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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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Soda Week at Table Matters

I have spent the better part of today canning 55 pounds of tomatoes, five pounds of peaches and a few other edible odds and ends. My refrigerator is cleaner than it’s been in weeks and there’s a load of laundry gently chugging away in the other room. This can mean only one thing. I’m getting ready to head out on vacation (I can’t be the only one who feels compelled to finish all pending culinary projects before leaving town). Before I dash out the door, I want to point your attention at something I happen to think you all might like.

Recently, a team of folks over at Drexel University relaunched a website called Table Matters. It’s a daily site dedicated to stories about eating, cooking, drinking and the many delicious things that can happen around a dining table. I’m contributing to this new site on a weekly basis and my pieces are going to be about kitchen skills and from-scratch cooking, which should be a nice compliment to the canning and preserving content I write here.

This week, they’ve been running stories about soda (and who doesn’t like something cool and carbonated, particularly this time of year?). My contribution was about my love for the idea of cocktail hour paired with my unfortunately inability to hold my alcohol. The resolution? A trio of recipes for homemade shrubs, syrups and herbal infusions. You’ll also find stories on root beer floats, a guide to Philadelphia’s tastiest house-made sodas and easy cocktails that use soda as their base published in the name of Soda Week.

Take a little time to check out Table Matters. Though this incarnation of the site is still young, the writing is strong, the topics are fun and the recipes are seasonal and make for mighty good eating. It’s a nice addition to the food conversation and I’m quite pleased to be a part of it.

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Drink Week: Blueberry Ginger Shrub

My contribution to Drink Week 2012 (an event I organized!), a batch of Blueberry Ginger Shrub, is embarrassingly tardy. However, since I regularly operate under the principle that late is better than nothing at all, here’s my concoction. 

I’ve been smitten with shrubs since I made my first one last summer. Shrubs are a combination of fruit, sugar and vinegar. Left to sit for a few days (or even longer), they develop a deep, sweet-tart flavor that I’ve come to crave. I most often use mine by stirring a splash into fizzy water, but they are also terrific in cocktails.

pouring apple cider vinegar

The nice thing about making shrubs is that they’re easy and keep for a very, very long time in cold storage. My kind of preservation project. It’s a very basic combination of mashed fruit, sugar and vinegar. The regular proportion is that you use equal parts of all ingredients, but I like to tweak it ever so slightly. To that end, I use a little extra fruit, cut back on the sugar a bit and keep the vinegar strong (I like puckery things).

Most of the time, I make a very basic shrub. My thinking has always been that I didn’t want to dilute the strong fruit flavor. But blueberries go so nicely with ginger, and I had a little chunk of fresh ginger kicking around the kitchen. I may never go back to the plain version.

grating ginger

To make this particular shrub, I tumbled a heaping cup of blueberries into the bottom of a quart jar and covered them with 3/4 cup granulated white sugar. Using a muddler, I smashed until the blueberries were a sweet, pulpy mess.

I added one cup of unfiltered apple cider vinegar and swirled the jar to help it incorporate. Finally, I grated a 2-inch piece of ginger directly over the jar (there was some spillage) and stirred one last time. After that, the jar went into the fridge to rest. While this no-cook process takes a little longer than one where you apply heat, I find that it just tastes better.

blueberry ginger shrub

Once the fruit has steeped for a couple days, and there’s no sign of any granulated bits of sugar, you can strain your shrub. I simply pass mine through a fine mesh sieve, but it is imperfect and doesn’t catch every last fruit particle. I’m okay with this. However, if you’re more of a perfectionist than I, feel free to run it through a length of cheesecloth. Waste-averse often use the spent fruit pulp in muffins or smoothies. I manage that about half the time I make a shrub.

What fun fruit syrups, shrubs and cocktails have you been dreaming up lately?

 

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DIY Drinks From Your Favorite Preserving Bloggers

Last summer, I spent a week writing about a few homemade drinking vinegars, boozy infusions and fruit syrups that can be stirred into fizzy water, cocktails and other cool drinks. This summer, I wanted to feature more of these refreshing sips (though I still can’t get enough of the Rosemary Lemon Syrup I wrote about during that time last year).

However, since this has been something of an intense summer, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it all on my own. So I invited some of my favorite preserving bloggers to join in the fun and contribute to Drink Week 2012. They were game and have been brewing, infusing, fermenting and simmering up some mighty tasty things for the last week.

Check back to this post daily, I’ll be linking up to all the contributors as each of their posts go live.

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