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?
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.
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.