Monday, September 17, 2012
Acetic acid is powerful stuff, capable of clearing your sinuses, cleaning your bathroom, or transforming bland and perishable cucumbers into zingy pickles with a near-infinite shelf life.
Along with water, acetic acid is the essential ingredient in vinegar--but it need not be the dominant flavor. Brewing vinegar directly from tasty ingredients such as fruits and grains ("pure vinegars") or adding these ingredients to vinegar prior to a second, shorter fermentation process ("compound vinegars") can result in something more like a liqueur: smooth, intense, aromatic, and even drinkable, usually as an apertif, digestif, or diluted into a kind of spritzer. In many places, that mixture of fruit vinegar and water or soda water is known as "shrub".
Home-brewed compound vinegars have a long history and after a quiet spell have seen a recent bump in prominence. Making your own is easy (shrub is the jam of lazy DIYers) and relatively cheap if you use the fecund-est local fruit of the moment (in my case, cherries).
4 lbs cherries, washed, sorted, stemmed, and pitted
4 c vinegar (I used Bragg's apple cider; depending on your fruit you could use white, balsamic...)
1/2 c sugar (to taste)
-Put the fruit in a large non-reactive pot or several glass jars and add enough vinegar to cover.
-Let the fruit sit, covered, at room temperature temperature for a week, stirring well each day.
-On Day 7 or 8, stir in the sugar and heat the fruit to a low boil for about an hour.
-Remove from the heat and when the mix is cool enough to handle, strain the liquid into clean jars. Reserve the fruit solids (see below).
-Mix chilled shrub with water or soda water to taste, or sip straight.
Why waste all that yummy fruit mush? If shrub makes for a refreshing drink, it's off-the-charts invigorating as a frozen treat.
leftover shrub fruit (of course this is best done with fruits such as pitted cherries that are entirely edible)
sugar to taste
spices and flavorings to taste
approx. 2 T vodka (depending on the volume of fruit)
-If your fruit is chunkier that you like in a frozen dessert, whizz it in a food processor.
-Add just enough water to dissolve about 1/2 c of sugar; stir, shake in a jar, or heat gently until the sugar grains completely melt.
-Mix the fruit and syrup.
-Add any desired spices or flavorings (to my cherry mush I added a little cinnamon, ground cardamom, and black pepper, plus about 1 T of almond extract).
-Stir in a little neutrally-flavored alcohol to keep the mush from freezing rock-solid.
-Pour into a plastic tub or bowl and place in the freezer. To create a softer texture, break up the ice crystals by raking the shrubet with a fork every hour or so as it freezes, then give it a final fluff about 15 minutes before serving.
For more on shrub's history and resurgence in popularity, check out this NYT article.