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Today we’re making hooch. Town Square 49 contributor Connie Walker recently posted a recipe for her cranberry hooch on our community blog. She originally discovered the recipe in the late 60’s after she had curled up on her couch with a copy of the Sunday paper.
“Well as far as I can recall, it was in the Anchorage Daily News. It was an article my husband saw about making different things with high bush or low bush cranberries,” Walker says. And, one of the recipes was cranberry hooch, which is just another word for homemade alcohol. Walker and her husband decided to make a batch. “It comes out a beautiful clear red color, and it is quite tasty; quite potent too.”
Walker lives in Oregon today and says she hasn’t made the hooch in decades, so I decided to track down an Anchorage cranberry expert to see if the recipe still held up almost 50 years later.
I met up with Jennifer Kehoe, a member of the Anchorage Food Mosaic and a cranberry enthusiast. “I Love berry picking. As you can see over there’s a five gallon bucket full of low bush cranberries out from the interior over Labor Day weekend,” Kehoe says.
And although her freezer is full of all kinds of berries – watermelon berries, blueberries – Kehoe says her favorite is the cranberry. “They’re an astringent, they’re a diuretic, they’re a sedative, they have anti-spasmodic properties. So they’re pretty cool.”
And if that wasn’t enough reason to love cranberries, she tells me that her fiancé proposed to her in a field of them. “I thought he was a bear. He snuck up in the woods and I said ‘crap I don’t have any bear spray’ but thankfully it was just him… cranberries are going to be so special to me for the rest of my life,” Kehoe says.
Kehoe has experimented with booze and berries before, but never cranberries. She says she usually saves those for different spreads or pancakes. She’s being a good sport though, and has agreed to sacrifice three pounds of her cranberries to try out the hooch recipe.
“Here we have some high bush cranberries fresh from the trails and parks around Anchorage. And some Everclear grain alcohol and sugar,” Kehoe says.
Lots, and lots of sugar. Six cups worth.
“We’re not making something super healthy right now… OK, following the article’s description I’m just going to stick the cranberries in the pot with a bunch of sugar and some water and we’re going to let them get warm and sizzle and pop,” Kehoe says.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, the cranberries begin bouncing to the top and bursting. “It kind of sounds like popcorn,” Kehoe says. That sound means it’s time to add the Everclear, but before we do I remember the warning Connie Walker gave me about letting the hooch get hot. Years ago, she gave a bottle to one of her friends as a gift. But it didn’t last very long.
“She put it up above her stove in her kitchen in a cupboard. And two weeks later it exploded all over the place making a sticky icky mess,” Walker says. Combine that story with the warning on the Everclear bottle about not adding it to hot liquids, and we get a little nervous.
So we wait. “I’m going to transfer it so maybe it cools a little faster,” Kehoe says. And we wait.
“Hmmmm, it tastes like jelly,” Kehoe says, when the concoction was finally cool enough to taste. And then, we slowly stir in the booze. “It doesn’t smell like fruity jelly anymore, it smells like pure alcohol.” Kehoe is skeptical, but she’s still excited to see how it tastes.
“Cheers. Here’s to fresh, Alaska high bush cranberry hooch… It’s like spritzy, feisty. Wow, that’s serious. It’s good!,” Kehoe says, sounding satisfied and relieved.
And, while it’s good on its own, it’s really strong, and the texture is more syrupy than we imagined. So we brain storm a few ways to use it; blending it into margaritas, mixing it with club soda for cocktails.
Or we could just do what Connie Walker and her husband did in the 60s. “My husband liked to just sip it like a liqueur after dinner. And I think we may have tried it over ice cream,” Walker says.
No matter how Kehoe ends up using the hooch, she’s glad she made it. Not only is it tasty, she says it ties in nicely with the mission of the Anchorage Food Mosaic. “We decided it’s time to create change and advocate food change by celebrating it. Let’s share those stories, and build community off of that. So, making hooch, great experience. It looks beautiful,” Kehoe says.