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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North Carolina Oysters

During the late 1880’s, North Carolina oysters were being harvested as an alarming rate and shipped out all over the country. At it’s peak in 1902, 800,000 bushels of oysters were harvested, exhausting the supply and threatening the future of the species [information from NC Oysters]. Thank goodness that efforts have been made to rectify this and increase the population.

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Like I’ve said before, I have been fortunate to grow up surrounded by fresh seafood. Oysters aren’t a delicacy to me but are simply another reason to gather around at my grandparent’s house. We’ve had oyster roasts for as far back as I can remember, though when I was younger, the oysters were heated on top of a wood stove until they popped open. Now we steam them over a cooker but they taste just the same – delicious. Typically we wait until January to cook oysters the first oysters of the season(sometimes we will have them on Christmas Eve) though the recreational harvest season runs from October 15 through March 31.

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I tend to like my oysters a bit firmer than most (otherwise it tends to look like snot). I also  chew my oysters (unlike most of my family). Once I’ve waited as long as I can wait, I snatch the oyster from the cooker, careful to avoid the steam. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned to open an oyster with moderate success. You lay the blade of your oyster knife into the hinge of the oyster and twist until it pops apart.

If there is any juice, I sip it. The salter the better and where/when your oyster was harvested sometimes dictates the saltiness. I slather the meat in homemade cocktail sauce (a mixture of horseradish and ketchup, though I’m a bit heavy handed on the former) and eat it.

When we get fresh oysters, we always eat them steamed. If we are wanting to fry oysters, we usually will pick up a jar of already shelled oysters from Quality Seafood.

This wouldn’t be a post on oysters if I didn’t highlight the oyster knife of my dreams. Made by Carolina Suckers from an old railroad spike, this oyster knife is practically a work of art to me.

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The Mother Shucker

Maybe one day I’ll get my hand of one of these beauties. For now, I’ll just keep using the crusty – well, let’s call them vintage – oysters knives rummaged from drawers at my grandparent’s house.

Do you eat oysters? What is your favorite way to eat them (steamed, fried, make into an oyster stuffing)?

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Duck Bombs [Recipe]

When Robb and I first started dating, one of the first things I learned about him was that he loved duck hunting. He often regaled me with tales of the duck-based goodies he created after a morning of hunting. During our first year of dating, he fixed me meals made with goose, swan, wild turkey, and deer. But no duck. I always just figured that he caught too-few ducks and that he had earned the right to enjoy them on his own. After all, he is the one getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning and sitting in a blind in the freezing cold while I’m still snuggled in bed.

We’ve been dating a little over two years now and I’ve finally been able to enjoy a few duck dishes. But nothing compared to the duck bombs (as I have dubbed them) Robb fixed a few days ago.

There is no recipe really for this. To be honest, I’m not sure if Robb even knows what he did. He cooks instinctively, which is something that impresses me. He throws this-and-that into a pot, no measurements. Sometimes the food turns out delicious, sometimes the dogs get a large dinner that night. These duck bombs were a definite win.

He used a mallard and a wood duck, breasting them out to get 4 breasts. He pounded the breasts thin and then marinated them in Allegro and garlic for 24 hours (simply because he forgot to fix them the night before). After marinating, he rolled the duck breasts up with a sliver of jalapeno, smear of cream cheese and wrapped them in bacon.

He cooked them in a grill pan in a mixture of onions, olive oil, garlic, and jalapenos for about 10 minutes (I’m guessing) or until medium rare and tender.

We served the duck breasts with asparagus (marinated in garlic and Allegro as well) that was oven roasted until tender.

Delicious! Hopefully he’ll snag a few more ducks this season and we can recreate this dish!

What’s your favorite, most mouth-watering way to serve (or be served) wild game?

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