Booktails from the Potions Library, With Mixologist Lindsay Merbaum

Curl up with a cocktail and Thea Prieto’s “From The Caves,” and walk the line between truth and myth, story and identity

Winner of the Red Hen Press Novella Award, Thea Prieto’s From the Caves, portrays a nightmarish future, where a dwindling number of humans reside naked in caves, trapped between a wasteland and a boiling sea. Every moment, they struggle against suffocating heat, thirst, and starvation. To ease their suffering, they tell each other stories of how their world began: with a hungry sun, a great war, a flood, and a poisoned sea. Sky, the youngest of the group, holds words as precious as drops of water, scouring each for the meaning in his pleasure-less existence.  

This novella grapples with definitive questions about what it means to be human, including how to derive purpose from the act of living. In so doing, the text traces the line between truth and myth, story and identity: “[…] Sky shuts his eyes. He shuts out Teller and the empty drum and Mark is there, screaming Waste and Save it, the walls of Sky’s mind swirling with shadow writing and the dead and the past and we are alone–the darkness cares nothing for us.” 

Making this booktail requires some care and patience, as befits a novella about the struggle to survive an inhospitable climate. Apple-infused vodka serves as the base, for the apple in the Garden of the Gods, a place from the survivors’ reimagined story of Eden. The remaining ingredients are each tied to an element of the myth of the world’s beginning: beet shrub represents Blood. Beets are also a root vegetable, a nod to the protagonists’ measly diet of boiled roots. The sweet, purple-red hibiscus syrup–a reminder of the flower, streaked with red, that sprouts in the moment the divine Moon meets Bear—represents Love. Finally, liquid gold honey liqueur is a symbol of the Light.  

This booktail is presented against a layered backdrop of black and red, colors symbolic of darkness and fire. Both are covered in an iridescent veil whose facets create a rock-like effect, like the walls of a cave. The mirrored base reflects streams of color, transforming the flames on the book’s cover into liquid fire. Meanwhile, the drink stands before it all: a dark, purple-red elixir that appears tempting, yet possibly poisonous, a triangle of beet-infused apple perched on its lip.  

From the Caves

Ingredients

  • 2 oz apple-infused vodka (see instructions)
  • 1 oz beet shrub (see recipe) 
  • 0.5 oz hibiscus syrup (see recipe, or purchase)
  • 0.5 oz honey liqueur (like Drambuie) for golden light 
  • Garnish: a slice, square, or triangle of green apple

Instructions

First, prepare the apple vodka: wash, core, and slice two Granny Smith apples into roughly eight pieces. Add them to a large jar or other lidded container, along with 2 cups of vodka. Seal and set in a cool, dark place. Allow the vodka to marinate from 5 days to up to 2 weeks, shaking the container once daily. The vodka will turn a brown-gold color, similar to apple juice. Once the desired level of infusion is achieved, strain into a clean bottle or jar and discard the fruit. Meanwhile, prepare the shrub, then the syrup. Keep both refrigerated. Once the shrub and vodka are ready, add them to a shaker, along with a large cube or chunk of ice. Pour in the syrup and liqueur. Agitate vigorously for about 15 seconds, then strain into a small stemmed glass. Garnish with a wedge of green apple, if desired. 

Beet Shrub

Ingredients

  • 1 cup red beet, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar 
  • ¼ cup lemon juice 
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger paste
  • Zest of one lemon 

Instructions

Peel and chop the beets, then add to a blender, along with ½ cup water and the de-stemmed sprig of rosemary. Blend til smooth, then pour through a strainer into a lidded plastic or glass storage container, stirring as needed to extract all the liquid. Discard solids. Zest the lemon and add to the beet mixture, then juice the zested fruit and add the liquid as well. Stir in the sugar, apple cider vinegar, and ginger paste. Apply the lid and set in the fridge for 3 days, shaking the container once a day. 

Hibiscus Syrup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ⅓ cup dried hibiscus flowers (available at your local tea shop, or at a variety of online retailers, like Etsy)
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 (1/2 inch) piece fresh ginger root, thinly sliced or a teaspoon ginger paste
  • 1 lemon or lime, zested
  • Additional ingredients (optional): 1-2 cinnamon sticks or ½ tsp cinnamon powder; 5-10 whole cloves; 1/4 teaspoon lemongrass; 1 Tablespoon dried rose petals

Instructions

Stir together all ingredients in a medium pot then cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce heat, and let simmer until sugars dissolve and the flowers soften, 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let stand for another 15 minutes. Strain the syrup and discard the solids. Allow the syrup to cool completely, then store in a bottle or jar and keep refrigerated. Enjoy the syrup in cocktails, sodas, baked goods, or to flavor sauces and marinades.

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