The year 2012 has become my year of the shrub. It’s a method of preserving that dates to colonial times, although it’s new to me this year.
Shrub is such a funny name for this delectable concoction that lends itself to refreshing homemade sodas and eye-brightening cocktails. And I can’t get enough - my fridge is filled with canning jars of several varieties: right now peach, nectarine and plum.
I’m not a newcomer to homemade beverages. My homemade ginger ale is legendary at my house, and widely published, more or less. And lately, with the arrival of a crate of fruit from the generous souls at the Washington Fruit Growers, the clever folks behind Sweet Preservation, I’ve expanded my repertoire to put up some big batches of shrubs. The shrub method, using the classic preserving dynamic duo of sugar AND vinegar, make a luscious nectar perfect for cocktails, homemade sodas or drizzling on ice cream and stirred into yogurt.
Here’s my nectarine shrub fully steeped and ready for straining.
Saveur has a quick berry version (which in my opinion is a little too quick); there’s a helpful and lengthy discussion over at Serious Eats; and Culinate gives a nice overview along with a historial perspective. My simple method that works for berries and any stone fruit.
The idea is to use equal amounts of fruit (chopped if you’re using larger stone fruit), sugar and vinegar. You macerate the fruit in the sugar first, then add vinegar and steep a little more.
Simple nectarine shrub
1 cup chopped peaches, skin on
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
Dump the chopped nectarines into a sealable jar and pour the sugar on top. Seal and give the jar a good shake to distribute the sugar. Let steep in the refrigerator for a day or two until the nectarines have exuded juice and the bottom of the jar looks syrupy. Pour in the vinegar and shake again. Let steep in the refrigerator for about a week. Strain the fruit (use it in smoothies or with yogurt). Store in the refrigerator.
How to enjoy your luscious shrub
I like to pour about a quarter cup into a champagne flute and top with sparkling water for a lovely nectarine shrub fizz.
Or consider a shrub cocktail: pour your shrub over ice with the spirit of your choice. Vodka and bourbon both work well. Shake in a cocktail shaker or top with sparkling water.
My early-fall favorite is two parts peach shrub with one part bourbon, with lots of ice, served in a Mason jar. Perfect for sitting on the Adirondack chair on the back porch!
I’ve embarked on a jam-arama lately. I have a lineup of fun preserving posts for you. Just not yet.
First, the back story.
The wonky weather in Michigan wreaked havoc on the fruit there, so imagine my delight when a case of Washington fruit arrived at my door, compliments of the fab folks at Washington State Fruit Commission and SweetPreservation.com, and the invitation to join them again as a Canbassador (I hear there may be sashes). In addition to abundance, the season out west is a little different, thus extending the months we can enjoy the lusciousness.
Plus I got a charming note from a Mr. James Michael waxing poetic about the great growing characteristics of the region, and the great balance of flavor in the fruit. I wanted to make him proud, but creating something that I would love as much as my peach rosemary preserves or brandied cherries.
And so began a grand experiment with shrubs and jams, made with various combinations of plums and nectarines and peaches. Oh my.
Those recipes are on the way.
While I was getting my thoughts together, I needed a quick fix. This is one of those improv recipes that’s not really a recipe, just a delicious marriage of fruit with oil, herbs and wine to enhance the flavor. A perfect dessert and super simple.
Roasted stone fruit with olive oil, rosemary and riesling
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking dish. Add sliced peaches, nectarines and plums, or your favorite stone fruit. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat - a tablespoon or two will do depending on the amount of fruit. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of riesling or other white wine. Sprinkle with minced rosemary. Roast in a single layer until the fruit becomes golden and caramelized, about 10 - 20 minutes depending on ripeness. Enjoy with ice cream or yogurt, or on its own.
With that important business taken care of, let’s move to the kitchen, shall we?
One of the most rewarding parts of road-tripping across the Midwest to research my book, was connecting chefs who share my dedication to farmers.
Like Julie Ridlon of St. Louis, who has Chanterelle Catering and also founded a farmers market in that fine city. She helped guide me to great growers and markets.
More important, Chef Julie converted me to eggplant.
I’ve never been much of a fan, and Julie told me getting fresh eggplant make all the difference. So here we are, almost greeting autumn, where eggplant and zucchini and tomatoes are groaning on the farm table, and I can’t get enough of it.
Thus it’s time to make caponata, a flavorful Italian salad that’s perfect for making after work because it’s SO easy, and also relaxing with all the chopping to do. And it’s easily adaptable to what you like and what’s in season. Julie likes it with goat cheese on a baguette. I like it straight from the jar.
So get out to your market and find a new food to convert to. Enjoy.
Caponata, Italian Eggplant Salad
Chef Julie Ridlon, Chanterelle Catering, St. Louis, Missouri
Makes about six cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onion, peeled and chopped (red or yellow)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large eggplant or 4 smaller eggplants (peel half the skin with a potato peeler and leave the rest for texture), cut into ½-inch cubes
3 - 4 summer squash cut into ½-inch cubes (try any combination of zucchini, zephyr or crookneck)
1 - 2 red, yellow or orange peppers, seeded and cut into cubes
2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2″ pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 - 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
3 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup raisins (use golden or dark raisins, or currants)
¼ cup capers drained, or 1/3 cup pitted calamata olives
8 large basil leaves, thinly sliced
Sauté the onion, garlic, eggplant, squash, peppers and celery for eight to 10 minutes, stirring to make sure it does not burn, until fork tender. Depending on ripeness, it may take an additional five to10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
As the vegetables cook, whisk together the cider vinegar, brown sugar, thyme and chili flakes, if using, in a small bowl. Toss together in a large bowl the tomatoes, raisins, capers or olives and basil. Stir in cooked eggplant mixture, and taste for balance, adding additional vinegar, salt or sugar. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.
This year, I got a late start due to the raised beds going in, and the new soil going in. And I was late buying my plants.
And then there was the weather.
You’d have thought that the heat would have given me a bumper crop. But the drought nixed that and I ended up buying a bushel of “canning tomatoes” at the farmers market, saving my backyard tomatoes for noshing.
Buying “seconds,” the less-than-perfect but just-as-flavorful version, is one of my favorite tips for extending the harvest and getting a bargain all at the same time.
One of my fondest flavor memories of my tomato bumper crop a few years back is the oven-dried Sungolds that punctuated my salads, pastas and flatbreads long through the winter. These sliced ones will do nicely.
Here is this year’s version, stacked in freezer-friendly Ball jars and topped with fruity olive oil. I’ll keep them in the door of the freezer and scoop them out when I need a summer fix. And the infused oil will be great for salads.
Oven-dried tomatoes in olive oil
Slice tomatoes and assemble on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with freshly-cracked black pepper. Turn oven on to lowest setting (in my case 170 degrees). Place in the oven for six to eight hours until they are dried yet still flexible. Cool, transfer to freezer-safe container, and top with olive oil. Store in the freezer for up to a year, if they last that long.
A short while ago, I spent a weekend at an annual fest hosted by my friends at Organic Valley in La Farge, nestled in the gorgeous Driftless region of Wisconsin. They’re a cooperative of almost 1,800 small farmers who place stewardship of creatures and soil as a priority, and each year they celebrate their community by hosting the Kickapoo Country Fair.
And wow, did I feel in with the in crowd. Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, was there. And so was Michel Nischan, who made his name as a chef and then followed his passion to make good food available as founder of the Wholesome Wave Foundation, which I wrote about in Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland. I describe the organization’s efforts to connect local agriculture and underserved communities, in part with grants that help people double food stamp benefits spent at farmers’ markets. My early interview with Michel helped me bond with market organizers across the Midwest, because they all wanted to hear about how
I was in the food adventure tent to talk about how to optimize your farmers market experience. I joined Organic Valley chef Alex Brevik, who cooked up two recipes from my book and showed everyone how to elevate their kitchen skill. We made caponata, a robust eggplant and tomato relish, great on a crusty baguette with goat cheese, from Chef Julie Ridlon in St. Louis, as well as Zingerman’s Deli Chef Roger Bowzer’s “melon-dramatic” salad, an eye- and mouth-popping salad of two different color melons, cucumber, red onions and salty cheese. I’ll be posting those recipes soon.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share my tips for shopping your market. Check out more about the Kickapoo Country Fair over on their Facebook page.
How to rock your farmers market
Go early. Producers will have more time to answer your questions, and you’ll be able to linger without a crowd pressing in behind you. Fill your canvas bag, then relax with a crusty loaf and enjoy the people watching.
Research market regs. A producer-only market requires the farmer to be behind the table. Some emphasize organic growers. Understand market regulations and decide what’s important for you.
Embrace the season. Come with a plan, but be flexible. Know how many meals you’ll want to cook for, how much fruit for snacking, etc. But don’t insist on specific ingredients. An abundance of onions might inspire you to make a savory tart one week, and the next week the first broccoli rabe means a pasta dinner. Try a new food every week.
Strike up a chat. Ask the producer about growing practices. Some growers are also avid cooks and fellow shoppers will have plenty of tips about ingredient combinations.
Bring a cooler. If you want fragile greens or perishable dairy products, it’s a good idea to have a cooler in case you’re waylaid on your way home.
Shadow a chef. In a lot of urban areas the chefs will shop the markets, particularly those on Wednesday, where they can stock up for the busy weekend. Ask them who they like to buy from.
Ask for seconds. Most vendors only sell first quality food. The second quality offerings, those with little blemishes, are great for sauces and sorbets. When you know your farmer you can ask them to bring you their battered berries and tomatoes, and they’ll probably give you a deal.
Come home and prep. This will keep you from tossing great food at the end of the week. Sauté your kale with garlic once you get home and store it in fridge containers. Caramelize a batch of onions. Be mindful of what foods might be fragile and should only be washed right before cooking. Only rinse berries right before cooking or eating, for instance, because they have a natural barrier that protects them from deterioration.
I’ve gotten past a bit of a peach aversion. It’s not that I disliked peaches. I loved eating slurpy peaches over the sink with the juices dripping down my chin, or in the backyard with the garden hose nearby for freshening up sticky hands.
But peach pie, peach jam, peach whatever. No, thanks. They were just too sweet for me.
I find these pickled peach slices delicious with ice cream or yogurt. Or whirl them up in a blender with brown sugar to make a syrup for cake or glaze for chicken.
Simple peach pickles
1 cup white vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 cups sliced peaches
Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the peaches and cook until barely tender. Spoon into to sterilized jars and cover with syrup. Cool on the counter. Store in the refrigerator for two weeks.
If you’d like to preserve them for later, Ball has a great guide to get you started.
What better time to share with you a peek at what’s coming up from the fabulous dairy folk behind Wisconsin Cheese? I was invited to a tasting of writers and cheesemongers, and it was old home week. I ran into specialty cheese experts Lisa from Pastoral and Dave and Sam from the Standard Market, as well as blogger friends Kathy from Stresscake, Rob from The Local Beet and Gemma the Pro Bono Baker.
And we feasted
I’d say my highlight was reconnecting with Bob Wills of Cedar Grove Cheese. I met him on a Wisconsin cheese tour a few years ago and was smitten with his collegial approach to his community of cheese makers. Whereas cheese makers from regions in other countries view the guys up the road as competition, Bob brings cheese makers together by opening his facility to folks getting started. Rock star cheese makers like Mike Gingrich of Uplands Cheese Company and Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy got their start there.
And now Bob has ventured to the city, opening the Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee as that city’s only urban cheese making facility. We tasted quark, a delicious spreadable that Bob describes as a cross between cream cheese and sour cream. it’s there in the picture with small batch tart cherry preserves from Quince & Apple. We predict great things ahead from Bob and his team, and I’m sure the beer makers must be delighted to have a local companion for their brews.
We also met the lovely Katie Hedrich from LaClare Farms, delicious introducing goat/cow blends.
And we tasted amazing butter from Nordic Creamery, where Al Bekkum tells us that his butter now outsells cheese.
The evening was a delight, with cheeses from smooth and fresh to aged and bold, created by a dozen cheese makers from across the rolling hills of Wisconsin. I’m sure you’ll join me in salivating until these great foods hit the stores and farmers markets.
Thyme is a perennial in my garden at Pinecone Meadow Farm, boldly seeding itself everywhere, blooming with pink flowers in late spring.
I love the flavor in just about everything, and it gives such a feeling of abundance compared to the tender rosemary and basil that I need to plant year after year. I’ve been known to go out to the garden in winter and dig through the snow for a big handful.
And thus I’ve whipped an early-season pesto, this time with arugula from Growing Home and cheese from Grassfields. As you can see from the photo, it’s great tossed with pasta.
Makes about 1 - 1½ cups
1 cup fresh thyme leaves
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ cup roasted salted almonds
1 cup loosely-packed arugula leaves
½ cup freshly grated hard cheese, such as white cheddar or Parmesan style
½ cup olive oil, or more for desired consistency
Dump the thyme, garlic, almonds and arugula into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until combine and nuts are coarsely ground. Pour in the cheese and give the food processor another pulse or two. Drizzle in the olive oil until you have a chunky paste. Stored covered in the fridge for a week.
Farmers’ Market of the Heartland update:
Click over to vist the lovely Jen at The Cottage Nest for a chance to win a copy of my book. Comment by midnight June 20.
We are having a mighty strange spring here in the Midwest. Sultry weather way early in the season, followed by killing frost. The strangeness did away with an entire season of apricots, peaches and a lot of apples in southwest Michigan’s fruit belt.
Strawberries fared a little better.
With berries surviving, we can appreciate the best of early summer. This is the time I wait for all year, when berries are red all the way through, luscious in texture and bursting with flavor.
So I’ve already been through one flat, making strawberry thyme jam (that post is coming up) and eating straight from the quart.
And making cake
This is a favorite simple skillet cake perfect for small households. I love using cast iron because you can serve directly from the pan, and it gives you a nice crisp edge. While you can pick up great cast iron at antique stores, Tennessee-based cookware manufacturer Lodge makes them pre-seasoned and sells them at great prices. My friend Mark Kelly works at Lodge, and he has collected some great cast iron images over at Pinterest.
Strawberry skillet cake
Makes one 8-inch cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup plus two tablespoons brown sugar, divided
1 egg, room temperature
½ cup plain yogurt, room temperature
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup sliced or quartered strawberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease an 8-inch cast iron skillet. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons brown sugar over strawberries and gently toss. Set aside to macerate.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Using a larger mixing bowl, whisk the brown sugar and egg until smooth. Whisk in the yogurt until blended, then repeat with the melted butter. Dump in the flour mixture and gently stir to combine. Don’t over mix or you’ll have a tough crumb. Scatter the berries over the batter and gently press down. Drizzle any juices from the berry bowl.
Bake in the center of the oven until golden, about 25 - 30 minutes.
I’m beyond flattered, because I’m so impressed with Floriole, and not only because I knew them when. They started by selling at the Green City Market impressing people with their gorgeous baked goods.
I didn’t know it then, but my now-friend Abra Berens baked with owner Sandra Holl when Abra wasn’t farming at Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, Michigan, a little town in Michigan’s pinky finger with sun-drenched memories from my childhood visits to my Uncle Tom’s beachfront cottage.
That’s Sandra above. After building a hungry clientele, she scored a beautiful location with soaring ceilings in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and built a classy spot to sip a cappuccino and indulge in pastry.
To satisfy folks who can’t get to Lincoln Park during the day, and to serve up their great cooking beyond the sweets and savories they serve daily, Holl & team started monthly dinners with a set menu, held after hours.
And oh what dinners they are.
Last fall, Lauro and I enjoyed a farm dinner showcasing the bounty of Bare Knuckle Farm. Previous Floriole dinners have presented recipes from Tim Mazurek, who writes one of my favorite blogs Lottie + Doof, and is friends with my dear friend Dorie. Wow, we food people are a devoted bunch.
But back to Bare Knuckle.
When I was researching my book, I found Bare Knuckle Farm from a Twitter follower in the United Kingdom. Good news travels fast and far, it seems, because Abra had been in culinary school at Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland, and then went over to England to apprentice and gather experience. She clearly has fans. When I met her in Northport, she introduced me to her farming partner Jess Piskor. They had met in Ann Arbor while working at the famed Zingerman’s, and Jess is still holding down the fort in Michigan.
I do hope you’ll come. The farmers we’ll feature include Green Acres, Ellis Farm, Gunthorp Farm, Three Sisters Garden, Growing Power and Mick Klug Farm.
And if you’re out of range for a Monday diner, I’ll be posting some of the book recipes to tantalize us all into shopping at the farmers’ market and scoring something delicious.
Hey, don’t forget to enter to win a the first free, autographed copy of my book!