MAKE: Thirst Quenching Drinking Vinegar - Cherry Balsamic Shrub
The house needs cleaning, the weeds need pulling, the greenhouse and garden shed need cleaning and organization… so where should I begin?
I think I’ll go pick cherries.
Back home with 20 lbs. of Bing and Rainier cherries, I need to re-org the To-Do List. The cherries need to be pitted and processed. (BTW - After trying several pitters this is the one that makes pitting big amounts of cherries easiest)
When you live in a region filled with historical fruit orchards, you are obligated to pick and preserve fruit. The freshness and intact nutrients factor is the big draw but supporting local farmers, growers, ranchers, beekeepers and orchardists helps to maintain a local food economy.
Here in the PNW cherries are big business – in fact, my home state of Washington is the largest producer. Thanks to a diversity of varieties and regional microclimates, cherries can be harvested from June through August.
Like all growers, orchardists must contend with the vagaries of the weather, the necessity of pollinators, the opportunistic birds, and the all-at-once harvest that can only be done by human hands. In the blog article, “All The Crazy Things Farmers Do To Bring You Their Cherry Crop,” Saveur offers a peek into the work of cherry growers.
A MUST-HAVE BOOK: WILD DRINKS AND COCKTAILS by Emily Han
Still, 20 lbs. is a lot of damn cherries. My plan: dry enough to fill a half gallon jar, freeze some for winter recipes and make a few jars of cherry preserves. I am intrigued with two recipes: Cherry Salsa and Cherry Chutney. Cherry and Blackberry Ice cream are on the agenda, too.
I put a small dent into them last night by making Cherry Bounce and Cherry Balsamic Shrub – both recipes from one of my favorite books: Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han. I bought this book last year and am pleasantly surprised at how many recipes I have made. The book is filled with an array of modern twists on what are mostly historical drinks that fell out of favor when sugar-laden carbonated soda water became widely available. If you want to make drinks like shrubs, switchels, squashes, cordials, liquid fermentations, tonics and infusions as well as digestive bitters, medicinal oxymels and syrups, then this is the book for you. Emily is also an herbalist and wild-food enthusiast so many of her recipes feature medicinal herbs and nutrient-dense wild foods. She has given me permission to post her Cherry Balsamic Shrub recipe.
THE HISTORY OF SHRUBS
First, let’s define shrub. The word is derived from the Arabic word, sharab which means “to drink”. Shrubs are fruit and/or herb-infused vinegar syrups sweetened with sugar or honey…now before you dismiss the thought of drinking vinegar, hear me out. They are delicious and thirst-quenching when mixed with sparkling water. I just finished the last of my Rhubarb Shrub.
Shrubs came about in the pre-refrigeration centuries as a result of using vinegar to preserve seasonal fruits. After straining out the fruit, the vinegar was sweetened with honey and then mixed with water or alcohol and served in both homes and public houses. Colonial America continued the tradition substituting sugar for honey. More recently, American restaurants and bars re-discovered this sweet and sour syrup, using them to flavor custom cocktails.
Want to host an unusual cocktail party? Make a variety of fruit and herb-based shrubs, visit the liquor store for a basic selection of inexpensive spirits (vodka, bourbon, gin, rum and tequila) and let your guests make their own concoctions.
SHRUB MAKING TIPS
Which brings me to the shrub I made this week: Cherry Balsamic Shrub. Save your expensive balsamic vinegar for dipping and glazing; the cheaper versions work just fine for shrubs. You can substitute white sugar or honey for the turbinado sugar but I prefer the turbinado (which retains the natural molasses). Never substitute distilled white vinegar for white wine vinegar; the former is for cleaning the house.
Shrubs need two weeks to meld flavors before using so plan accordingly. The author of Wild Drinks and Cocktails suggests blending with bourbon for a cocktail version. She also suggests drizzling a teaspoon over a bowl of ice cream.
RECIPE: CHERRY BALSAMIC SHRUB
Yield: About 2 cups (470 ml)
Melding time: 2 weeks
2 cups (310 g) pitted sweet cherries
1 cup (235 ml) balsamic vinegar
1 cup (235 ml) white wine vinegar
1 vanilla bean, split (or substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 cups (384 g) turbinado sugar
Place the cherries in a bowl and lightly crush them using a potato masher or a fork. Transfer the cherries and their juices to a sterilized quart (1L) jar. Pour the balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar into the jar, making sure the cherries are completely submerged. Tuck the vanilla bean into the vinegar, too.
Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth. Cover the jar with a non-reactive lid (metal lids interact with vinegar and it’s not pretty). If you don’t have a plastic lid, slip a piece of waxed paper between the jar and metal lid. Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 1 week, shaking it daily and ensuring that the cherries and vanilla bean stay submerged. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard solids. (Though I will keep mine and drop a cherry or two in my shrub drinks.) Combine the vinegar and sugar in new sterilized container with a non-reactive lid. Refrigerate for 1 week, shaking daily to help dissolve the sugar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 year (but I assure you it won’t last that long).
To use: Fill a glass 1/3 full with shrub and add sparkling water.
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