Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: Shrubs

For March’s Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, we had the option of choosing between making a jelly or making a shrub. Since making a shrub has been on my agenda for a while, I decided to go with that option. We already have quite a few jars of grapes jelly canned so it was nice to have the option to try something else.

So exactly what is a shrub? There are a couple of different beverages that go under this category – one being liquor mixed with sugar and citrus, the other being what we are going to focus on. Popular during the American Colonial area, a shrub (also known as drinking vinegar) is a combination of fruit, sugar, and vinegar left to infuse for a few days to create this wonderfully sweet/tart liquid. The resulting liquid can be added to cocktails, sparkling water (for a healthy drink that gives you the feel of soda), salad dressing, or really anything you can think of. It was developed as a way to help preserve berries and fruits at the end of season.

Food in Jars recommends a ratio of 1:1:1one part sugar, one part vinegar, and a handful of fruit – easy enough, right?

March isn’t exactly the best month around here for fresh, local fruit. It’ll be another month or so before strawberries start popping up in the fields and our fruit trees have only just began to bloom. That’s sort of a bummer to me as it feels a bit like cheating to purchase fruit from the grocery store.

I already knew that I wanted my shrub to have ginger. I love ginger (in fact, I just purchased plants a few days ago to grow my own ginger to get fresh-fresh ginger). I combed the grocery store looking for the best looking fruits before settling on a mixture of blueberries and blackberries. Robb loves both of those berries so I knew that he would enjoy eating what I didn’t use.

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In a quart mason jar, I added one cup of berries and one cup of organic cane sugar, muddling them together. Then I added 1 cup of vinegar. In any other circumstance, I would have used apple cider vinegar, but I had a bottle of homemade peach vinegar in my pantry that I had purchased from my local farmer’s market a few months ago.

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I gave everything a quick stir and grated about a 1.5 -inch piece of ginger on top. Stirring one more, I covered the jar with a lid and stuck it in the fridge.

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After two days in the fridge, I did a quick strain (to get out more of the pulp, you’ll probably want to use cheesecloth or something similar). The leftover berries went straight to the chickens! I packaged my finished shrub in a leftover Kombucha bottle.

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Eager to try it out, I poured a glass of water and added a bit of my shrub – yum! I want to pick up some sparkling water for next time, but I loved the almost kombucha-like taste of this shrub.

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Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: Salt Preserving

Guys, I kicked butt on Sunday. I swiffered the walls (to get rid of cobwebs), scrubbed the toilets spotless, picked up dog poop in the backyard, swept/vacuumed/swiffered the floors, planted my tomato seeds, made the beds, did laundry AND did the dishes.

But somehow during all of that I found the time to process almost 13 total pounds of lemons I had purchased from Lemon Ladies Orchard. Based in California, Lemon Ladies Orchard offers delicious and fragrant meyer lemons which are Certified Naturally Grown.

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My first order – 3 pounds.

Earlier in the week I made lemon bars, following it up with a lemon pie on Saturday. My big “lemon” day was on Sunday when I canned a lemon and ginger concentrate, dehydrated lemons, and made a lemon and rosemary salt for the Food In Jars mastery challenge.

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Starting the dehydrated lemons.
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Dehydrated lemons – after.

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One of three 1/2 pint jars of a lemon and ginger concentrate.

 
I love canning and trying to preserve as much of my garden harvest as I can. I tend to stick to jams/soup bases/pickles but am always looking for ways to expand my skills. When I came across the year-long food preservation mastery challenge hosted  by Food in Jars earlier in the month, I knew I had to participate. The challenge focuses on a different skill each month.
 

Calendar of Preserving Skills

January – Marmalade

February – Salt Preserving

March – Jelly OR Shrubs

April – Quick Pickles

May – Cold Pack Preserving

June – Jam

July – Hot Pack Preserving

August – Low Temperature Pasteurization

September – Fruit Butter

October – Drying and Dehydration OR Pressure Canning

November – Fermentation

December – Fruit Pastes

 
Though I missed out on January, I was excited to hop right in with February’s challenge of Salt Preserving. Since I already have a jar of preserved lemons hanging out on top of the fridge that I started back in January, I decided to create a citrus salt.

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As I was making my lemon and ginger concentrate, I zested each lemon before juicing them. I spread the zest out on a pan and added coarse Kosher salt, mixing until I found the ratio I liked. I decided to make it a little heavier on the zest than on salt to reduce my overall salt intake. Using some fresh rosemary from my mom’s house, I clipped rosemary into small chunks, mixing them into the zest and salt mixture.

I’m letting it sit until dry (which if you are in a rush, you can heat it in the oven on your lowest setting until dry), stirring it around whenever I venture into the kitchen. It’ll probably take about 2-3 days for the mixture to dry before I place it in a jar.

I’m excited to use this salt mixture the next time we cook some of our Alaskan halibut. Lemon Ladies Orchard also included some fresh Bay leaves in my box and I can’t wait to use those as well.

Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s Haul

Like I said in an earlier post, I’ve been working on clearing out my pantry in anticipation for my quarterly Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods excursion. My boyfriend and I almost messed up. The weekend before Christmas, we went to Moore County to visit his family for the holidays. On our way up, as we passed through Raleigh, we decided that we would stop to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Cabela’s on our way home. Monday came and it was a dreary day as we set off back to our house with a truck full (and I mean jam packed) with gifts.

We stopped to Cabela’s but decided to bail on the other two stores. We were tired, ready to get home, and most of all – our truck was FULL! So we decided to stick to our original plan of making a day date of it while I was out on break.

That same Monday night, I attacked the kitchen in a whirlwind after we arrived home. I cleaned out our pantry – putting items that have been in our pantry for months – into a bag to donate to the local food bank (I ended up with two large bags full), throwing some expired items away. Then I started on the spices. There were spices in there from back in 2011! I let Robb go through everything before I tossed it and if he said keep it, we kept it (fair trade).

When we went to Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s the day after Christmas, neither of us were feeling at our best. That may have been why we didn’t go as crazy as I had anticipated. But that’s okay. It still ended up being a good “date” day for the two of us and I enjoy spending time with Robb. Even if it’s doing something that seems as mundane as going to the grocery store!

Here’s what we purchased:

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Some of our favorite purchases were:

  • Growler of Ginger Kombucha from Barefoot Bucha (first tried at the Heritage Festival at Monticello) from Whole Foods (Me)
  • Olives from Whole Foods (Robb)
  • Creamy Corn & Roasted Pepper Soup  from Trader Joe’s (both of ours)
  • Trader Joe’s Roasted Potatoes (mentioned before in this post)
  • Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina Flour from Whole Foods (Me) – this is for homemade corn tortillas using the tortilla press I got for Christmas!
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Molten Chocolate Macarons from Trader Joe’s – this thing is HUGE!

Since we went on Monday, we were able to take advantage of the Pasta Night at Whole Foods. For $12.99 we were able to get a pound of fresh cut pasta (our choice was spinach pappardelle), 16oz of Severino sauce (we went with the Fra Diavolo) and 4oz of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

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Our pasta night deal from Whole Foods with chorizo, mushrooms, and onions thrown in. Delicious!

A few nights ago, I was able to try out my new tortilla press. I know that a tortilla press is a weird thing to ask for but I love the idea of being able to make fresh corn tortillas. I still need to practice but I think I did okay! I paired my homemade corn tortillas with homemade pico de gallo, homemade lime crema, cilantro, coleslaw mix, and pan seared Alaskan halibut (with a adobo seasoning purchased from Whole Foods).

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Tacos?? A good first try.

I’m already looking forward to our next trip!

Another try at the bug

It’s funny sometimes how things tend to cycle back around in life. For instance, in November of 2014, I posted about my Baby Bug, aka the ginger bug I had just started. That was my first foray into fermentation and it was unsuccessful. I killed my little bug before it ever had the chance the flourish.

Here we are, two years later, and I have started a new little baby bug. I’m a bit more confident this time around. I have a greater understanding of the fermentation process after experimenting a bit in the kitchen and I am REALLY craving some ginger soda. I’m determined to try this time until I succeed.

This post follows my Ginger Bug’s first week in hopes that you may find this helpful in starting your own Baby Bug. Yours may begin to bubble quicker than mine did, especially if your house is warmer.

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Day One (November 7): In a quart jar, I combined 2 cups water, ½ cup white sugar, and about 1 tbsp minced ginger. I covered it with cheesecloth and put it on my kitchen counter. I used tap water that I brought to a boil and cooked down. Since I did not have organic ginger, I peeled it before mincing it. I stirred it all with a wooden skewer.

Day Two (November 8): Fed 1 tbsp minced ginger + 1 tbsp white sugar. Moved to bedroom (where warmer). Temperature in house was 55 degrees overnight.

Day Three (November 9): Fed 1 tbsp minced ginger +1 tbsp white sugar.

Day Four (November 10): Fed 1 tbsp minced ginger + 1 tbsp white sugar. Noticed a few bubbles on the surface.

Day Five (November 11): Fed 1 tbsp minced ginger + 1 tbsp white sugar. Household temperature is 58 degrees.

Day Six (November 12): Did not feed – not home.

Day Seven (November 13): Fed 1 tbsp minced ginger + 1 tbsp white sugar. Ginger bug is really bubbling now! It is time to make some soda!

So for my first soda made with my ginger bug, I decided to go with a ginger soda. It seemed rather fitting and I could use my fresh ginger root that I received the weekend.

To start with, I boiled 4 cups of water and added it to about a 4 inch root of ginger, grated. I let every sit until it had cooled and infused. Then I added the juice from one whole lemon, ½ cup white sugar, 1 tbsp. real maple syrup, and ¼ cup of strained ginger bug liquid.

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I mixed it all with a wooden spoon and then bottled. I used glass bottles but will “burp” it daily for the next 2-3 days or until it is nicely carbonated. Then I’ll pop the bottles in the fridge to enjoy.

To my ginger bug, I added ¼ cup filtered water, 1 tbsp minced ginger root, 1 tbsp white sugar to give it a bit of a boost. I’m going to drop down now to only give it 1 tsp. ginger and 1 tsp. white sugar daily/every other day.

Fingers crossed that my little experiment turns out better this time than last time!