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.


Rob Marais said...

Sorry to hear of your disappointment with your cherry shrub. The batch I made this year to me was outstanding: just Bing cherries and my shrub base (which I'll discuss later). True, it wasn't neon cherry flavored at all: it had delicate cherry freshness and that umami in cherries that I crave. It helped that I left the pitted cherries whole while macerating and hand-muddled them in the first strain when decanting.

My base was more vinegar-forward than yours: 1 cup of demarara sugar into 1 cup of cider vinegar and 1 cup of rice wine vinegar, combined by stirring with no heat. For me I've found this to be an ideal shrub base, versatile enough for a variety of shrubs. It's even good on its own with pot-still rum, seltzer and a dash of bitters in a highball, utterly refreshing. Generally speaking, in my experience rum loves shrub, especially Barbados-style rum.

I'm glad I discovered your blog and will follow with interest. Shrub is awesome, isn't it?

Alexander Kern said...

Rob-Thanks for being my first commenter. I am hooked on shrubs, and I really liked reading about how you went about making your cherry shrub. As I go along I am slowly figuring out the sugar to vinegar ratios for each fruit, and I will hopefully start getting it dialed in.

I am thrilled you found the blog, and I hope you stay tuned as I have some unconventional stuff in the weeks to come.


Rob Marais said...

Thanks Alex, and I hope you don't mind that I just tweeted about the blog. Folks need to know about shrub, especially those who are interested in craft cocktails as I am. I hope I don't offend by getting a bunch of booze hounds interested in your efforts, seeing that you are interested in "temperance" preparations. But it is so true that shrub makes for very refreshing beverages, either with or without alcohol. I'm glad that you are broadcasting your efforts.

Censor this if you must, but tonight I'm enjoying a peach shrub "daiquiri" made as follows:

2 oz Barbados rum (Mount Gay Eclipse)
.75 spiced rum (Kraken)
.25 oz overproof rum (Wray & Nephew)
.75 oz homemade Massachusetts peach shrub
.5 oz triple sec (Citronge)
.25 oz peach liqueur (Mathilde)
1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine in mixing glass over ice, stir for 30 secs, serve straight up with ripe peach garnish.

Alexander Kern said...

Rob-I am a boozehound myself, so no worries about bringing the bibulous masses to the site. The more the merrier. The biggest reason I haven't had many cocktail recipes with shrub is because my skills at shrub and soda making far outweigh my cocktail mixing skills. I love researching drinks, but I draw a blank when trying to come up with them myself.

Thanks for helping me get more readers, I have been going anywhere I can that I see shrub being discussed in an attempt to get more people to come and check out the site.

The next post should be up Monday, and it's going to be a big improvement(more pictures!) so tell anyone who you think would be interested.

Have a good one!

frederic said...

The outcome of a shrub or syrup can also depend on the fruit itself. Last year, I made a gorgeous syrup out of urban harvested mulberries. When I harvested this year to make them into a shrub, it was rather flavorless. I attribute it to the weather since both batches were harvested from the same tree and processed within an hour each time. A lot of rain can dilute out the flavor, and for some reason, this year's harvest came a bit latter than normal. It might be worth a shot again next season.

Rob Marais said...

Fred, I'm glad you're in the mix and am honored to read your own blog http://cocktailvirginslut.blogspot.com on an almost daily basis. Alex, Fred is one of the hottest cocktail bloggers currently extant; he has flawless taste and is widely followed in the national cocktail scene. Only one thing though: sorry Fred, thanks but I'm not into Dubonnet! :)

Alexander Kern said...

Fred-First, let me say what a big fan I am of your blog. I've been following it daily for the last year or so, and I can't tell you how many drinks from I've had recreated at the Zig Zag here in Seattle. Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out the site.

Secondly, your comment gives me hope in that perhaps the way this shrub turned out might not be completely my fault. I think if I were to do it over again, I would give Rob's idea of leaving the pits in the cherries as they macerate a try to see if there was a bit more flavor to be had.

Funny enough, I was actually going to use Rainier cherries at first, but they seemed even less suited to the task than the ones I did use. I think sour cherries are going to be my cherry of choice when I eventually get around to doing another cherry shrub.

Rob Marais said...

Actually I will need to clarify one thing about my cherry shrub: the Bings were indeed pit-less but left whole while macerating. But the idea of leaving the pits in the jar with the fruit is intriguing. Stems too if the cherries are fresh...after all the stems and pits are what give true Maraschino its cherry funk.

Maybe next year I'll try Rainiers in a cherry shrub: I predict it will be a very subtle mix, possibly sweeter and with less of that cherry umami-ness. But one never knows...