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Cherry Kompot

cherries in colander

When I was 16, I went to Poland. It was the first time I’d ever been outside of North America and I was thrilled to be seeing more of the world. I went with a small group of fellow teenagers from my Unitarian church, to be native speakers at English immersion camp outside of Warsaw.

It’s been twenty years now since that trip and while many of the specifics have blurred, I still remember the meals clearly. They were served family style at long tables, with benches on either side. Breakfast and dinner were much the same, consisting of sturdy rolls, cheese, butter, yogurt, jam, sliced cucumber, fruit, and often some ham or sausage. We drank tea, milk, and water.

cherries in water

The main meal was served at lunchtime and always consisted of three simple courses. First there would be soup (I had my first chilled cucumber soup that summer). Then there would be cooked meat, potatoes, and a vegetable. To finish, a fruit-based dessert. And in the upper right hand corner of the place setting, you also had a small glass filled with lukewarm juice, with a piece of cherry or plum resting at the bottom. This was the kompot.

steaming kompot

The first time I was confronted by a glass of kompot, I was wary. It was unlike any beverage I’d had in the US and the soften fruit in the bottom gave me pause. After one taste, I was among the kompot converted. It was mildly sweet and refreshing, reminding me slightly of what Kool Aid might be if made with fresh fruit.

finished compete

A few weeks back, 20 pounds of cherries arrived on my doorstep, sent by the Washington State Fruit Commission as part of the Canbassador program. As I gazed at those cherries pondering how to best use them, a memory of the kompot popped into my head. After a few quick searches, I cobbled a recipe together and brewed up a batch of cherry kompot. After it had cooled a little, I ladled up a glass and it tasted of that summer 20 years ago.

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Meyer Lemon Ginger Concentrate

bowl of meyer lemons

I know. This blog has been awfully citrus heavy of late. So much so that it wouldn’t be a stretch to rename things Citrus in Jars (with the occasional fermented vegetable). Yet, here I am again, with more lemons. And not even a project-y marmalade or curd. Just a concentrate.

sliced lemons

Thing is, it’s been something of a brutal winter here in Philadelphia (though not as soul sucking as our friends in New England have had to live through) and I’m still working my way through the citrus recipes for the natural sweeteners book. I just don’t have a whole lot of creativity left. And so I return to the things I know and love.

simmering lemon syrup

And these citrus-based concentrates? I LOVE them because they are delicious and versatile. You can use them to sweeten your fizzy water (I know I suggest this a lot, but as someone who drinks many quart jars of water a day, it makes for a nice occasional treat). They work well in cocktails. And I’ve yet to meet a poundcake that appreciate a few drizzles of flavored syrup.

What’s more, next time you want to make a pitcher of lemonade, you can just pop open a jar, dilute it with water, ice it down, and serve.

grated ginger

I used Meyer lemons in this batch, but if those feel too dear, just use plain old grocery store lemons. It will be a little bit more tart, but you can always temper that by adding the juice of one orange to the mix.

Another place where you might want to make a switch is in sweetener. I used evaporated cane juice, but one could just as easily go with honey. Just use about a third less if you make that swap.

Finally, let’s talk ginger. I grated a huge hunk of ginger on a microplane until I had 1/4 cup of pulp. If the lemon ginger combo isn’t your thing, you could also try some lavender, cardamom, or even a little cayenne if you want a spicy kick. Just strain the syrup through a tightly woven sieve before canning.

finished lemon ginger concentrate

One last thing. If you don’t choose to zest your lemons for a salt blend before squeezing, make sure to heap the into a jar and cover them with white vinegar. Let them steep for a couple of days and then strain out all the spent lemon rinds. They will have given their essence to the vinegar and it will make for a very lovely cleaning fluid. I use it as a countertop spray and it cuts through the grease like you wouldn’t believe.

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Spiced Cranberry Shrub + Tangy Cranberry Applesauce

cranberries

Yikes. It’s been a whole lot of sale, sponsorship, and giveaway posts around here lately, hasn’t it. Let’s get back to the pickles and preserves, shall we?

I know most people see Thanksgiving as the high point of the cranberry season, but I keep buying and using them until the last bag disappears from store shelves. I also always stash a few bags in the freezer for those moments in February when I must have some cranberry bread.

adding sugar to cranberries

Last week, inspired the last drops of liquid left over from a batch of pickled cranberries, I devised a quick cranberry shrub. It is just a combination of cranberries, apple cider vinegar, a little water (since cranberries are so dry, they don’t add any moisture to the party), sugar, and spices. You simmer it all together until the cranberries pop.

spices into cranberries

Once the contents of your saucepan have had a chance to cool (and steep just a bit more), you position a strainer over a large bowl or measuring cup and run the contents of the pot through it. You end up with a very tasty, tart syrup and a sticky mound of berries and whole spices.

spiced cranberry shrub

I like to dip a few spoonfuls of the shrub into a wide mouth quart jar and then fill it all the way up with fizzy water. The sharpness of the vinegar carries the flavor of the berries better than a syrup made without any additional acid and so it takes very little to brighten up a water or your favorite cocktail (I have it on very good authority that 3/4oz cranberry shrub + 1oz whiskey + 3oz champagne makes for a deliciously celebratory adult beverage).

open cranberry shrub

If you choose to make this, I highly suggest that you take those sticky solids and push them through a food mill or fine mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a highly spiced cranberry paste. You could serve it just as it is with some cheddar cheese (packed into a little ramekin) or you could do like I did and stir it into a batch of freshly made applesauce. It adds gorgeous color to the sauce and would be awfully good with a batch of freshly fried latkes (which starts on December 16).

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Hibiscus Concentrate Recipe

hibiscus flowers

When I was a kid, there was a small chain of healthy Mexican restaurants in the Pacific Northwest called Macheezmo Mouse (they’ve been closed for at least ten years, but I hear there’s a movement afoot to bring back the Mouse).

They served brown rice, black beans, and whole wheat tortillas long before anyone other fast casual restaurant was even considering the idea of adding whole grains to their menu. They had a location just a mile or so away from our house in NW Portland and so it was a regular stop for us on nights when my parents weren’t cooking.

hibiscus in a jar

The soda fountain at Macheezmo Mouse was a serve yourself situation, and in addition to the regular corporate offerings, they always had a drink available that they called Cactus Cooler. It was deep red, super tangy, quite sweet and I adored it.

measuring hibiscus

It wasn’t until years later than a friend served me a glass of iced and lightly sweetened hibiscus tea (also known as agua de Jamaica), did I realize that the Cactus Cooler of my youth was nothing more than an infusion of hibiscus flowers, made on a very large scale.

hibiscus and sugar

Recently, I picked up a bag of dried hibiscus flowers at an international grocery store. At first, I made large batches of hibiscus tea, but as so often happens to me, quickly ran out of space in my refrigerator for a two-quart jar of the stuff (I dream of having a larger fridge on a near-daily basis). So, I used my skills as a small batch maker and scaled down my hibiscus operation.

concentrate in a measuring cup

Instead of making an iced tea, I opted to make a concentrate. Each batch makes just two cups of deeply red, sweet, tangy liquid. I pour a tablespoon or two into either sparkling or flat water, and have even used a couple drops as a sweetener in a mug of hot herbal tea (it works gorgeously). It also is a nice addition to cocktails and I plan on making it a regular player in my warm weather kitchen. Hibiscus-ade for everyone!

hibiscus in soda water

Hibiscus naturally contains a goodly amount of acid (according to Wikipedia, it contains 15-30% organic acids). I’ve not done a pH test on this concentrate, but my sense is that it is probably high enough in acid to be safe for boiling water bath canning.

However, at the moment, I’m opting to make small batches that I can keep in the fridge and use relatively quickly. I do plan on giving it a pH test in the near future and will add canning instructions to this recipe if it passes muster.

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Meyer Lemon Syrup

row of meyer lemon syrup

I’ve been a little off my preserving game of late. My pantry is still full to bursting, so I haven’t had much in the way of motivation to make anything new (though truly, that’s never stopped me before). Add to the fact this is one of the least interesting times of the year for produce, and it’s been at least two weeks since I pulled my canning pot out of the cabinet.

small meyer lemons

Even my annual box of Meyer lemons from the Lemon Ladies failed to motivate me fully. I made jam and curd, but beyond that, I’ve been keeping the bulk of my lemons in my crisper drawer, waiting for inspiration.

spent meyer lemon rinds

Knowing that my busy season is coming, I finally turned my attention to those lemons today. As I pondered them, I realized that I was experiencing something akin to writer’s block, only with preserves. I put a lot of pressure on myself to come up with interesting and novel recipes, and those expectations were tangling me up but good.

meyer lemon vinegar

As soon as I understood what was going on, I decided to let myself entirely off the hook. I released my crazy expectations and spent a moment thinking about what I could make from those lemons that I would most use and enjoy. After about two seconds, I realized that was I most wanted was a batch of Meyer lemon syrup.

meyer lemon syrup

Think of this like lemonade concentrate. It’s tangy first, sweet second, and is one of my favorite things drizzled into a glass of iced sparkling water. Cathartic canning, at its best.

Also! Once all your lemons are juiced, gather up the peels, push them into a large jar, and cover them with white vinegar. Let them sit for awhile, until the vinegar is infused with the lemon essence. Use it for household cleaning.

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The 10 Pound Cherry Challenge

two pounds of cherries

Earlier in the summer, I canned my way through two flats of rain-split sweet cherries from Beechwood Orchards. I made butter, chutney, this batch of sweet and sour cherry jam, rosemary pickled cherries, and cherry lime preserves (hmm, doesn’t look like I’ve posted that recipe anywhere). When all that was done, I took a deep breath and figured I was done with cherries for the season.

OXO cherry pitter

Then, along came a chance to participate in the 10 Pound Cherry Challenge that OXO was hosting in conjunction with the Northwest Cherry Growers. And despite a little schedule insanity, I just couldn’t say no.

cherries in an OXO bowl

And so, mere moments before I was leaving for my trip to Boston last week, I took delivery of ten pounds of sweet, lovely cherries and a box of OXO goodies, including their 11 pound scale, a set of their nesting bowls and colanders, and two cherry pitters.

cherry clafoutis

I took a few of the cherries with me as a road trip snack, and stashed the rest in the fridge. While I was away (the trip was all of 2 1/2 days, so the cherries held just fine), I started imagining all the ways I could use and preserve them. I got home late on Saturday night, but was up early Sunday morning to pit the first pound for a quick clafoutis.

rum and sweet cherries

If you’ve not had one before, this traditionally French dessert resembles a Dutch baby or a firmly set custard. If you’re hewing closely to the way it’s done in France, you do not pit cherries before using them in this dessert. I prefer serving a version that uses pitted cherries, because it doesn’t endanger the dental work of your guests and just makes for a more pleasant eating experience.

pouring rum

However, once the clafoutis was done, I ran out of steam. You see, we did the photo shoot for my next cookbook last Monday through Thursday and I had four nights of teaching and speaking last week as well. By the time Friday came along, I was entirely spent, my apartment was wrecked, and I had a to-do list a mile long. So I did three things.

I shared two pounds of cherries (and one of the OXO pitters) with my friend and cookbook editor Kristen (she just happens to be an avid preserver and lives just a couple miles from me). I funneled four pounds into a roomy slow cooker and started another batch of sweet cherry butter (a little more never hurts). And I took a cue from Maggie Battista of Eat Boutique fame (who put me up while I was in Boston) and started a batch of cherry-infused rum.

last drops of rum

Maggie had several jars of fruit-infused spirits sitting prettily in her kitchen while I was there and I couldn’t help but realize that it had been awhile since I’d combined fruit and booze to good effect. And so, I rummaged through our liquor cabinet until I came up with a bottle of light rum that I thought would benefit from a little fresh cherry flavor. I stemmed the remaining cherries, tumbled them into a pretty jar and covered them with rum. Not the most inventive thing ever, but it sure will make for a tasty tipple when the days get chilly.

If you’re interested in seeing what some of the other 10 Pound Cherry Challenge participants did with their cherries, here’s who else was playing along:

For more on the challenge, make sure to check out OXO (Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram) and the Northwest Cherry Growers (Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram). And, for even more cherry goodness, there’s also a project-specific Pinterest board.

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