Monday, September 19, 2011

Shrub #9: "Kim"

Fruit: Watermelon
Sugar: White Sugar
Vinegar: White wine vinegar
Additions: Aleppo pepper, torn mint leaves

As August began, so did the realization that summer as we knew it would soon be over here in the Pacific Northwest. As much as I love the imminent arrival of beautiful autumnal weather, I knew that there were just some flavors I hadn't captured that wouldn't feel quite the same after we begin donning our jackets and scarves.

One of those flavors I find most associated with summer, is watermelon. To be perfectly honest, this is one fruit I am really not a fan of. It always strikes me as being quite watery and sweet without much actual flavor to speak of. Despite this, I know a lot of people who are crazy about the stuff, and I thought it would be nice to give the people what they want.

But giving the people what they want can sometimes be a tad challenging. Sarah and I bought a melon that looked as though it had been injected with some sort of anabolic steroids, and would have threatened to kick any of the other fruits' asses up and down the produce section for looking at it wrong. Due to my general disinterest in watermelon, I had lost all perspective on how big this thing actually needed to be, and to make matters worse, we had to push it down the hill our little personal grocery cart. Every twenty feet or so, the front heaviness of the cart threatened to spill all of our delicious groceries into the sidewalk, a proposition made all the more plausible due to the proliferation of cracks in the uneven sidewalk. In an odd way, it was like being in a very low stakes community theatre version of Wages of Fear. I mean, if one were to subtract the threat of nitroglycerin blowing everything to hell and subsitute bags of chicken tenders falling into the street. On second thought, nevermind.

I had a couple of thoughts coming into this shrub. My first thought was just making a pure watermelon shrub, unadorned with spices or herbs. It seems fairly rare that I do a shrub that is just fruit, and thought it might be nice to just let the watermelon be itself. My second thought was that this seemed like a pretty boring idea, and I would hate to be stuck with a bunch of watermelon shrub, which is not a favorite flavor of mine in the first place. Apologies to thought one, but thought two just wrecked your ass.

The concept for this shrub came to me pretty easily, As it was summer, why not pattern this after some kind of watermelon salad? Obviously items such as cheese were out, but the brightness of mint might be nice. This seemed like a reasonable solution, but then as I was looking at the website for World Spice Merchants, I happened to see a suggestion regarding the Turkish flake pepper, aleppo.

"It's a winner in watermelon salad with a squeeze of lime."

I took that as a sign. Well, mostly, as it turned out I had plenty of aleppo pepper, but my limes had just turned bad. One can't win them all, but I figured that the aleppo would be bringing most of the verve to the party, anyhow.

The next big decisions were about the vinegar and and the sugar. Watermelon has such a delicate flavor to begin with, anything too deep or rich would overpower it easily. Therefore, white sugar and white wine vinegar were really the only choices in my mind. I spanked and tore the mint leaves, tossed in some aleppo along with the fruit and sugar, and muddled away. After the syrup began forming, I buckled up the works and tossed it in the fridge for five hours. At the five hour mark I popped open the jar and added the vinegar. Back it went for a week.

When the week was up, I went to do my normal bottling, and I noticed something quite interesting. I guess I didn't really think of how much of a watermelon is really liquid, and noticed that the yield was twice what I had initially calculated for, so I ended up with almost 35 oz of watermelon shrub. Yikes.

So despite my dislike of watermelon, how did it fare in shrub form?

The answer is, not too bad. As any good shrub does, it tastes, for better or worse, exactly like the fruit it is made from. For me, that obviously was not a plus, but it would be a watermelon lover's dream. The mint was there, though almost imperceptibly, and almost slightly bitter. I'm not quite sure what happened, but I am guessing it would have done better if added closer to finishing. I think sometimes overagitating mint can cause the oils to get a little harsh, and since one is supposed to frequently shake a shrub to make sure everything is integrating properly, this seems like a reasonable conclusion. The aleppo was indeed a nice touch, imbuing the mixture with a bright, subtle heat that compliments the watermelon's natural flavors without being overly hot like some other peppers might. My only issue is that I might have been a touch heavy handed with the seasoning, and though it wasn't overly hot, the delicate watermelon was being pushed out of the way a little bit. Next time, I would use a bit less than I think is actually necessary.

In addition to drinking it with sparkling water, several people who tried this suggested that this would possibly be a great base for a salad dressing, especially to reinforce the flavors of  a fruit salad. As I am not a salad guy, I will take their word for it.

For those curious as to how this week's shrub got its name, it kind of requires a couple of leaps of logic. Watermelon is a perennial favorite at summer picnics, which made me think of the 1955 film "Picnic" with William Holden and leading lady, Kim Novak. And from Kim Novak, I titled the shrub "Kim."

While this week's choice of fruit wouldn't be at the top of my list, I did gain more of an appreciation for an ingredient I have despised since childhood. If you are a watermelon fan, however, "Kim" is a rather good way to hold onto the warmth of those fleeting days of our abbreviated summer.

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