Thursday, August 6, 2009

blueberry shrub

While reading Eric Felten's How's Your Drink?, I became reacquainted with the concept of fruit shrubs. I first became fascinated last August after reading the "local flavor" Mixology Monday where several of the contributers made these concoctions from their native berries. Shrubs date back to colonial times when refrigeration was lacking and pickling fruit for later use provided refreshing beverages in the off season. While some shrubs use rum or other spirits to preserve the produce, the type I was interested in uses vinegar. Vinegar serves not only as a good preservative but it provides a tartness from the acetic acid that is similar to that of citric acid in lemons and limes. With the proper balance of sugar, the shrub syrup becomes an old school prepared sour mix of sorts.

So last week, I headed down to one of the local farmers' markets to see what local fruit was in season. While raspberries were in season, I know that Andrea is not a fan of them (fresh yes, processed no) so I opted for blueberries and bought 2 pints from one of the organic farm stands there. When I got home, I set to work preparing the berries for pickling. The recipe I chose was an old Southern one that I found on the web that I slightly modified:
4 cups fresh berries, about 16 ounces
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups sugar

• Place berries in a non-metal bowl or pitcher; add vinegar; use a potato ricer to mash the berries.
• Cover with plastic wrap or lid; refrigerate for 3 to 4 days.
• Squeeze berry and vinegar through a tea towel into a pot to extract all liquid; discard pressed solids.

• Stir in sugar; boil with lid on 2-3 minutes; let cool.
• Store in a tightly covered jar or bottle. Makes approx 36 fluid ounces.
I bottled my shrub on Saturday in time to take up a small sample to Jess (of this blog) and Tim's 11th wedding anniversary cocktail party. The recipe I made up on the spot for them was:
Rockport Cocktail
• 1 1/2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
• 3/4 oz Blueberry Shrub
• 1/2 oz Aperol
• 1 dash Fee's Aromatic Bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
The Rockport Cocktail was rather pleasing. Jess who dislikes citrus in her cocktails had no problem with the vinegar-based mix. The blueberry shrub worked rather well with the rhubarb and other flavors in Aperol, and both were balanced by the spicy rye whiskey. While the drink was well balanced, it did not highlight the blueberry as much as I would have liked so I created this at home a day or two later:
Veruca Salt
• 1 1/2 oz Hendrick's Gin
• 3/4 oz Blueberry Shrub
• 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
• 1 dash Homemade Grapefruit Bitters (or Orange Bitters)
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
The Veruca Salt was a lot more blueberry tasting due to the other ingredients being more subtly flavored. The Lillet and bitters worked with the vinegar to make an almost citrus-like taste to the drink. Instead of Lillet Blanc, I was considering using Dolin Blanc vermouth which would most likely make a great variation to this recipe.

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