Garden cocktails for a summer Sunday



by Eliz.

While spending the weekend in Stonington, CT, we ran across a restaurant bar that stocked some slightly-beyond-ordinary items. They are items many gardeners may have a superfluity of at this time of year. The Water Street Café is the name of the place and the bartender, Karen, was kind enough to share her recipes. She may have deliberately left things out (they do that sometimes), so feel free to experiment with and amend these.

Basil Mojito

Rim a rocks glass with sugar. Throw in a small bunch of basil leaves (about 6-7). Add about 2 oz. of chilled simple syrup (half sugar/half water) in which you have macerated a big bunch of basil leaves and some black pepper (strained out after a couple hours in the hot liquid). (You’ll want to have made this in advance.) Give the basil leaves in the glass a few grinds with a pestle, similar to what you’d do if you were making a mint julep. Squeeze in ¼ lime, leaving the lime rind in the glass. Add 1.5 oz. of rum and fill the glass with ice. Stir and garnish with a slice of lime.

My notes: this tastes better the more it sits. Also, the basil simple syrup is delicious and I’m sure could find nonalcoholic uses, as in lemonade.

The bar at Water Street Cafe, where being loaded comes naturally.

Tomato Water Martini

Make the tomato water. Throw 4-5 fresh tomatoes in the blender. Let the mixture drip through a sieve lined with cooking gauze or a coffee filter. Chill and mix with equal parts vodka or gin in a shaker with ice. Garnish with basil and a cherry tomato (organic and preferably heirloom). I think I’d probably serve this over ice as well; in hot weather martinis can get disagreeably warm pretty quickly.

I tasted the tomato water solo and it is really, really good: a clear, lively flavor, much better than tomato juice for this purpose. It does look like water too. I wonder if she salted it though; she may have.

With this post, I inaugurate the Garden Rant “Drink This” category. As one way of filling it, this fall I’ll be visiting wineries near and far and interviewing growers and winemakers (New York State and Southern Ontario both have well-established viticultural regions). The category won’t be limited to wine, though; it will include any agriculturally produced liquid that one can ingest without serious harm.


Oh, and do any of you make drinks that utilize your gardens? Please feel free to share!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I love my Lemon Verbena… you can take a handful of cuttings, jam them in a bottle of vodka and stick it in the freezer to stew and become verbena-ized… The longer the wait the better it is-
    then you can make a cocktail out of it and take a Lemon Verbena cutting and strip off all but the top few leaves and use the twig as a swizzle stick!

  2. Theoretically, if my garden was on fire, I’d save my lime tree first because it makes me the proud mama of some seriously tasty margaritas. And people are ridiculously impressed when you show up with margarita mix made from real limes. And they’re off the charts impressed when you actually grew the limes yourself. 1 c lime juice, 1 c sugar, + enough water to total 1 quart of liquid. I just eyeball the tequila and sometimes throw in the tiniest dash of triple sec. Nice to mix it all up in a pretty pitcher so serving is easier. And please, friends, real margaritas are not slushies.

  3. Oh, yes,Heather, frozen margaritas are just wrong. As are ritas made with sour mix or limeade. I make a simple syrup, after rubbing the sugar with lime zest.

    I’m with you on downplaying the triple sec too. Though I will occasionally throw in a dollop of Grand Marnier. But it’s not needed, particularly if you have a good tequila.

  4. Where do you live Heather? I want to grow a lime tree, that rocks. Probably can’t in my zone (7b) unless I somehow come into wealth and build an orangery/conservatory.

  5. Heather–they can be overwintered. NC I think is too far north.
    I am planning to overwinter a citrus tree in my house this winter, but I have cold inside temps during the winter and you may not. I die to have a citrus tree in my garden.

    Of course–hey looks like this restaurant is down your way! Seriously, Rant posts will give me the excuse I have always wanted to really delve into the winery scene in WNY and environs.

  6. No question, margaritas taste a million times better made with actual limes. I prefer gold tequila, too.

    And Elizabeth, you are a very valuable partner. Please report back on some of those delicious white wines I was served in Buffalo.

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