Sweet Van Winkle Summertime Memories in Michigan: our Favorite Summer Recipes and Traditions
It's a return to something we all feel - the need to slow down, enjoy time together, and be present in the moment. For us, that has always meant our summers spent in Michigan. It returns us to a simpler time and a slower pace where there is no real routine or structure other than the natural schedule of a summer day. That starts with a late breakfast with children spilling out into the porch and all over the house, and the various activities of the day begin and end with the kind of fluidity we don’t typically get to enjoy anymore. Where spontaneity rules the schedule and meals are communal. Bikes are the primary form of transportation, so all destinations and activites are available to anyone with a helmet and a cruiser. A true choose your own adventure day each day!
Of course, even with a lack of true routine, most of our days still revolved around our favorite past time of all - eating and drinking! We spend much of our time here gathering, in the kitchen preparing, in the garden growing the fresh and delicious summer bounty that regularly appears, fishing for our proverbial supper, grilling and of course, eating. Then there are the infamous roving cocktail hours, where an open door serves as an invitation and each sunset is an occasion for a cocktail. Neighbors and friends assemble, drinks in hand and easy appetizers freshly whipped up. Children play in the yard until even the fireflies have retired for the evening and conversations linger leisurely when there is no where else to be but in that moment.
We have a few tried and true favorites that we rely on for mealtime and cocktail hour, but since it ends up being a collaborative mix and match affair - usually inspiration comes from what you easily have on hand and what summer flavor is abundant in our mom’s garden. This summer we found ourselves enjoying Porchtime Pappy Hour with a delicious batch of our Tequila Sours made with our new Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Kentucky Sour Mixer, a favorite new Spicy Margarita and our newest summer cocktail crush, our Maple Paloma. We are always ready to fire up the grill with whatever our resident crew of fisherman has hauled in, a favorite tradition led by Uncle Ed James and his ready band of cousin helpers, which usually means pan fried Lake Trout fresh from Lake Michigan frequently ends up on the menu. Here are some of the summertime staples we enjoyed this summer.
Our Line-Up of Michigan Must-Haves
Spending every summer here means we have learned what we need to have on hand to help manage the chaos of a full house of family and friends. We always have plenty of Pappy Hour cups available - easy to pack up for a trip to the beach, a sunset cruise on the boat, or a cocktail walk-about. We pass these out on the porch knowing they will find their way to a good home! Roadies, to-go, take along, walk abouts, whatever you want to call them, we have to have plenty of travel ready drinkware and foodware that can accompany us wherever the evening takes us.
In fact, one of the reasons we were so excited about our collaboration with Stanley was because we knew this entire line of insulated essentials would become our summer staples! Picnics are a standard set-up for meal-time, everywhere from the beach to the boat to our own front yard, so packable and insulated options are a must. We were constantly taking snacks, lunch and more in our useful box (that is when someone wasn’t stashing their cigars in it for their own on the go enjoyment), and our Stanley Pitcher was used for lunchtime lemonade and al fresco apertifs. Our Stanley X Pappy & Company portable Cocktail Shaker Set with a set of rocks glasses, held permanent status on our patio bar and was constantly being tossed in a beach bag for craft cocktails on the go!
Arguably our most used product still remains our original Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup. Something we created simply because we wanted to use it - it has proven to be the most versatile, beloved and reached for item in our kitchen. From big, boisterous, messy Sunday morning family breakfasts, where no less than nine little cousins and usually a few extra friends and visitors, and at least 10 adults, but most of the time more, assemble to cook up and gobble down pancakes, bacon, egg, cornbread, biscuits, you name it - and our syrup holds a prominent place in the center of this constant breakfast mayhem. (If you haven’t covered your bacon or sausage in it yet…well consider this your sign).
Of course it reappears again at cocktail hour, as our evening mixologists prepare cocktails of many colors and flavors, and it is as ever present in the kitchen as we are. Marinades for the grill, salad dressings whisked together, and a sweetener for anything and everything that we bake! This year we added a spicy version to the repertoire, with the same signature buttery, rich, oaky sweetness with hints of vanilla soaked Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, now with the added kick from our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged pepper mash (yes, the pepper mash famously responsible for another ever present condiment - our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce.) It became a regular around the grill, and the mainstay behind our easy go-to appetizer that was so simple and yet such a crowd pleaser we almost hate to reveal just how easy it really is! Cheese with a spicy syrup drizzle!
We are pretty equal opportunity cocktail aficionados, but you would be hard pressed to not find one of us without our signature summer margarita in hand. We have quite a few versions we float between, from freshly concocted with fresh lime juice, to our go-to prepared mix (Freshys), sometimes even just good old fashioned tequila and lime, but our new Spicy Margarita put up some stiff competition this summer. Another player that debuted on our porch and remained a crowd favorite was our Kentucky Sour Mixer. We obviously love a product that pulls double and triple duty, and this is no exception. For delicious, quick, easy and truly fool-proof cocktails - all it takes is adding this to your spirit of choice! Whiskey sour, tequila sour, rum, gin why not. A drink for every mood and every event in one bottle bursting with fresh, citrusy flavor and a hint of wildflower honey that has been slowly smoked over retired Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels.
Big family meals for at least 20 people three times a day might seem intimidating at first, but we have a pretty good system in place. Everybody has a job. The kiddos love helping, either plucking fresh veggies and herbs from our mom’s garden, or getting in on the assembly line action. Although you do have to keep an eye out, as little hands tend to sneak off with bites and tastes before everything makes it to the table. That is another reason we like a simple meal in the summer time. Anyone can help. Slather on the marinade and take it out to our dad on the grill, help set the table, even help catch the fish! Fresh fish is a constant, with regular appearances from ribs, BBQ, and our easy maple marinade. Giant salads with whatever was selected from the garden, or veggies tossed on the grill and finished with a simple homemade vinaigrette (some of our tried and true recipes here). There is always a bottle of pepper sauce on the table for those (uncle Ed especially) who like to spice up everything (and we mean everything, from his morning eggs to his dinner plate, and a spicy cocktail in between).
Another addition to the constant mealtime rotation was our new Pappy Van Winkle Heirloom Cornmeal Mix. Simple, crunchy, fresh out of the oven cornbread with an extra drizzle of warm maple syrup and melted butter is a delicious and easy accompaniment for breakfast and dinner. Served alongside sunnyside up eggs and a drizzle of hot sauce or syrup, with corn and bbq for a simple dinner, and even as croutons on a big salad. Fortunately, almost everything we use every day also happen to make great hostess gifts, so we always keep a sleeve of pappy hour cups, and extra bottles of pepper sauce, syrup, spicy syrup, and sour mixer on hand to grab and deliver to whomever is hosting the sunset soiree du jour! We also made sure to bring a stash of our new candies this summer - for simple, no bake after dinner treats that are easy to share wherever we are - and to take along as easy gifts! Of course we always bring more than we need as there are quite a few hands, little and big, that like to sneak into the stash!