Along with jams and jellies, making fruit syrups is a flavorful way to use some of the harvest season's often overwhelming bounty. The actual syrup cooking stage is the quickest part of the process, and it takes only a minute or two. First, however, you'll need to extract the fruit juices, which involves processing, pre-cooking and draining the fruit's juicy pulp. Blueberries, strawberries and other berries are traditional syrup favorites, but many fruits can be used for syrup-making.
Juicing the Fruit
To extract the fruit juice, start by mashing berries with a potato masher or chopping fruits such as peaches and apples. Put the chopped or mashed fruit in a saucepan with water. You'll only need a small amount of water for naturally juicy fruits like berries, while apples require approximately 1 part water to 10 parts chopped apples. Turn the burner to medium and bring the contents to a boil. After lowering the heat to a gentle boil, cook the fruit until it softens; then remove the saucepan from the heat.
The Great Drain
If you don't have a jelly bag, set a fine-mesh strainer lined with dampened cheesecloth over a large bowl. The jelly bag must also be damped before you add the cooked fruit. After spooning the cooked fruit pulp into the jelly bag or lined strainer, add any liquid that's remaining in the pot. The pulp should be left to drain for at least 2 hours. If you'll be leaving it overnight, set the strainer and bowl in the refrigerator. Resist the urge to squeeze extra juice from the pulp, because doing so can add a cloudiness or graininess to the final syrup.
Back on the Heat
When the juice stops dripping from the pulp, you'll be ready to start the final stage of syrup making. A basic fruit syrup involves mixing the fruit's juices with an equal amount of granulated sugar. After bringing this mixture to a boil on medium heat while stirring vigorously to dissolve the sugar, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 1 minute. It should look thinner than you prefer your syrup at this stage, because it thickens as it cools. Foam will probably be on the surface when you take it off the heat, which can easily be skimmed off with a slotted spoon before serving or canning the syrup.
Flavoring the Fruit
Additional spices and flavoring agents add depth to your fruit syrups, all of which go into the saucepan at the same time as the sugar and fruit juice. Berries get an added kick with a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice and some lemon zest, while apple syrup takes on an autumnal flavor with the benefit of added cinnamon and nutmeg. In addition, spirits bring sophistication to sweet syrups. Try drizzling in a small amount of creme de cassis or Chambord with blackberry syrup, or spike peach syrup with bourbon. If you like your syrups "chunky," stir in whole berries, chopped fruit or chopped nuts just before taking the pan off the heat.