Over the winter, I usually leave the plants in my ramshackle container garden to fend for themselves. Predictably, they become a brown and shriveled tangle of undifferentiated plants. It’s actually pretty unsightly, but I can never bring myself to accept the end of the growing season or rule out the remote possibility of fresh rosemary in December. As winter wanes and the days lengthen and warm, I’m always amazed by whatever it is that springs back to life. Chives, strawberries, and echinacea are tried-and-true, but the herbs are less predictable. This year’s surprise was tarragon. Small yet robust, it announced itself as a shock of green against a mass of dead brown something.
Since spring is not only the start of fresh produce season, but also the start of cocktail season, I cut a few sprigs for an herbaceous spring cocktail–in this case a strawberry tarragon smash. With a distinct flavor that’s not overwhelming, tarragon is an almost-savory compliment to the sweet chunks of strawberry and wonderfully sour lime juice.
A smash is a casual cocktail filled with hunks of fresh fruit, so once you’ve enjoyed the liquid part of the drink, use your fingers or a fork to pull out boozy strawberry bits. Warm weather requires sticky fingers and mouths. That’s just how it is.
Tarragon Strawberry Smash
makes 2 cocktails
for the tarragon simple syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
In a small sauce pan, combine the sugar and water over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the tarragon leaves, off the heat, and steep for 10 minutes or more. Strain, and store in a glass jar in the fridge.
for the cocktails
10 large strawberries plus 4 for a garnish, sliced
1 lime cut into wedges
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup vodka
3 tablespoons tarragon leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons tarragon simple syrup
In a large jar or cocktail shaker, combine the strawberries and all but 2 of the lime wedges. Use a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon to smash the berries and limes into a chunky mixture. Pull out the smashed limes, and then add a couple handfuls of ice, the lime juice, vodka, and tarragon simple syrup. Shake.
Pour into ice-filled highballs. Garnish with strawberry slices, a lime wedge, and a sprig of tarragon.