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How to Make Your Own Tonic Water

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here to with a how-to post designed to help you make tonic water syrup! A fun DIY project for an August weekend. – Marisa

When hot weather comes to Philadelphia, that’s my cue to pick up a bottle of gin — because there’s no better quencher at the end of a long, hot bike commute or gardening session than a bright, herbaceous gin and tonic.

In recent years, I’ve started investing in better, locally produced gins to make my favorite summertime cocktail: bottles of Philadelphia Distilling’s Bluecoat and Palmer Distilling’s Liberty Gin are made in the city; Manatawny Still Works’ Odd Fellows Gin is produced about an hour outside Philly in Pottstown. All three are delicious in a crisp G&T.

With quality craft gin, homemade seltzer (thanks to my secondhand SodaStream), and fresh-squeezed lime juice, I found myself just one ingredient away from a truly bespoke cocktail: homemade tonic water.

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How to Make Elderflower Cordial

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones has stopped by (on her birthday! Happy day, Alex!) to show us how to make elderflower cordial with fresh, foraged elderflower blossoms. Read on to see how easy it is to make your own batch! – Marisa

Freshly picked elderflowers for elderflower cordial

As an apartment-dweller who loves plants, I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood rich in community garden spaces. I can count a dozen community gardens less than a mile from my home in West Philly; I currently tend plots in three of them.

The garden I’ve been with the longest is one of the oldest in the neighborhood, built on the site of a demolished apartment building down the block from where I live. It’s been around for a few decades, and the common spaces have been planted with perennial fruit trees and shrubs that have had lots of time to establish.

While the peaches, plums, and figs never seem to ripen, our sour cherry tree, gooseberry bush, and kiwi berry vines are prolific. We also boast a specimen of one of the most exciting (to me) perennial fruits: An elderberry bush.

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Honey Sweetened Rhubarb Meyer Lemon Cordial

Celebrating the arrival of summer this holiday weekend? Toast the season with a glass of bubbly water or a fancy grown-up cocktail sweetened with this Honey Sweetened Rhubarb Meyer Lemon Cordial.

A finished bottle of honey sweetened rhubarb meyer lemon cordial.

One of the constants of my culinary calendar is rhubarb syrup. I make a batch or two every spring when those rosy stalks show up at my local farmers market. Some years, I make a basic version with nothing more than rhubarb, sugar, and water. Other times, I’ve spiked my batches with ginger, rosemary, vanilla, or parsley.

Stalks of rhubarb for honey sweetened rhubarb meyer lemon cordial.

This year’s version (which I’m officially calling Honey Sweetened Rhubarb Meyer Lemon Cordial) is made from diced rhubarb, honey, and thinly sliced rounds of Meyer lemon (regular lemon would also work).

Chopped rhubarb for honey sweetened rhubarb meyer lemon cordial.

One of the things I love about making rhubarb syrup is that it barely feels like work. It takes no time to chop the rhubarb, slice the lemon, and measure out the water and honey. As long as you remember to reduce the heat to medium-low after it comes to a simmer, you hardly even need to stir it.

Rhubarb and lemon slices in a pot for honey sweetened rhubarb meyer lemon cordial.

After about 20 minutes on the stove, I turn off the heat and let it cool just long enough that there’s no chance that I’ll burn myself as I pour it through a strainer. In the past, I’ve used cheesecloth for an extra-smooth syrup, but these days I cannot be bothered with the mess that it causes. In this case, fully embrace the path of imperfection.

Straining cooked rhubarb for honey sweetened rhubarb meyer lemon cordial.

Once the syrup is fully strained, it goes into a bottle and into the fridge. Rhubarb is acidic enough that one could can the finished product, but I find that I prefer to make this in small enough batches to be used up within a few weeks. I add it to sparkling water, drizzle it over bowls of fruit salad, and combine it with white wine vinegar and olive oil for a quick salad dressing.

Side view of straining honey sweetened rhubarb meyer lemon cordial.

How are you preserving and transforming rhubarb these days?

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Raspberry Meyer Lemon Shrub

This raspberry meyer lemon shrub is the perfect take for anyone who’s a little bit skeptical about the idea of using syrup-y, vinegar infused concoctions in their own kitchens. The lemon tempers the vinegar and makes for a bright, flavorful concentrate.

This month’s Food in Jars Mastery Challenge has been all about jellies and shrubs. We’ve been doing a lot of talking about jellies here on the blog, but not nearly as much about shrubs. Today, that changes.

This raspberry meyer lemon shrub is one of my favorites because the berries bring vivid color and flavor, and the lemons help moderate the sharpness of the vinegar.

This is an uncooked shrub and you start simply by muddling 6 ounces of raspberries and 8 ounces of granulated sugar together (I love my Masontops Pickle Packer for this task).

Once the berries are well smashed into the sugar, you zest 2 meyer lemons into the jar.

Cut open those lemons and squeeze the juice into the jar.

Then, in goes 1 cup of apple cider vinegar.

Stir it together and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, pull the jar out of the fridge. Give it a good stir to make sure that all the sugar has dissolved into the fruit juice.

Set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the macerating fruit and syrup through.

Use a silicone spatula and really work the seeds around in the sieve so that you get all the liquid into the bowl.

Such a great color!

Once the shrub is finished, it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. Pour it into sparkling water, drizzle it on fruit, use it to top ice cream, or make a vinaigrette out of it.

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Mango Habañero Mint Shrub

Today’s guest post comes to us from Erin Urquhart. She’s stopped by to share her recipe for Mango Habañero Mint Shrub. Welcome to Food in Jars, Erin! 

Over the past couple of years I have began to notice that unintentionally many of my preserved goods either include alcohol or pair perfectly with alcohol- a strange coincidence, indeed. I’m beginning to think that I “subconsciously” come up with pickle ingredients with martinis on the mind. By no surprise, I admit that I am a sucker for any type of brined, vinegar-based, or bitter cocktail.

Having only ever read about shrubs on ingredient lists, I was surprised to learn the very intentional alcohol related origin of liquid shrubs. As story goes, shrubs originally gained popularity in the 1680s among English smugglers who were trying to avoid paying import taxes on booze being shipped from Europe. To avoid detection and thus taxation, smugglers would sink barrels full of alcohol off the Atlantic coast to be retrieved at a later time. Upon retrieval, the addition of the shrub fruit flavors were used to mask the taste of alcohol fouled by sea water. Who knew!?

Unless your pirate heritage runs deep, nowadays, shrubs, aka “drinking vinegars” are making a come back in the international cocktail scene. Due to their high concentration of vinegar and sugar, shrubs can be prepared in advance made as a pre-made drink mixture. When Marisa announced the 2017 Food in Jars Mastery Challenge late last year, I found myself beyond excited with anticipation for all the creative and weird cocktail shrubs I planned to make.

Apparently, because my craft shrub confidence isn’t quite up to par to make more wild types of shrubs like a fennel fruit shrub, or a sweet tomato shrub, I decide to play it safe for this month’s challenge. This recipe presents a refreshing yet spicy shrub combination, a Mango Habañero Mint Shrub. To keep the flavors strong and fresh, I opted for the cold-pressed shrub method. Additionally, because I didn’t want to mask any pepper or mint, I chose the more delicate color and flavor profiles of champagne vinegar.

The resulting sweet heat of this mango shrub is pretty phenomenal. I admittedly coughed following first gulp (oops), “wow that’s really strong!!”. Alas, after bottling and letting it settle in the fridge for a couple days the taste is now just right, and it’ll only get better. For a stronger mint flavor, I recommend upping your fresh mint amount.

For a refreshing drink serve this Mango Habañero Mint Shrub with ice cold water/seltzer, or get spicy and serve it with the Tequila Shrub Cocktail listed below. Also, make sure you reserve that mango fruit pulp for an awesome topping for your Saturday morning french toast, or perhaps use it in a homemade spicy mango cornbread. Yum!

Scientist by day, pickler by night, Erin Urquhart (from Putting Up with Erin) has always had a deep affinity for pickles. She’s the type of person who is super disappointed if pickles aren’t included in every holiday spread. A regular contributor of pickle reviews to her local Durham, NC newspaper, she even drives a car with “Pickle” vanity license plates.

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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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