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.


jake said...

dude don't know how to contact you but i'm writing an article about shrubs and would love a quote. please get in touch with me ASAP, cause the deadline is Friday!!

Alexander Kern said...

Jake, I sent you an email. I would be happy to help any way I can.

Maria said...

Alex, I found your blog today via Marissa's Food in Jars blog. So glad she linked to you. I'm in the process of making my first shrub and look forward to the final product. Your blog is informative and a hoot to read. I particularly enjoy that you walk us through your successes and not-quite-successes. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us readers. Maria

Alexander Kern said...

Maria-Thanks so much for the kind words. I am glad you've been reading and enjoying my adventures in the world of shrub making. It's an art and a science that I truly hope is making a comeback!

If I may ask, what kind of shrub are you attempting?

In any case, thanks for reading and I hope you stick around. I have some future posts about some out there flavors and techniques you won't want to miss!

dylsey said...

I was thinking about using a riff on this shrub as a modifier for a more wintery/fall interpretation of a Jack Rose. Has anyone experimented with this yet?