The Brothers Grimm were storytellers that rivaled my beloved Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft at times, despite the fact that their fables were often sanitized and diluted for the masses. Their disturbing scenes of violence served as warnings and moral lessons for children, but their public and literary reception wasn’t always a warm one. And despite the countless Grimm tales I’ve read, when my friend Kristen mentioned The Juniper Tree, I was clueless. And so I found myself taken in when she spun the tale in my sun-lit kitchen, mixing a cocktail for me as we got ready for a horror movie marathon.
A husband and wife longed for a child they couldn’t seem to have. The wife prayed for a child beneath her beloved juniper tree, which grew aromatic and full of berries after a passing of the seasons, so bursting with life that she couldn’t resist picking and eating them. But she immediately began feeling ill and told her husband to burry her beneath the juniper tree if she should die. Within a month she had given birth to a beautiful boy and died immediately after. The husband buried her and, in time, married again. The boy’s stepmother eventually gave birth to a girl…a daughter she knew would never be an heir because of her older half-brother. Eventually that resentment drove her to murder the boy and frame her daughter to shoulder the blame, who was riddled with guilt.
Looking to hide what had happened, the mother and daughter made a stew of the boy, and as the father ate it, he threw the bones under the table, which the daughter later gathered and placed beneath the juniper tree. From those bones, the tree created a bird that sang an enchanting song. It flew away and its first stop was at the roof of a goldsmith, where he sang the song and drew the goldsmith outside. When the bird was asked to sing the song again, he asked for a gold chain in payment, which the goldsmith gladly gave. His second stop was on the roof of a shoemaker, where he again sang the song, and again, when asked to sing it twice, asked for payment…this time in the form of a pair of red shoes. Then a third time the bird did this at a miller, where he took a millstone as payment for his song.
Upon returning to his juniper tree, the bird began to sing yet again, torturing the stepmother but drawing the father outside. When he did, he dropped the gold necklace around his neck and the father was elated. The sister was next to be drawn outside by the singing, and when she came out by the tree, the bird dropped the red shoes to her. At long last, the stepmother, so wrought with misery that she hoped perhaps the bird would make her happy as well, stepped outside. And the bird, of course, dropped the millstone on her, killing her instantly. The father and daughter went back out to see only smoke and flames where the stone fell, from which the boy emerged, reborn.
All of this left me inspired to craft a cocktail of my own, in celebration of my favorite holiday…halloween. The Juniper Tree could only be a gin-centric elixir, of course. The lemon rind serves to remind us of the gold necklace, the two pomegranate seeds symbolize the red shoes, the round 0-shaped ice cube represents the millstone, and the drink is appropriately blood red. I realize I am probably too late for any halloween parties you may be having or attending, but if you are even a tenth of the horror geek that I am, hopefully you’ll find yourself crafting this cocktail if only to amuse yourself on Thursday. If you can’t find some of these ingredients, let the story serve as inspiration for your own version.
THE JUNIPER TREE
4 oz. gin, infused with a berry-flavored teabag
5 dashes of cherry bitters
1 tsp. saffron simple syrup
3 tsp. grenadine
twist of lemon
2 pomegranate seeds
o-shaped ice cube (silicone molds available in lots of stores)