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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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 – a 3 pound box.

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 dehydration process.
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Done!
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One of 3 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.

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