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Heart & Hearth Brandy Cordial

Recipes & Ruminations

Here we share stories and recipes from the Cordial test kitchen.

Heart & Hearth Brandy Cordial

Jennifer Aikman

Hawthorns and brandy look rather nice together.

Hawthorns and brandy look rather nice together.

Christmas is coming and this goose is getting fat. No, really. I've been eating terribly lately. Stress and disorganization are my biggest downfalls/excuses. So, it's high time I did something that does a body good. Thankfully, it just so happens to be hawthorn berry season and...well, hawthorn berries are awesome. And I do mean that they really and truly inspire awe. Not only are they incredibly beautiful—lighting up autumnal trees with deep red berries—but they also open the heart in folklore and magic—as well as in medicine.

Right now hawthorn berries are plentiful and easy to harvest without irritating wood nymphs and or damaging sacred trees—always a good thing. As far as I know (do your own research), all hawthorn trees—from leaf to blossom to berry—are safe to consume, provided you don't eat the seeds. Like apple seeds, they contain cyanide and should be avoided. To be honest, despite claims that the berries are tasty, I find them pretty flavourless.  However, they're wonderful in jellies, sauces and of course, brandy! And the only thing I can think of that's better than brandy is brandy that soothes a troubled heart. It's dead easy to make up a batch of hawthorn berry brandy and in few weeks you'll have a gorgeous festive liqueur for holiday entertaining or to give as heartfelt (ha!) Christmas gifts.

Now some recipes recommend you cook up the berries, sugar and spices and then let it steep for several weeks.  But, I like the idea of starting with a tincture of just berries and brandy and then adding a spiced syrup to the cold infusion later on. This way the potency of the berries isn't compromised by heat. Alternatively, you can substitute the brandy for vodka, skip the cordial-inducing spiced syrup step and you've got Hawthorn schnappes. And so, since this is my first time making it and I couldn't find any recipes to suit me online, we're doing this together!

Heart & Hearth Hawthorn Brandy Cordial

You may recognize this photo from my chutney-making adventures... When processing haws, it's a good idea to do as much as you can in one day, lest you die of boredom.

You may recognize this photo from my chutney-making adventures... When processing haws, it's a good idea to do as much as you can in one day, lest you die of boredom.

Phase 1: Tincture or Schnappes

Hawthorn berries, washed and stems removed
Best brandy you can afford—the big bottle

Basically you want to find a big jar and fill it with as many Hawthorn washed and de-stemmed berries you can manage and then fill the jar to cover the berries with brandy. I had some homeless rose hips kicking around, so I threw in a handful of those, as well.  Put the lid on and find a dark, cool-ish place to store it for a good 4-5 weeks. Really, you can get away with less, but the longer the berries remain in the brandy the more beautiful and healing your cordial will be. Shake the bottle daily. If you forget a day, admonish yourself and sheepishly shake it the moment you remember.


Phase 2: Becoming Cordial or Making the Spiced Simple Syrup

Raw sugar or honey


1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice

Zest of one orange

Spices: cinnamon stick, grated nutmeg, 3 cloves, 2 cardamom pods, whatever else feels festive to you

Five-ish weeks have flown by, Christmas commercials have started and you're now ready to strain your berry brandy tincture. Or, so I imagine. Remember we are doing this together in real time. Note the lack of photos of this stage. I will be sure to add some come December.

Pour your tincture through a double cheesecloth-lined sieve and then do it again to filter out sediment.

Measure how much brandy tincture you have. You'll be adding equal parts spiced syrup to make your liqueur. You'll probably want to play with this to find the flavour you like best.

In a pot combine equal parts water and raw sugar (or honey). The water and sweetener should be equal plus one cup to the amount of brandy. For example, if you have 3 cups of brandy, you'll need 4 cups of water and 4 cups of sugar or honey to make your simple syrup.

Add the lemon juice, orange zest and spices. Cover and slowly heat, stirring occasionally. Allow it to simmer for 20-30 minutes, without letting it come to a boil.

Allow your spiced syrup to cool to room temperature and strain out spices. If it's not quite flavourful enough for you, you could add a few more spices and let it sit overnight.

Now, the general rule of thumb is equal parts simple syrup to alcohol, but you can play with this a bit. Add syrup to taste, keeping in mind that liqueurs are generally pretty sweet and are meant to be imbibed in small amounts. Plus, it's Christmas! What's the point in getting chintzy with the sugar?

Annnnd, hey! You just made liqueur! At this point, you probably should return your liqueur to a jar and store it for a few more days to allow it to settle. However, if you're feeling impatient you can decant your elixir into sterilized bottles for gift giving now. If it seems cloudy, you can strain it through cheesecloth once more. Berry liqueurs do better in dark bottles but if you plan to use it up quickly or you're giving away small amounts—a clear bottle is fine. Store your bottles in a dark place until you use them or give them away. Maybe let the lucky recipient know that their festive and heart healing liqueur will improve with age and to store it away from light.

Now sit back, raise a snifter and congratulate yourself for making a tipsy, heart-healing concoction worthy of you and your loved ones. Go ahead and congratulate yourself again! Maybe even one more time...

Here's hoping it all turns out according to plan! I'll be sure to update you in December...