Monday, June 22, 2009

What's All the Shrub-Bub?

Since I had lots of herbs on hand this past weekend -- and had just finished reading the excellent book Growing 101 Herbs That Heal -- I spent a good bit of food preservation time working with vinegar.

First there were the herbal vinegars, steeping sage and basil in cider vinegar (in separate jars) and packing comfrey and plantain leaves into another jar, topped off with the same, for a calcium-rich brew.

Then I pulled out my copy of Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning and hit upon a recipe for radishes preserved in vinegar. I scrubbed and trimmed several small French breakfast radishes and layered them in a jar with lime slices, onion slices, and some peppercorns.

I filled the jar with vinegar, closed it, and set it aside to age (three months!).

Tonight, however, I wanted to try something completely new. Back in my early days at the Ethicurean, I wrote an article about the fabulous local cider vinegar I'd found at the farmers' market, and one of the comments on the post alluded to berry-flavored vinegar-based drinks called shrubs.

I was intrigued, and the more I read about them as old-fashioned ways of preserving fruit and creating thirst-quenching drinks, the more I wanted to try them.

Happily, the inspiring book Wild Fermentation mentions a very simple recipe for shrub: steep fresh fruit in cider vinegar for up to two weeks, strain, sweeten with honey (or sugar), and bottle. When you want to use it for drinks, simply mix the shrub with filtered or sparkling water, and enjoy.

Well, shoot. I can do that.

So I did. (At least, I got them started.) I had plenty of strawberries left from last week's CSA pickup, so I filled a pint jar loosely with cut berries and topped it with vinegar. In the smaller jar, I added not quite a cup of foraged mulberries and followed the same procedure.

By next weekend, they should be ready for the final steps, and maybe I'll even get a chance to sample one or the other.

Let's hope they're worth making a fuss about!

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