Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts

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Picture this: It’s the first week of summer vacation. I am a scrawny kid, probably 80 lbs., soaking wet, likely wearing uneven, homemade jean cut-off shorts and an oversized Marlboro shirt that my dad got when he bought a carton of cigarettes (don’t smoke!). More than likely barefoot and even more likely, eating Pop-Tarts. That was me, every summer, from approximately 1993 to 1998.

Alex and I stopped by my hometown on our way to and from a wedding in Cleveland on Memorial Day weekend, which was bringing up all kinds of warm feelings. On Memorial Day weekend, if I were 11 again, I would have been running around in my friends’ back yards, with all of the other neighbor kids, until the very last second before the sun went down. Then my dad would yell my name or, more likely, my nickname out the backdoor and it would be time to come in for the night. It was making me all nostalgic for childhood and, of course, Pop-Tarts.

For the most part, I try to lead a healthy life. I work out, I eat lots of vegetables, and yes, I make a lot of desserts for this blog, but for the most part, but I usually end up giving a lot of what I make away (after I taste it of course–quality control, you know). On top of that, I really try to avoid eating too many overly-processed foods now, which is a real struggle for me. Being a 90’s kid from small town Indiana means that I am, as my friend Kristina puts it, “90% Ecto Cooler and other preservatives.” For example, nowadays, I never buy Pop-Tarts, even though I love them so much.

Incidentally, the Pop-Tarts that we know and love may never have been. In early 1963, Kellogg’s competitor, the cereal company Post, had announced a plan to release a new breakfast item called Country Squares. However, Post was still months away from releasing their item, which allowed Kellogg to swoop in and develop their own version. In their attempt to best their competitor, Kellogg reached out to Keebler, the famous cookie makers, to create a quick breakfast that could be heated in the toaster.

Perhaps we owe our greatest debt to Bill Post, a plant manager at Keebler during this time who was tasked with creating a toastable treat. (Bill Post appears to have no relation to the Post corporation, but I’m looking into whether there’s a cereal gene in the Post family.) He tested out versions, originally called “fruit scones,” on his children and they were a hit. Pop-Tarts were first tested in markets in Cleveland at the end of 1963. People loved them and they were released to the general public in 1964. They were unfrosted at the time, and only came in four flavors: blueberry, apple-currant, brown sugar cinnamon, and (my personal favorite) strawberry. A few years later, after Bill Post convinced executives that there was a way to create a toaster-safe frosting, frosted versions were made available.

Though I might not buy Pop-Tarts anymore, my cravings for warm, frosted, strawberry goo-filled treats have not diminished. Especially in the summer. I don’t know what it is. So, I made my own version at home.

Strawberry Hand Pies

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Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts
Makes about 10 2 1/2 x 4-inch tarts.

Ingredients:

For the crust (using this recipe):
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
9 tbsp (1 stick, plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1/4 cup-1/3 cup very cold water
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
Egg wash, optional:
1 egg
1 tsp water

For the filling:
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1-2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1-2 tsp milk

Colored sugar or sprinkles, optional

Instructions:

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Briefly pulse to mix. Add cold, cubed butter and process again until small clumps form, about 5-7 seconds. Add in 1/4 cup of water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for an additional 5 seconds to combine. If the dough is still dry, add cold water one tablespoon at a time, not exceeding 1/2 cup.

On a well-floured surface, pour out the contents of the food processor. Gather the mixture, separate into two piles and form a disc out of each pile. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, preferable overnight.

In a saucepan, combine strawberries, water, cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is boiling. Boil for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the pie dough. The pie crust should be quite thin, only about 1/8-inch thick, but you shouldn’t be able to see through the crust. You should be able to get about 10 rectangles from each disc, if you cut them 2 1/2 x 4-inches.

Place each rectangle on two large parchment paper-covered baking sheets. Spoon about one tablespoon of the cooled strawberry mixture into the middle of 10 of the rectangles. Place an empty rectangle over the top, carefully pressing down the edges. Then, seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Continue until all 10 tarts are filled. If using an egg wash, beat together one egg, with one teaspoon of water. Using the same fork, poke several holes into the top of each tart. Brush egg wash lightly on each tart.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Remove from baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and milk in a small bowl. Spoon one teaspoon of glaze over each cooled tart. Sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles, if desired.

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No, they’re not healthy per se. They are basically made from butter and sugar, but I guess you’re replacing the high-fructose corn syrup? Pick your poison, I suppose. I also don’t feel bad about not buying Pop-Tarts because their sales have increased every year since they were introduced. There are plenty of latchkey kids out there, like I was, looking for an easy snack. Then those kids become adults and say, “No, I’m too good for Pop-Tarts, I’ll make my own.” But they’ll secretly have a moment of yearning, every time they walk by them at the grocery store. Or, so I’ve heard…

Sister Lindsay’s Southern Banana Pudding

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My favorite posts on this blog are when I get to invite my friends to share a family recipe and talk about what it means to them. For today’s post, I’m extremely happy to be joined by my friend, Kaye Winks.

Kaye is an actress who has been acting professionally for 13 years and writing professionally for seven. But naturally she’s been an actor and a writer her whole life.  Kaye isn’t an only child, but her siblings are several years older than her, which meant she grew up as the only child in her house. She spent her childhood creating picture books, putting on sock puppet shows for her first grade classroom, and memorizing her favorite movies and performing full-length re-enactments in her bedroom, complete with full makeshift sets and costumes. By the time she was 11, she realized that, if she wrote down the stories she created while she was playing pretend, what she was really doing was writing a script. And, from all the movies she watched, she knew that acting was something she could do for a living. She decided then to make that her goal.

In 2012, Kaye started working on a script that would eventually become her one-woman comedy show, Token. Kaye describes Token as a “comic and ironic look at what it’s like being the token black person,” and often the lone black person, in a world of white. But the goal of the show is not to pick on white people. Kaye points out that the show also “explores the funny and sometimes sobering experiences of being a suburban black girl with inner city black folk.”

In the show, Kaye performs many characters, but the most memorable and touching character she portrays is Sister Lindsay, who appears throughout the show to both scold bad behavior, and to offer advice on how to navigate the world. Kaye included Sister Lindsay in her show to “soften the blow of my character’s satirical voice and act as a voice of reason and morality that the audience would like.”

But Sister Lindsay was not the creation of Kaye’s imagination. She was Kaye’s grandmother. Born in Mississippi in 1935, Sister Lindsay fled the harsh Jim Crow laws in the South to Chicago in 1957. Sister Lindsay had never seen her birth certificate, so she always celebrated her birthday on October 28th. Many years later, Kaye’s aunt did some research in Sister Lindsay’s home town and found that, actually, she had been born on December 28th and was very pleased to find out that she was actually 2 months younger than she had always thought!

Sister Lindsay passed away one year ago yesterday and Kaye told me that her “homegoing” was like a celebrity’s. “We don’t call them ‘funerals’ in my family. The term ‘funeral’ is reserved for people who are ‘unsaved’ making it a sorrowful event of mourning for the lost soul. In my family, we call them ‘homegoing celebrations’ because our loved one’s souls are going home to heaven to be with their Creator and it is a chaste and wonderful party. The enormous old church was standing room only with at least 500 people in attendance and they joyfully danced and sang her spirit to heaven. My husband, not remotely accustomed to this custom, was pleasantly surprised at how fun it was, albeit bittersweet. It was also the first time he’d ever been the only white person in a room FULL of all black folks!”

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Sister Lindsay, at her birthday party, a few years ago.

What Kaye remembers very sharply are some of her grandma’s features. Her soft cheeks–“She had the absolute softest skin of any human I have ever encountered. I loved kissing Grandma on her cheeks because they were like little chocolate silk pillows that always smelled like baby powder.” Her laugh–“She had a ragged cackle, instead of a laugh, that was reminiscent of James Brown, being merely a ‘HA!’ or literal ‘Huh-HAAA!’ If you got the ‘Huh-HAAA!’ you knew you had said something really funny.” Her faith–“She was an extremely devout Christian woman, whose entire social life revolved around worshiping Jesus and helping her church family. Jesus was everything to her. She would also often get the police called on her for disturbing the peace because she’d sing ‘Oh Jesus’ or fervently pray at the top of her lungs at all hours of the night.” And, finally, her banana pudding. Kaye told me that it was a treat that she would rarely make, even though everyone loved it. “She’d just make it randomly and nonchalantly be like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s banana pudding in there,’ and everyone would scurry to the kitchen like a winning lottery ticket was in there. Like, why didn’t you tell us earlier, lady?!”

Kaye said that people in her family have tried to make the pudding, following the same recipe, but it just doesn’t taste the same as when her grandma made it. I made this recipe and, I kid you not, it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.  I had it for breakfast and for dessert after dinner no less than three nights in a row. Maybe you can have a little more restraint than I did. If this pudding had that kind of effect on me and it was only me making it, what Sister Lindsay made must have been magical.

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Sister Lindsay’s Southern Banana Pudding

Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 1/4 cups Carnation evaporated milk
4 large eggs, separated
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups vanilla wafers
4 very ripe bananas

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together salt, sugar, and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan. Then whisk in the  evaporated milk. Add the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 7-8 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.

Slice the bananas, not too thin.

Layer half of the vanilla wafers in a medium-sized round glass baking dish. Top with half of the banana slices and half the pudding. Repeat the same with the wafers, bananas, and pudding that’s left. Finally, cover most of the top layer of pudding with vanilla wafers.

Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

Serve warm or chilled. Kaye suggests chilling for at least an hour, as that’s the way her grandma would serve it.

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Kaye first performed her show to a sold-out audience at Collaboraction Theater in Wicker Park in March 2017. Luckily for you, if you’re interested in seeing it (and Sister Lindsay), Kaye will be performing again, beginning this week. Token runs Fridays at 7:30pm, May 19 through June 9 in Judy’s Beat Lounge at The Second City Training Center. Tickets are available at: www.secondcity.com/shows/chicago/token/. (As of yesterday, the May 19th show was already sold out, so get your tickets early!)

I went to see the show’s debut in March and it was so good. There were definitely some gasps from the audience throughout, but there was mostly laughter, a lot of laughter. And while Kaye admits that there is “plenty of rather un-PC humor in it,” she says that it is also “really fun, honest, and relatable because it picks on everyone equally. I wrote it to share the perspective from the middle of two polarized spheres, the gray area between black and white, and hopefully inspire new thoughts and conversations about race and class by bringing people together to laugh at the absurdity of it all.”

And, if you’re interested in following Kaye in the future, her show will premier in New York City on Saturday, September 16th, at 9pm, at The Studio Theatre on 42nd Street (Theatre Row) as part of United Solo Theatre Festival. Tickets available here: http://unitedsolo.org/us/token-2017/. And if that’s not enough for you, she also has a book, The Civilized Citizen’s Guide to Dining Out, a snide guide on restaurant etiquette, that’s being released in fall 2017.

Kaye, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your show and share this amazing recipe from your grandmother!

Citrus Shaker Pie

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I’m somehow surprised every year when citrus season sneaks up on me. I can never wrap my head around the fact that it’s in winter, because my favorite citrus recipes seem so light and summery. Wishful thinking, I guess. In celebration of all the beautiful citrus fruit at our disposal this time of year, I made a Shaker pie, slightly altering the original recipe, which uses regular lemons. Instead, I used two of the yummiest members of the citrus family: blood oranges and Meyer lemons.

Folks today probably know the Shakers more for their simple, well-built furniture. I decided to write about the Shakers because they  were in the news recently after one of their members passed away, leaving only two (!!) Shakers in the whole world. The reasons vary:  some Shakers who were adopted into the Community  as children chose to leave as adults, others opposed the hard-work and celibate lifestyle, and finally, they just stopped accepting new members. At this point, you couldn’t become a Shaker if you wanted to. While their numbers have dwindled, the Shakers are still one of the longest-lasting Christian sects in the United States.

The first group of Shakers formed in Manchester, England. They were originally known as “Shaking Quakers” because their religion was an off-shoot of the Quaker religion, and because, during their sermons, Shakers often tremble and twitch. A short time before the American Revolutionary War, Mother (as she was called) Ann Lee led a small group of followers from England to the American colonies. As pacifists, Shakers refused to fight the British or swear an oath of allegiance (as it was against their religion), leading to jail time for some. In the years following the War, Shaker religious communities grew and spread through the United States. At their peak, as many as 6,000 members worshiped in communities across the country.

Shakers live piously and communally. Though men and women live as equals and serve equally in religious leadership, they live separately, since marriage and sex are forbidden. Members are acquired through adoption or recruitment. As an agrarian society, Shakers grow or raise most of their own food and live quite frugally, aiming to waste as little as possible.

Which leads us to this little pie, made in accordance with the Shaker lifestyle, simply and efficiently. A Shaker lemon pie is made of whole, thinly sliced lemons, allowed to sit in sugar for a day to allow the peel to break down, which are then mixed with eggs and baked. Very simple and very delicious. Shakers would probably object to me using a non-local fruit, and, OK, traditional Shaker pies are not usually electric pink in color. If you’re a traditionalist, this recipe could easily be modified to resemble a more authentic pie, by replacing fruit with two regular lemons, but don’t rule this one out just yet… Do, however, note that this is not a one-day pie. You will need to allow your citrus to macerate in the sugar for about a day, and up to a day and a half, before baking.

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Citrus Shaker Pie

Citrus Pie Filling Ingredients:
Slightly adapted from NPR, and Smitten Kitchen

1 medium blood orange, plus zest
1 Meyer lemon, plus zest
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter, melted

Zest both the lemon and the blood orange, about 2 tbsp.

Cut the ends off both the Meyer lemon and blood orange, discard.

As thinly as possible, slice the entire orange and lemon, including the peel, into rings. Remove seeds as you go.

In a container with a lid, combine the zest, sugar, and citrus. Mix to coat every ring. Cover, and allow to sit for 24 hours to 36 hours, at room temperature. The fruit will break down and dissolve the sugar. You will be left with liquid and what is left of the fruit. Do not drain, or remove fruit, but do remove any seeds that made it into the mixture.

Beat 4 eggs together well. Mix with entirety of the blood orange and Meyer lemon mixture, flour, and melted butter, and pour into prepared, bottom crust of pie (see below).

Citrus Pie Crust Ingredients:
Slightly adapted from Food and Wine

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into centimeter cubes
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup water, ice cold
1 egg, for wash

In a food processor, combine the flour, butter, and salt. Pulse together for about 5 seconds. (This can also be done by hand or with a pastry cutter, quickly incorporating the butter into the flour.) Add the ice water to the food processor and pulse for about 5 more seconds until the dough begins to come together.

Pour the contents of the food processor and pour onto a lightly floured surface. Begin gathering the dough together until it forms  into a ball. Cut the dough into two equal parts. As your working with the first half of the dough, wrap the other and place in the refrigerator.

Re-flour your surface and roll out the first half of the dough into a large circle, approximately 1/8-inch thick (the circle should have about a 13-inch diameter). Draping the dough over your rolling pan, transfer to a 9-inch pie pan, making sure you have about 1/2-inch to 1-inch overhang on the sides. Set aside.

Roll out the second half of the dough to the same size as the first; it can be slightly smaller.

Add the lemon-orange filling to the bottom pie crust.

Carefully cover with top layer of pie crust. Cut away any unnecessary dough. Sealing the top and bottom crusts together, create a decorative edge with your hands or a fork. Allow the pie to chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the pie from the refrigerator and begin to preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Beat one egg thoroughly and brush over the top crust and edges of the pie. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar.

Slice a few holes into the top of the pie crust to allow steam to release while cooking.

If the pie crust still feels quite cold, wait a few more minutes before putting in the oven. You don’t want the crust warm, but you don’t want it so cold that it cracks while baking.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. After 20  minutes, decrease the heat in the oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes.

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Blood oranges are not necessarily as sweet as regular oranges but, with its light raspberry flavor, it moderates the bitterness of the Meyer lemon and creates a bright, tart, but still sweet, and very pretty, pie. Make yours soon, before citrus season disappears!

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

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It was painfully cold here in Chicago this past weekend. The kind of cold that, when I get into the house after putting a load of clothes in the wash in our basement, I find myself irrationally angry. Angry cold. That’s where we are. And, as a perfect Chicago response, it was almost 50 degrees yesterday. Just warm enough to keep people from losing their damn minds.

Freezing temps gives me the perfect excuse to stay inside and bake. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. In my last post, I told you how my mom had been sending me my grandma’s old recipes. The recipe parade continues. Usually mom will send recipes for dishes that I’ve had 100 times and sometimes she sends me giant questions marks. One of the more recent question marks piqued my interest: cottage pudding.

Grandma had a habit of writing down all the ingredients in a recipe, along with oven temperatures and cooking time. What she fails to include, though, are basically any description or assembly instructions whatsoever. From the name, I thought it might be some kind of pudding made from cottage cheese, but the recipe did not call for cottage cheese and this “pudding” actually turned out to be a sheet cake, made in a 9″ x 9″ pan, with sweet sauce, made separately, and meant to be poured over the top. Instead of combining the two together at the end, I realized that I could use grandma’s  recipe to create a version of an upside-down cake made in my cast iron skillet. And, I figured I’d go ahead and make it with persimmons, because I haven’t made anything with persimmons this year and usually they are the fruit that makes my winter go ’round. I’m so glad I did! I’ve never made an upside-down cake before, but it was really quite easy (minus the flipping part) and actually, really delicious. I imagined that I was going to pull some dense cake out of the oven, all gummed up with caramel. Instead, the cake was super soft, not too sweet, and accented with pretty drizzles of persimmon-infused caramel sauce.

I think you could use almost any soft fruit for this recipe, like apples or plums. Or, I suppose you could forgo fruit all together and just make a caramel cake. That’s your prerogative.

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Persimmon Upside-Down Cake
Very slightly adapted from Grandma Dini’s Cottage Pudding recipe.

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp, flour
2-3 persimmons, sliced 1/8-1/4-inch thick

Persimmon Caramel Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice 2-3 persimmons, horizontally, very thin. Just enough slices to cover the bottom of a 10″ cast iron skillet. Hold on to any extra pieces of persimmon that do not fit in the pan. You should have about 1/2 a persimmon left. Chop into small pieces.

In a small sauce pan, combine the leftover persimmon pieces and 1/2 of the water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Some of the water will evaporate, which is fine.

Turn the heat down to low. Add brown sugar, butter, flour, vanilla, salt, and additional water to the sauce pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring often, though not constantly, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. At this time, you can remove any larger pieces of the persimmon, leaving the smaller bits in the caramel. Set aside to cool slightly. You should have between 3/4 of a cup and 1 cup of caramel sauce.

For the cake, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, whisking to combine.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together for about 2 minutes. Add the milk, egg, and vanilla extract, and beat until just mixed. Add in the flour mixture in about 4 batches. Mix until just combined with each addition of the dry ingredients. (This batter will be quite thick, which is perfect.)

Grease the sides of your cast iron skillet with butter to ensure a smooth removal of the cake. (You only need to butter the sides of your skillet; the buttery caramel will take care of the bottom of the skillet.)

Add half of the caramel mixture to the bottom of the skillet. Next, add the thinly sliced persimmon to the bottom of the pan until it is mostly covered. Add the remaining caramel over the top of the sliced persimmon.

Next, add the cake batter over the top of the persimmons and caramel. Do your best to get the batter to the edges of the skillet, as evenly as possible. If you have a spots where caramel is poking through on the edges, that’s fine.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes, by inserting a toothpick all the way through to the caramel. When it comes out clean, it’s done.

Quickly cover the skillet with heat-safe dish, invert the dishes together allowing the cake to slide out of the skillet and on to the serving dish.

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Fig, Thyme, and Balsamic Shrub

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It’s been a while since I last posted, primarily because I needed a little break after the election. I originally planned on posting this right after the election, making a little joke about how this shrub is really great in cocktails while you’re waiting for election results. Then Wednesday morning came, and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to make little jokes about the election results as a segue to this recipe which seemed entirely less important. I will say this: This is a food blog, so I’ll talk about food. But it’s also a history blog, so I hope we’re writing a good one. Hugs for everyone. We’re all in this together…

Last summer, Alex and I were meandering about the Pilsen neighborhood, pointing at old buildings and saying, “That one’s pretty.” Eventually, we ended up at Dusek’s in Thalia Hall. Around the turn of the century, Pilsen was a predominately Czech neighborhood, named after the city of Plzeň. Thalia Hall was, historically, a Bohemian Public Hall, dedicated to arts and entertainment. In late 2013, the space was updated as a restaurant, cocktail bar, and music venue. It was hot out that day and, as we sidled up to the bar, I ordered one tall glass of water and a house-made soda. Not just any soda, though. It was made with strawberry, rosemary, peppercorn and balsamic shrub, with a bit of soda water. I don’t usually drink soda, but it was so good that it made me forget, for one fleeting minute, how much I enjoy gin. That’s really good. Since then, I cannot get it out of my mind, which got me thinking about how I could make my own shrub soda syrup at home. If you’ve ever made your own simple syrup, you should find it a breeze to make your own shrub. It’s as easy as chopping the fruit of your choice, tossing it with some sugar, and allowing it to sit for a few days. Then you strain it, mix in some vinegar and add soda water (and maybe a little gin) for a super-refreshing drink.

You have probably seen shrubs on cocktail menus, they are often added to drinks, but they’re not alcoholic, unlike bitters (which I often used to confuse with shrubs) which are often made with alcohol and were historically used as medicine. Shrubs are made with fruit, sugar, and vinegar. No alcohol required. You can make them with alcohol, and it’s wonderful, but it’s not necessary. Also, shrubs might be hip right now, but they’re not new. Drinking-vinegars were very popular in colonial America, but their history dates back to Babylon, where they were used to make water potable. Historically, they have also been used by sailors to incorporate Vitamin C into their water, in hopes of preventing scurvy.

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Fig, Thyme, and Balsamic Shrub

Shrub Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups figs, roughly chopped
1-1 1/2 cups sugar
3-4 large sprigs of thyme
3/4 cups balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, optional

Shrub Instructions:
In a large, sterilized, mason jar, combine the chopped figs, sugar, peppercorns, and thyme sprigs. Close lid tightly and give a big shake.

Allow the jar to sit in a warm area (in the sun, on a windowsill is good), for about 3 or 4 days. Shake vigorously at least a few times a day.

At the end of several days, you will find that the fruit and sugar has created a good amount of juice.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove all pieces of fruit, herb and seeds. (Using figs, I had to strain a few times to get all the seeds out.)

Pour into a 2-cup measuring cup. Begin slowly adding vinegar, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring and tasting between each addition. When you’ve reached your preferred taste, pour back into the mason jar (or into a fresh jar with a lid).

This shrub should keep in the fridge about 2-3 months. If it starts to change color, it’s time to toss it.

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The most wonderful thing about drinking shrubs is the flexibility. I know it’s getting chillier now, but sometimes it’s nice to have something refreshing, not too sweet, and fruity. The other cool thing is, when you start with a delicious syrup like this, you can add some gin/vodka/rum. It’s tangy, it’s sweet. Since making it, I’ve been enjoying it with soda water right after dinner. I’m already trying to figure out how to work it into a Negroni, my personal favorite cold-weather cocktail. Alex thinks it would be good with bourbon. It’s a winner, folks!

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