Our farm is small (23 acres), but it is amazing the amount of small fruit that you can grow on that amount of land. We started with blueberries 12 years ago, and have been adding various new fruits every year. Some have not worked out too well (kiwis, saskatoons, blackberries), but what we grow now through survival of the fittest includes currants, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, elderberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, sour cherries, rhubarb, and heirloom tomatoes.
I love, love fruit and love working with fruit. There is so much versatility in what you can do with fruit — I sometimes feel as if I’m racing against time to try all of the ideas I run across or dream up. I wondered the other day if the term “creative Juices” originated from someone who was working with fruit?
Anyway, the obsession with this year’s fruit is making beverage syrups. I got one of those wonderful SodaStream Genesis makers that are so popular in Europe and started adding fruit syrups to the carbonated water it makes. Made me feel ever so tres chic I must admit, but it happened to be incredibly good also. Stepping it up a notch from carbonated water and into the cocktail realm was even better. My cocktails of choice for the syrups include champagne cocktails & mojitos . If you’re into the mixology scene you can go wild with imaginative drinks. For me, my soda stream, a lemonade, iced tea, and an occasional “Blueberry Rumba” is making this hot, humid summer bearable.
One other interesting drink that’s surprisingly refreshing is an old-fashioned “berry shrub”. A shrub is essentially a fruit syrup drink with vinegar added. Sound weird? It was a very popular drink in the colonial era when refrigeration wasn’t available and vinegar could act as a preservative. It also provided the acidity to a drink when fresh citrus wasn’t available and offered the taste of summer in those bleak winters. The fruit and sugar really mellow out the vinegar taste and it’s really quite wonderful.
Here are the recipes for Blueberry Syrup and Blueberry Shrub followed by some drink recipes of how to use them:
Blueberry Tarragon Syrup:
1) Juice the blueberries by simmering in a large pot over med-low heat with 1/4 cup water until they are soft and the juices run (about 15 min.). You’ll get about 1 cup of juice for every 2 cups berries
2) Strain the juice through cheesecloth or a jelly bag. A piece of nylon tulle placed in a strainer works as well as cheesecloth and doesn’t take as long. If you want the juice to be perfectly clear (as you would for a jelly), don’t push the pulp through the strainer. I don’t think clarity matters with a syrup, so I would push as much juice through the strainer as possible to get the maximum juice from your berries. (in our kitchen we use a commercial juicer that we ordered from Sweden)
3) Measure the juice and for every cup of juice measure equal amounts of cups of pure cane sugar. Many syrup companies use corn syrup as a thickener. You don’t need a thick syrup for beverages. If you want to make a thick pancake syrup, you can add a little pectin when you boil it up.
*note: commercial pectin is not an unhealthy additive; it is only dried citrus rind/pith or apple, standardized by testing the rind and adding enough sugar to the pectin so it works the same each application. Much worse to add corn syrup in my mind.
4) Tie some sprigs of fresh tarragon (mint is also good) in a cheesecloth bag (around a cup of tarragon for every 4-6 cups of juice). Pour the juice into a large pot and add the bag of tarragon. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot, turn off the heat and let the tarragon infuse into the juice for about 20 minutes.
5) Remove the tarragon, add the sugar to the pot and bring to a boil, slowly, making sure all of the sugar is dissolved. I usually add some fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice at this point, but it is optional.
6) Ladle into jars or bottles using a funnel; let cool and then refrigerate. Stir in, to taste, to your favorite beverages
Basic Berry Shrub Recipe:
Combine 1 part apple cider vinegar, and 1 part pure cane sugar to 2 parts berries (or any kind of fruit). Bring ingredients to a slow boil, to dissolve the sugar. Stir. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain into a glass bottle. This is the quick way to make a shrub syrup. When we make them for market we let the berries steep in the sugar in the refrigerator for 3 days, strain, add vinegar and cover. It’s a little more complex that way, but the quick way is fine.
*Update: for another shrub recipe using plums, cinnamon & orange zest, please see a new guest post that I put up over at Soda Stream’s blog, called Ms Fizz
Adding to carbonated water, lemonade, sparkling wine drinks:
The question I always get at markets is how much to use, and well……that depends really on how sweet you like your drink, which berry syrup you’re using, and what kind of drink you’re flavoring. With a glass of lemonade or sparkling wine I would probably add 2-3 Tablespoons of the Blueberry Tarragon Syrup. In carbonated water or mineral water I might add more to get a higher flavor profile.
By the way, these syrups are also great drizzled over fruit salads, pound cake, ice cream, or used with vinegar in a salad dressing. OK, here’s the cocktail recipes I promised:
Good Summer Cocktails with the Syrups:
• 1-1/2 oz. white rum
• 1 oz. Blueberry Shrub Syrup
• 1/8 oz. lime juice
• 1 oz. Ginger Ale
Technique: Build in a short ice-filled glass. Top with ginger ale. Add garnish.
Blueberry Rumba Cocktail:
• 1 oz white rum
• 1/2 oz dark rum
• 1/4 oz triple sec
• 14 oz blue Curacao liqueur
• 3/4 oz blueberry syrup
• 2 oz. pineapple juice
• 2 oz lemonade
Technique: Shake liquors, syrup & juice in a shaker and strain into an ice-filled glass. Add lemonade.
R & B Cocktail
• 1 1/2 oz Gin
• 3/4 oz Blueberry Shrub
• 1/2 oz Lillet (this is an aperitif wine which blends Bordeaux wines and citrus – you can substitute white vermouth if you like)
• dash of orange bitters
Technique: Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass