Monday, August 29, 2011

Shrub #6: "3 Faces of Eve"

Fruit: Apples
Sugar: Brown Sugar
Vinegar: Apple Cider Vinegar/White Wine Vinegar
Additions: Kern's Pie Spice [Spice includes:Vietnamese cinnamon, nutmeg, mace blades, clove, crushed together in mortar and pestle)

Since we had already made homemade brown sugar, it made sense that the shrub to immediately follow "Jessica" should be the apple based shrub I refer to as "Three Faces Of Eve." Interestingly enough, my very first experience with drinking vinegar was with the sublime housemade apple drinking vinegar at Thai restaurant Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon last year during a visit to see my older sister. This particular version was a complete revelation. While it captured the bright, clean flavor of the apple, the acidity would sneak up behind you and remind you that lest you forget, you sir/madame, are still drinking vinegar. Unlike sugary modern sodas, this offered a level of refreshment I had not seen in a non-alcoholic drink. It was the drink that got me hooked on shrubs.

It seemed that it would be a waste of time to attempt a mere emulation of such a fantastic product, only to perhaps be disappointed if I didn't reach the high bar set by Andy Ricker and company. More importantly though, the Feel Like Making Shrub project is not about imitation, but rather innovation. It was clear that I was going to have to take apple drinking vinegar in a far different direction. That direction was simple: dessert.

I approached this shrub thinking of two concepts: one was apple pie, and the second was of music. I think that a good apple pie should be a bit like music, with bass notes, mid-range, and treble. Theoretically, when one adjusts these frequencies together, you should get a harmonious result that sounds beautiful. With this in mind, I wanted to use three different cultivars of apples that would each represent a scale of sorts. One to play the bass notes(tartness), one to be the midrange(flavorful, not too sweet), and one to be the treble(very sweet.) I have to admit, I knew the names of several apple cultivars, and while that kind of knowledge is helpful on Jeopardy!, it's kind of worthless if you don't know the differences in tastes. I knew the Granny Smith was going to be the bass apple, but I asked my friend Jeremy if he could recommend the other two. After listing off several, I settled on a Pink Lady for the mid-range, and the new-to-me Jazz apple for the sweet/high part. As it turns out, these three were perfect for each other, which was good news. But what's apple pie without the right spices?

Apples And Spices
First, let's determine what piques our imaginations when we reminisce about apple pie. Obviously, the big one is cinnamon, that's generally followed by some amount of nutmeg, and clove. That's it, right? Wrong! There is a ninja spice, stealthily hiding somewhere within many apple pies, subtlety elevating it above other pies. This unsung spice is the "aw shucks" guy who works behind the scenes but doesn't need any credit. That spice is mace. If you are asking yourself why one would want to eat a medieval weapon in their pie spice, you shall be pleased to know that your mouth is safe. Mace, for the uninitiated, is actually a leathery,orange-ish/brown colored lace that is wrapped around nutmeg when the fruit is opened. While it does share some of nutmeg's warm qualities, it has a subtle sweetness and delicacy that nutmeg doesn't. In this instance I used the blades, as they are more suited for steeping in liquids.

For my pie spice, I used a combination of Vietnamese cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, mace blades, and a single clove. The reason I used Vietnamese cinnamon over other varieties is that in addition to being a darker, richer cinnamon, it also has an extremely high oil content which I thought might help the flavor infuse into the vinegar more effectively. I crushed them together in a mortar and pestle, until they were reasonably mixed together(mace blades being the exception, as they are tough little bastards and won't succumb to anything short of industrial grinding) and set it aside. And since we had just made some homemade brown sugar for the "Jessica" project, it seemed like the right sugar to compliment the apple pie spices.

Normally this would be the part where I would tell you to just chuck everything into the jar and start smashing away. Unlike the other ripe fruit I had used up to this point, apples have their own ideas about being bashed with sugar into a syrupy submission. Too firm for my normal run of the mill spoon crushing, I had to get hands on with the ingredients, squeezing the fruity shards through the sugar with my hands until they began to give up a little juice. I didn't get a lot, but it was enough to get the stage one going. Into the fridge went the jar, for at least the next five hours.

Five hours later I checked on the syrup; by checked on I mean ravenously straw tested. Wow. This stuff was sweet, but really good. It tasted like the inside of a very well seasoned apple pie, just as I had hoped. The big question now was which vinegar to choose. When I want the fruit to stand out, I generally use all white wine vinegar, as it's pretty mellow and doesn't overpower the rest of the shrub. In this instance, however, I thought a little more acidity would be welcome, considering that both the brown sugar and the fruit were both so naturally sweet. I ended up deciding on a 50/50 split of white wine vinegar to apple cider vinegar, hoping that a little extra apple flavor from the ACV would sneak its way into the mix. This was going to be a tough two weeks to wait, given how tasty the initial mix already was.

The two weeks passed more slowly than I would have liked, but the big day had finally arrived. Did the "3 Faces of Eve" have personality?

Apple/Brown Sugar Syrup
I have to say, from my very subjective standpoint, this may well be my favorite of all the shrubs I've made to date. For all intents and purposes, this is apple pie in a glass, folks. Though it may not be a good all around shrub for all occasions, for the right time and place, this stuff is delicious. The use of multiple types of apples allowed for layers of flavor which, with only one type of apple, could have come off as horribly one note and boring considering the sweeter direction I set out to achieve. I also loved the way the apple cider vinegar was cut by the white wine vinegar, allowing for a slight acidic twinge that ultimately brought the shrub into balance without coming off as too vinegar-y. My one caveat is that if you are going to drink this, don't just drink the syrup, because believe me, it really is syrup.

As far as its uses, I always suggest sparkling water of course, but if you're in the mood for something more else, I would say that this shrub is very similar to "Jessica," so find a nice bourbon you don't mind playing around with and see where it goes, or do as I did, and pour some over vanilla ice cream. It seems weird at first, but the brown sugar and spices go so well with vanilla ice cream, and the acidic tang keeps the whole thing from becoming cloying. Great stuff.

"3 Faces of Eve" Bottled

The name this week was derived from the 1957 film, "The Three Faces of Eve, which is based on an actual case study about a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder. I thought the title worked on two levels. One, there is the name Eve, which one frequently associates with apples, but secondly, to illustrate that although this is an apple shrub, one gets the different aspects of three very different types of apples all in one.

Obviously nothing will ever replace the childlike thrill of a pie baking in the oven, or that decadent first bite after impatiently waiting for it to cool, but despite all that, I hope that this shrub has been able to put a fresh, new face on an old, delicious standard.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Shrub #5: "Jessica"

Fruit: Peaches
Sugar: Brown Sugar
Vinegar: White Wine Vinegar
Additions: Vanilla Bean, split, allspice berries(crushed)

Peaches, Brown Sugar, Vanilla Bean, Allspice Berries

One particularly warm Friday a few weeks back, I did my usual end of week lunch trip down to the Pike Place Market looking for that week's fruit supplies and found myself smack dab in the midst of a touristy tidal wave cresting right in front of the Manzo Bros. stand yet again. I had previously had good luck with their ginger and raspberries, and it just so happened a young lady was enthusiastically extolling the virtues of that day's peaches to anyone who would listen. Tempting as this sounded, was I ready to do another stone fruit shrub right on the heels of the disappointing #4?

Why, yes. Yes, I was.

Unlike previous weeks, in which I grabbed whatever half-assed pictures I could with my phone's dinky camera, I have to thank my wife Sarah, whose generous efforts to get up at the ass crack of Saturday morning to actually do some real art direction over the shrub process made this look like an actual food blog. But without further ado, on to the shrub.

First, the peaches needed to be prepped, and that means getting them sliced open and yanking the pits out. As you can see, the peaches were rather sizeable, and it really only took two of these stone pitted gargantuans to give me the pound of fruit I was looking for.


Things were going smoothly, until Sarah asked what kind of sugar I was planning on using for these.

"Brown Sugar," I said, going to the lazy susan to pull it out.

There was a little bit of silence, puncuated by an soft, "Umm..."

I quickly realized what the "Umm" was about. I looked at the bag of brown sugar, and based on what I saw, I knew there was no way this was going to work. It was bad enough that I was likely going to come up short on brown sugar for this shrub, but also for the apple shrub I had planned to do after.

"Wait! I think we can make brown sugar, actually," Sarah said confidently.

While this sounded good in theory, short of alchemy or some sort of dark magic, I didn't see how this was going to happen, and I wasn't in the mood for ritual sacrifice; I already had enough dishes to wash as it was. 

Luckily, for me, Sarah's solution was much less draconian and messy. She confirmed by looking at the Joy The Baker blog, that one could simply make brown sugar by combining a tablespoon of unsulfured molasses to a cup of white sugar. If one was in the mood for the really dark brown sugar, they only need add another tablespoon of molasses to the mix.

No, it's not a Rorschach test.

If you feel inclined to make your own brown sugar, follow these simple instructions: just use a fork and keep scraping the mixture together, it will feel like an eternity, so feel free to use this time to multi-task by doing things like memorizing pi out to 100 places, or making a mental list of every single character in the Song of Ice and Fire saga according to House or allegiance and reciting it aloud.

Light Brown Sugar! No Dark Magic!

Eventually, your patience will be rewarded with delicious brown sugar. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Alright, that's enough...back to work. In the usual fashion, I dumped the peaches and the sugar into my jar,(or if you dont have a bowl, some kind of non-reactive container) and went to work with my additional ingredients. I was aiming for a flavor that was reminiscent of peach cobbler, perhaps. I split half of a vanilla bean, but neglected to scrape out the seeds, tossing it in with the other materials. Following that, I grabbed about a tablespoon of allspice and crushed it coarsely with a mortar and pestle. In it went, as I grabbed a large wooden spoon and began to smash the mixture together. These peaches were quite ripe, and were giving up their juiice without putting up much of a fight.

Peach Strata
I buckled the jar lid closed, and put the mixture in the fridge to began the syruping process.While I am unclear as to whether or not the word "syruping" would pass the Scrabble dictionary test, it seems most appropriate for what was going on in the refrigerator for five plus hours. After the five hours, I took out the jar to straw test the syrup. It was peachy, and really sweet, but I couldn't taste the vanilla or the allspice.

I figured that considering the vanilla was such a big flavor in my batch of Sarah, I should likely just let it do its thing for a week and I would hopefully end up with a nice supporting hint of it in the background. That being said, I couldn't really taste the allspice much at all. At this point, I was determined not to have a repeat of shrub #1, in which the black peppercorns didn't show up at all. I crushed up some more allspice berries, and unfortunately did not take proper measurements before just bunging the flavorful debris into the mix, but I estimate it was anywhere between 1-2 tsp extra.


Shrub wouldn't be shrub without vinegar, and so I had to choose what type I was going use here. I was thinking that it would be best to go with something fairly even-tempered so that one could really taste the fruit and spices clearly. White wine vinegar fits that bill nicely, and so I poured a carefully measured 16 oz into the jar and stirred fairly vigorously, and that was it. It had one week in the fridge to steep before being bottled, and then back in for one more week of aging.

I will spare you the most of the drudgery of reading about the bottling process, but let me just point out a couple of things I don't think I've touched on before. First, you might really consider doing a double strain setup of some kind if you haven't already. Not only is there going to be plenty of fruit, but depending on how fine your additions are, you'll definitely want to fine strain so that the more powdery substances stay in the strainer and don't find their way into your beautiful shrub. I bought an amazing OXO 3 part funnel, and it's quickly become one of my most treasured kitchen tools ever.

While this model does have a nice little built in strainer that does a decent job of catching bigger materials, I took it out and replaced it with a tight knit stainless steel tea strainer(like this one) that just happens to fit snugly in the mouth of the funnel. I pour through a normal mesh strainer into the funnel, which then also goes through the fine mesh of the tea strainer, thus catching nearly all but the tiniest of particulates. There is a caveat with this method, however: different fruits have differing levels of pectin which means that as you strain, some will leave a more jammy residue than others, which means you very well may have to rinse those strainers a couple of times during the bottling process. Yes, it is a pain in the ass. But isn't have a clear product without a bunch of grit in it totally worth it? Exactly. 

Ultimately, this is about the final product, so was "Jessica" a perfect lady?

Well, almost.

There was a lot to like here; "Jessica" was full of ripe, round peach flavors, if a bit on the mild side, and the flavor of allspice was undoubtedly a delicious and welcome compliment to peaches. It achieved that desired evocation of peach cobbler that I was after, and I enjoyed it.

The subtle details are where the next batch of "Jessica" could definitely be tweaked for the better. For one thing, I was a bit hasty in adding that extra bit of allspice, I think. As it sat for the first week, its strength really came on strong and illustrated that the extra couple of teaspoons may have actually moved it from, "assertive" to "aggressive" and to some, "overpowering." The use of brown sugar added a great depth of flavor, but it probably would have benefited from a lighter hand. Also, as prevalent as the allspice was, the vanilla moved in the inverse direction, hiding its subtle charms somewhere behind the allspice. Looking back, I really think I should have probably used the whole bean, scraped all of those seeds out, and shook the jar more often during that initial week long period before bottling.

Despite these minor quibbles, I found that it improved a fair amount with the addition of water, as it allowed a lot of the spice to decompress a little, as well as cutting the slightly cloying nature from the large amount of brown sugar I used. It was as if I were drinking a more complex and interesting version of Peach Nehi. If one were so inclined, they might somehow pair this with bourbon and other liqueurs, or use it as a delightful topping for vanilla ice cream. Better yet, make a vanilla/bourbon/"Jessica" milkshake. Oh yeah, now we're talking...

"Jessica" In Bottles

The name this week is derived from the famous tune called "Jessica" from the Allman Brothers Band, which is a fun listen that reminds one of the sweeter aspects of Summer. While my version of "Jessica" is perhaps a little too sweet, I hope that it achieves a similar result for all who get a chance to taste it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Superior Glass

Shrubs are immensely fun and rewarding to make, but I don't think I was quite prepared for how into this hobby I was getting until I realized how the amounts of drinking vinegar I was making was easily overmatching the amount of containers to put all of it in.

Initially, Sarah and I caught a few fun looking little 8 oz bottles on sale at Sur La Table, along with a good sized 38 oz swingtop bale jar. Perfect, I thought. Considering the previous shrub I made was in a bowl with a Tupperware lid, this was clearly a Jeffersonian leap for me(George, not Thomas). I felt like I was now taking this shrub business seriously. Then it came time to bottle.

I have some pieces of advice I'd like to give anyone who hasn't really bottled a homemade product: first, do not forget the headspace. In my inexperience, I neglected to take this into account, and poured way too much, way too fast as Sarah was holding the funnel and watching the valuable liquid gold starting to spew out of the neck of the bottle. Thinking quickly, we were able to get another container under it just in time to keep too much of the shrub out of the sink. Secondly, keep in mind that what may appear on paper as your liquid volume probably won't be by the time you are all finished. That fruit will continue to give off juice and you might just end up with more shrub than you initially figured for.

The point of this is that if you're going to do a large volume of shrub, you're going to need a lot of bottles and jars; in fact, you'll probably need way more than you think you do, so I would like to share with you where I get mine.

Specialty Bottle has a ridiculously wide array of glass products for nearly every conceivable purpose. From swingtop bottles in multiple sizes(I use these for bottling shrub) and swingtop bale jars(for making shrub), to vials, dropper bottles, and other fun items, these folks have it all. If that weren't enough, the prices are very reasonable, the customer service is fantastic, and as a bonus, they are based right here in Seattle, which means I get my gear really quickly. In fact, I just bought another swingtop bale jar bringing the total to four, and another host of 275 ml and 375 ml bottles. 

While you may be able to buy shrubbing gear at any number of places, I urge you to give Specialty Bottle a try. I'm glad I did.

[Full disclosure: I've received no special favors or incentives from Specialty Bottle. They really are just that great.]

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shrub #4: "#4"

Fruit: Sweetheart cherries
Sugar: Sugar in the Raw
Vinegar: Champagne Vinegar + White Wine Vinegar
Additions: Dried Aji Mirasol peppers, split

In any culinary endeavor where one is fumbling their way around trying to devise recipes when they are more used to following them, it is probably inevitable that there will be a few speed bumps on the way to success. As I found out with my fourth batch of shrub, I can now say with some degree of certainty that this is most definitely the case.

It started out innocently enough. After three pretty tasty shrubs, I figured that a cherry shrub should be a no-brainer. I had devised a combination of sweet Washington cherries and raw sugar, boosted with just a hint of the delicate, apricot tones of the mildly spicy Aji Mirasol peppers. On paper, this looks great. In the bottle, it sparkles like some variety of gorgeous ruby. In practice, however, what came out wasn't awful, but a nondescript beverage that came out as a sort of generically fruity, very faintly spicy, sweet concentrate. So what happened?
#4 Bottled

My guess is that these cherries just don't have the same kind of distinctive flavors that equate to a flavorful product. I always try to taste a sample of the fruit before I use it, and as I tasted these cherries I was struck by how little they resembled what my idea of cherries are. Blame it on a childhood of growing up with artificial cherry flavor and color, but this tasted nothing at all like what I was looking for. I hoped as the fruit macerated, some hidden flavors would have been coaxed out of the cherries, but alas, it was not to be. Ultimately, the fruit cannot take the blame for not being what I expected, and it dawned on me that perhaps I should not be so quick to scrap this idea in its entirety. I had to rethink what it is I like when I think of delicious treats like cherry pie, and Sarah caught on to the problem right away.

"Part of what you like about my cherry pie is that I use regular and sour cherries. I just think you need sour cherries."


Of course, she was absolutely right. Tart cherries would have had a lot more character and stood up so much better to all of the other flavors. Generally speaking, the star of a shrub is the primary fruit, and if it is more of a character actor who blends in, it isn't going to make for a very exciting drinking vinegar. This led me to realize that perhaps in conjunction with a bolder lead, especially one that could use a bit of sweetness to bolster it, these cherries could be useful after all.

To be fair to this effort, it wasn't all bad; I did enjoy the subtle, steady heat and tiny touch of apricot that the Aji Mirasol peppers donated to the flavor. I enjoy the sneaking surprise of a mild(or not so mild) burn in conjunction with fruit, and these peppers did a nice job of giving off a mild warmth that smoldered lightly in the background. If I were to make another shrub with peppers, I could see putting these lovelies at the top of my list, depending on what the primary fruit was going to be.

Normally, in situations like these, I find myself dispirited and deconstructing my culinary failures in a brutal blow by blow to the point where I think Sarah is ready to scream, [Isn't he just SUCH a w**g sometimes? You're a saint, madame. A saint.-Ed.] but politely restrains herself.

Not today.

For some reason, for the first time, this feels less like failure and more like an actual learning process. Despite being initially discouraged, I feel a renewed resolve to come up with solutions rather than dwelling on what went wrong.

Sorry to say, "#4" just wasn't good enough to earn a nickname yet, and may have been kind of anti-climactic despite my good intentions. Though the shrub could be classified as a disappointment, I think perhaps I gained something even more valuable and unexpected in the end: an attitude adjustment in a bottle.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Shrub #3: "Don Whoa"

Fruit: Pineapple
Sugar: Sugar in The Raw [Turbinado Sugar]
Vinegar: Raw Coconut Vinegar/White wine vinegar
Additions: Habanero pepper, seeded, membranes removed

While it was fun to see how diverse the results were when experimenting with two styles of the same fruit, it was time to turn my attention in a different direction. Obviously, there is no shortage of tasty Pacific Northwest fruit coming into season right now, but I thought I would table the berries for the time being and cast my gaze in a more tropical direction.

Obviously, there are a lot of choices for tropical flavors, such as mangoes or bananas, but since I despise both of those, the clear choice here was pineapple. Though pineapple almost certainly make for a delicious final product, here at the Feel Like Making Shrub blog, there is nothing worse than making a one flavor shrub. What changes could I make to set this shrub apart from the plethora of pineapple shrubs that have probably been strewn about the internet landscape?

First things first. Like the Six Million Dollar Man, I looked at all the individual parts that could use a bit of an upgrade in the flavor department. Obviously, I bought a whole fresh pineapple, which I carefully cut into large chunks. Then, I looked at the sugar. In both of the previous efforts, I used C & H refined cane sugar, which has a very clean, sweet taste; I don't know about you, but white sugar doesn't particularly scream "Tropical!" to me. So, out with the white sugar and in with Sugar in The Raw. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sugar In the Raw, it is also known in the US as "turbinado sugar," a partially refined sugar which retains more of its color and flavor than fully refined sugar, named for the turbines in which the sugar spins. In flavor terms, it lies somewhere between the white sugar we all know and love, and brown sugar, which is actually sugar with the presence of molasses. What's important is that unlike white sugar, Sugar in the Raw should give the shrub a greater depth of flavor, with some hints of earthiness.

As usual, one of the biggest decisions to make in a shrub will be the type of vinegar used. Given that this makes up the lion's share of the actual final liquid product, it is also the element likely most responsible for the overall character of your drinking vinegar. In keeping with the theme, I opted for an entire 12.7 oz bottle of Coconut Secret Raw Coconut vinegar, supplemented with a scant amount of white wine vinegar to get the total amount of vinegar to match the weight of the fruit.

There are apparently at least two types of coconut vinegar I am aware of,  both of which are apparently raw vinegars, meaning that they have the active "Mother" bacterial cultures which cause the vinegars' fermentation process, similar to apple cider vinegar. Like ACV, raw coconut vinegar is more acidic, but with a slightly gamier, funkier flavor...kind of the rhum agricole of vinegars. From what I understand, the fundamental difference between the two is what they are derived from; one comes from the sap of the coconut tree, while the other is coconut water that has been fermented with raw cane sugar. So far, I have only used the one derived from sap, so I can't really speak to the differences between them.

With all of the new ingredients assembled, the layout looked pretty intriguing, but felt as though it was missing some sort of je ne sais quoi. Like a spicy thunderbolt from the ether, it struck me. Some sort of hot pepper might go smashingly with pineapple. Jalapeno seemed too pedestrian, and I wasn't sure if bhut jolokia would be too much for a leisurely sipper. Splitting the difference down the Scoville scale, I settled on a good ol' fashioned habanero pepper. Yes, I surmised...habaneros have a slight fruity taste, while waving their bollocks with a keen measure of insouciant attitude. Perfect.

Don Whoa Initial Mash
Per usual, I made the initial mash with pineapple chunks, Sugar In The Raw, and this time, a habanero, smashing each of them with a wooden spoon until the mass became a thick, syrupy pulp. I closed up the jar and waited the requisite five hours before coming back to check on it. I decided to straw test the mash before putting in the vinegar, and it was great. The bright, fresh sweetness of pineapple, with a creeping heat that sneaks up on you, but wasn't too much. I opened the coconut vinegar and poured it into the jar, sealed it up, and hoped for the best.

I find that there are pros and cons to tasting a work in progress. On the one hand, it's nice to be able to adjust spices or flavors that could use some help, but there is also that paralyzing fear when your shrub has been sitting for a week and is unbelievably funky from raw vinegar. The coconut vinegar is a mighty beast, and I got worried. Luckily, Sarah was there to convince me that this would probably mellow out just like the other ones had, and that I should just bottle it and wait the next week as I normally did. Of course, as with so many other things, she was absolutely right.
Mash ready for vinegar

A week later, I pulled the bottle out and straw tested it. While the sharpness of the coconut vinegar remained, it had blended nicely with the sweet, bright pineapple, and the lingering heat of the habanero had become a bit more assertive without being abusively hot. Overall, this combination was a bit of a risk that really paid off in the end. If I were to change anything about this recipe, I might opt to change the ratio of raw coconut vinegar to white wine vinegar, just to round off the gamier edges of the shrub, but then again, some people might actually appreciate that, so it's really up to your own personal tastes.

More than the first two shrubs featured on this blog, I would highly recommend drinking this one with a bit of water; the syrupy and spicy nature of it really lends itself to at least a little dilution. Some of the people who have tasted it suggested that this might also make a nice marinade for meat, or that it might work in a more spirituous application when paired with the right base spirit. My guess is that rum would likely be a safe bet, and perhaps in the right manner, gin may work as well.

As for the name, most of the ingredients here are very Hawaiian, I thought it would be good to name the shrub after a famous Hawaiian entertainer of some sort. The first famous Hawaiian that came to mind was the talented and much loved singer Don Ho. While discussing this with Sarah while we tasted the syrup, she didn't taste the habanero at first, but it quickly snuck up slowly, taking her unaware.

"With the heat of the habanero, perhaps instead of Don Ho, I should call it 'Don Whoa!'" I chuckled.

"Yes," she said, with a mischievous look crossing her face. "You're very proud of that one, aren't you?"

Yes. Yes, I am.

Don Ho's Greatest Hits
Buy Don Ho's Greatest Hits Right Here!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shrub #2: "Sarah"

Fruit: Raspberries
Sugar: C & H Bakers Sugar(Ultra Fine Cane)
Vinegar: Balsamic[Brand Unknown]
Additions: Whole Split Vanilla Bean, Cassia Cinnamon Stick

After completing shrub #1, I was fortunate enough to have a whole extra pound of raspberries on hand, and I thought it might be fun to go in a much different direction. Where the first shrub was light, bright, and just a little tart, I thought it might be fun to display a richer, more decadent side of the raspberry in the second shrub.

As I had just started the other shrub, I realized that was lacking another jar. Undeterred, I grabbed a glass bowl with a Tupperware lid, and got to work. I weighed the remaining raspberries and dumped them in, along with the same measure of Baker's Sugar. I put on some rubber gloves and began crushing the sugar/fruit mixture through my fingers, taking care to make sure that every raspberry was at least beginning to express a bit of juice. I placed the lid on it, and let it hang out in the fridge the mandatory minimum of 5 hours. It was then time for the balsamic. Unfortunately, I got a bit caught up in the thrill of making the shrub, as I not only forgot to take process pictures[Booo!-Ed.], but I also neglected to note the brand of balsamic vinegar I used this time[Double boo!-Ed.]. I can note, however, it was a moderately priced brand from our local grocery store. As balsamic can be really quite expensive, you may or may not want to use the large quantities necessary for making a shrub. For my money, if you err somewhere between the cheapest and the most expensive, you'll probably be ok. For this exercise, I used an entire 16 oz bottle.

During this process, I quickly realized why locking jars are preferable to bowls. As the first week goes along, it is advisable to agitate the newly formed shrub everyday, as this helps to dissolve any of the residual sugar that may not have incorporated from the syrup stage into the full shrub. Jars with lockable lids are great, because you can make like Carmen Miranda shaking her maracas all over the kitchen without consequence. The bowl with the lid, well, that's several Clorox wipes and another story. In the case of the bowl, there was just enough air that the liquid collected and was able to escape. Please, for the sake of your kitchen and the delicate balance of domestic bliss in your household, spring for some extra jars.

It wasn't much of a struggle to figure out what to call this, especially after I tasted it for the first time. I named it after my best friend and spouse, Sarah, who in all of the time I have known her, has been crazy for nearly anything raspberry related. In fact, it's amazing how the shrub reminds me of its namesake; it's sweet without being cloying, has a pleasing depth of character, and is mighty pretty to look at.


In more concrete terms, the shrub is nearly opaque, appearing in the glass to be the same color of the digestif Fernet Branca. The aroma and flavor, however, are very strongly vanilla, though unfortunately, very little evidence of cinnamon coming through. My guess is that the issue lies in the physical state of the cinnamon stick itself. Without being ground or the application of heat to release the oils, the stick wasn't able to impart much flavor while steeping in the cold liquid. I'm thinking that ground Vietnamese cinnamon might be a better choice here, as it has a high oil content and would likely have no trouble be a more assertive part of the final product. The raspberries, while perhaps more muted that the first shrub, are still noticeable, despite the typically sweet, yet tangy balsamic flavors we all know and love. The one change I might make in a future batch would be to cut the balsamic a bit with either a milder wine vinegar, or a sharp vinegar to offset the balsamic's syrupy, viscous nature.

I love this shrub for many reasons, but especially its versatility. This syrup itself is rich enough that it could be sipped as an after dinner drink, but I used it in my standard test: shrub syrup with a glass of sparkling water. Unsurprisingly, this came out beautifully, as the soda helped lighten the heavy feeling of the shrub, giving the flavors more room to express themselves. The syrup itself is also brilliant over vanilla ice cream, and would likely be quite decent when paired with the right cocktail ingredients.

"Sarah" with Soda Water

I can honestly say that while I have never been crazy about raspberries, I'm just wild about "Sarah."

Monday, August 1, 2011

What's In A Name

[Nerd alert! Kern is going to talk about something that is only tangentially shrub related, and deals more with names and his personal method of classification. So unless you're prone to insomnia, feel free to skip this s**t, and come back when he's made some new drinking vinegar. Pardon me while I take some No-Doz to get through editing this rousing block of text.-Ed.]

Ironically, for a man who loves learning as much as I do, I really had a lot of disdain for school. I was lazy, unfocused, and generally just blowing it all the way around. In retrospect, I think much of my poor performance was due to an aimlessness I couldn't explain. It wasn't until my academic career was nearly cratering that I really figured out what I wanted to do, and that was to become a librarian. The point of this is not an attempt to spin some sort of Horatio Alger yarn about the redemptive power of picking a career path; it is simply a rather obtuse way of explaining my attempts at identifying the shrubs on the blog.

Contrary to the feelings of some librarians, one of my favorite parts of the job is classification. Where some people see drudgery in the organization and corralling of materials, I see magic. Identification of materials are paramount, and I don't see why the same shouldn't be true outside of the library.

Over the years, it seems that "pharmaceutical dealers of marijuana" have adopted this same philosophy by coming up with catchy nicknames for their products(e.g. "Maui Wowee, Purple Kush, etc.) which seems to be a rather brilliant method of classification. Without long, drawn out descriptions about every aspect of its characteristics, a potential buyer knows exactly what they're getting. While I have no interest in the product, I love the concept, and have decided to adapt it to my shrub making.

Typing out every single item in a shrub when I want to refer to it later is not only tedious, it doesn't sound very dynamic or catchy either. Therefore, from this point forward, I will be giving all the shrubs nicknames that somehow reflect the ingredients they are made from.

Enjoy the new naming scheme and I should be back very soon to resolve the cliffhanger ending of the last post. [Spoiler Alert-It involves raspberries and balsamic vinegar. Worst. Cliffhanger. Ever.-Ed.]