unbridled desire to cover my kitchen table with bodacious butternuts, bohemian blue hubbards, and oblong delicatas with their stylish and edgy green stripes. But the fairest of them all is the carnival squash, with its sweet, dense flesh and pixelated flecks of yellow, marigold, and sage. Also known as festival squash, this darling gourd is the love child of acorn and sweet dumpling varietals. And yes, it’s drinkable. So while I’ll gladly sip your pumpkin ales and maple Manhattans, I’d rather toast fall with a carnival squash–infused old–fashioned.
The old-fashioned is the great grandfather of mixology. In fact, it’s technically the definition of a cocktail: spirit, sugar, water (or ice), and bitters. Building an old-fashioned begins by muddling together sugar and Angostura bitters, the sweet and spicy backdrop for a rye or bourbon whiskey. Somewhere along the line, we were taught to muddle the bitters and sugar with fruit as well, frequently an orange wheel and a cocktail cherry. Purists consider it a faux pax to include fruit in the mash, but hey, rules were meant to be broken, right?
My favorite spin on the old-fashioned includes muddling not sugar, but crystallized ginger with the bitters for a little extra heat and spice. Add a beautiful carnival squash-infused whiskey, stir for 20 seconds, and suddenly you’re sipping an unforgettable libation.
I typically garnish an old-fashioned with a Luxardo maraschino cherry. But not this time, my friends, because husk cherries are still in season. This fabulous fruit (sometimes called a ground cherry) is actually a member of the nightshade family that sports a papery cape and tastes like sweet nectar and cotton candy. And it’s the perfect topper for this carnival squash delight.
To make this autumnal cocktail, which I call the Farmer’s old-fashioned, you’ll first need to infuse the rye by steeping it with baked carnival squash for a week. Baking the squash with the obligatory fall spices – cinnamon, clove, allspice, and nutmeg – a bit of black pepper, a pinch of salt, and a celebratory drizzle of maple syrup brings out the best of its flavors. The maple and spices caramelize in the oven, accentuating the carnival’s nutty sweetness. Once the rye and squash have spent several days together, behold a whiskey that is paradise in an old-fashioned, or delicious sipped alone.
You might also like: The Best Basic Pancakes with Homemade Maple Syrup
makes one cocktail
2 ounces carnival squash–infused rye whiskey (recipe below)
1 piece crystallized ginger (for muddling)
4 dashes Angostura bitters
1 husk cherry (for garnish)
In a rocks glass, muddle the bitters with the crystallized ginger for 10 seconds. Add ice and infused rye and stir for 20 seconds. Garnish with a husk cherry. Cheers, heaven is yours!
Carnival squash–infused rye whiskey
2 carnival squash, hollowed and diced
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground clove
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
pinch of cracked black pepper
16 ounces rye whiskey
Clean the squash and chop into 1 inch segments, removing seeds. Toss squash with maple syrup, spices, and salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes at 350º F, flipping the pieces over half way through. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Next, spoon the squash pieces into a 32-ounce mason jar and cover with rye whiskey. Allow mixture to infuse for one week. Strain liquid from jar into a bottle and refrigerate. For a sweeter libation, bourbon may be substituted for the rye.
Mixologist’s note: The squash seeds can be saved and roasted separately at 350º F. They make a delicious snack.
You might also like: The Grade A Pisco Sour: A Classic Updated for Maple Syrup Season