Fruit: White Grapefruit(Juice of grapefruits)
Sugar: White Sugar
Vinegar: White Wine Vinegar
Additions: Dried savory
Fruit: Lemon(Juice of lemons)
Sugar: White Sugar
Vinegar: White Wine Vinegar
Additions: Fresh Rosemary sprigs
Making shrubs with seasonal fruit is kind of a double edged sword. On the one hand, there is something incredibly powerful about living in the moment and appreciating ingredients that won't be around forever, and using techniques to be able to relive those moments, like a potable Polaroid. Conversely, one can only make so much shrub during the summer and autumn months. If you're really into this as a hobby, the months between November and June can be unbearable.
Fear not, fellow shrub aficionados, you can still make great shrubs in the off season. While some of them are a little unusual and decidedly not fruit based at all(some of which I will be covering here very soon), there are still some fruits that are consistently decent even out of season. One of my personal favorite sources of year round fruit? Citrus. While there are obviously any number of citrus fruit to choose from, this week we're going to focus(mostly) on the underrated but lively white grapefruit.
In some ways it kind of seems counter-intuitive to make a grapefruit based drinking vinegar. Acid on top of acid? Really?
It can work, but as you will see it takes a different approach than most of the fruit based shrubs we have done before, and it might be quite a bit more of a pain in the ass, but I think in the end, the results are pretty fantastic.
The story of "Ernest" is actually three acts:
Act 1: Initial Success
Though this was my first citrus based shrub, I really didn't see any reason the method shouldn't be any different than any other fruit I had used to this point. I cut the peel away from the grapefruit and cut the fruit into segments and combined them with white sugar in the jar. I muddled them together until the segments were quite pulped and a sugary grapefruit juice syrup had started to form. After five hours in the fridge, I poured in some white wine vinegar as I normally would at this stage and added some dried savory. For those of you unfamiliar with savory, it's a really nice herb that comes across as mostly sage-like with some hints of thyme or rosemary. I've seen sage paired with grapefruit before and thought this would have a similar effect, but with some added herbiness to boot.
The shrub went through its normal process, and I was quite pleased to say that it was really great. It had a piquant flavor, a thoroughly lovely balance of acids from the grapefruit and the vinegar with the clean sweetness of the white sugar. The savory was a particularly delicious addition, as it did have the sage character I hoped for, but it seemed to almost melt into the flavor of the grapefruit as though they were one contiguous flavor that should just occur in nature. Yes, I was very happy with it, as were all of the people who tried it at our first tasting. Replicating this attempt should be a piece of cake, right?
Act 2: Replicating My First Attempt Is Not A Piece Of Cake
I think the mark of a shrub recipe that works is one that I make successfully at least twice if not several more times beyond that. I was perhaps overconfident when I made the second batch of Ernest using identical proportions to the first. Nothing about my second attempt felt remotely different, except for the fact that maybe I shook this one a little more. Even at that, I was surprised when I finally tasted the finished product that something was wrong. Quite wrong, actually.
For some unknown reason, there was a bitterness that pervaded the entire drink. It started out pleasant enough, but the finish was beyond the bitterness you'd accept, even for something made of white grapefruit. Considering every aspect seemed the same, I was baffled. My first thought was that maybe shaking it more the savory infused more and made it more vegetal and bitter, but in the end, this didn't seem to ring true. Sure, in the past there had been overpowering additions, but usually those were really powerful flavors like allspice berry or vanilla. No, there was something else going on here.
Then it hit me: the segments I had cut up still had a fair amount of pith and connective tissue all over them when I mashed them up with the sugar. It's still not clear to me why this didn't affect the first batch in such an adverse manner, but as I've learned, every batch of fruit can be markedly different. It is very possible that it was the first batch that benefited from a stroke of good luck. Knowing that this was going to make consistency all but impossible in the future, it was clear I was going to have to find another technique if I was to make this consistently every time.
Act 3: Redemption
Between my first attempt at making "Ernest" and my third, I had experimented with some other citrus based shrubs,but it wasn't until I took a shot at making a lemon rosemary flavor that everything came into focus. I based the flavor profile on a rosemary lemonade that I'm pretty obsessed with from a local pizza restaurant called Tutta Bella. Their rosemary lemonade is fairly tart, but there is a sort of fresh piny undercurrent that kind of ties it all together.
Since my second attempt at "Ernest" had been a dud, and I was basing this new project on a lemonade, I figured, "Why not treat this like I'm making a lemonade?" The old method of crushing fruit with sugar was out the window, and I instead bought what felt like a whole raft full of lemons and juiced the lot of them. Was this considerably more work? Yes. Did my wrists feel like I had spent an entire night typing out the complete works of Shakespeare? Pretty much. But I had a feeling that this method would give me a lot more control over the flavor since the tartness and flavor of the collected juices were now going to be a known constant, taking at least some guesswork out of the equation. I then added some sugar, making a sort of lemon simple syrup. As the syrup was already made, there wasn't any reason to wait several hours before adding the vinegar, so in it went as well. After a quick stir, it went into the fridge for a two week vacation.
When it finally came out, it was exactly what I was looking for. The lemon flavor was huge, it wasn't too sweet, and the vinegar gave it a very dry finish, which would make it a very refreshing drink, especially when lightened a touch by sparkling water. It would make a tasty beverage pairing with something rich or fried, where a sharp citrus would be helpful to cut those elements. The rosemary lent a nice little herbaceous note to it, without overpowering the lemon.
Having seen this technique work with "Lucrezia," I figured it should work with pretty much any citrus fruit that you could squeeze a reasonable amount of juice out of. Armed with this knowledge, I took a third stab at making a batch of:"Ernest," though in addition to the grapefruit juice/vinegar/sugar combination, I thought it might be nice to zest some grapefruit peel right into the jar for some extra aromatics. After two weeks of finger crossing and internal chants of "Please, please, please..." I was finally able to see how everything turned out.
After the first taste of it, my nerves settled quickly. This was a lot more like the first batch I did, though likely more easy to replicate without difficulty. I must say, the zest does make the whole thing seem a lot fresher and really seems to accentuate the actual grapefruit flavor. One caveat I might bring up is the fact that some grapefruit are really tart, but in a lot of instances I have found they are nowhere near as tart as people assume grapefruit really is. Be careful when dispensing the sugar. This one plays a little better when it retains the bite of the juice and the vinegar, and too much sugar can push it into into cordial-style territory.
What might one do with "Ernest"? Well, cocktails immediately come to mind. I think mixing this with gin would likely be an excellent choice, for starters. If you wanted to go a little more low octane it might make a nice aperitif when combined with light aromatized wines such as Lillet or Cocchi Americano.
For our non drinking friends, I have tasted it mixed with a bit of Fever Tree tonic, and it was quite delicious. If you're not into the bitterness of tonic water, just go with good old fashioned club soda, and it will make a lovely sparkler that anyone should enjoy. Except for people on heart medications and grapefruit haters. Not for them.
In the same vein, "Lucrezia" also makes a very refreshing soda, and is equally good with still water rendering it more of a sophisticated version of lemonade. I would suggest that cocktail folks might want to try it with either gin or vodka if they are so inclined.
So if there were a lesson to take away this week, it is two-fold. Number one, just because something turns out great the first time, doesn't mean you should rest on your laurels, and with a few tweaks, you can figure out solutions to maintain a good level of consistency in your results.
Have fun and I will see you next week.
This week's shrubs are named for famous author Ernest Hemingway, who liked grapefruit well enough to have a daiquiri variant named after him, and the infamous Lucrezia Borgia, part of the fabled and allegedly amoral Borgia family of the 15th Century.