Mar 27th, 2017
The theme for month three of the 2017 Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is “Jellies and shrubs.” I’ve been experimenting with shrubs since last summer, so I would have been happy to venture into new territory with this month’s effort. But my family is not super keen on jelly: we very much prefer that our fruit-based spreads have chunks of fruit in them. Maybe one day I will play around with jellies (maybe some with delicate floral flavors), but for now I wanted to make something that I knew would be consumed and enjoyed: Pineapple and Red Pepper Shrub.
I started with Michael Dietsch’s basic recipe for cold-processed shrubs, which calls for 1:1:1 ratios of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Rather than make a small batch that would be gone before I knew it, I decided to go all in and make enough to last a while.
First, I measured out 2 cups of diced pineapple and 2 cups of diced red pepper. In Dietsch’s recipe, these 4 cups of produce are matched with 4 cups of sugar. When I measured out 3 cups of sugar, I was somewhat horrified to see just how much that was, so I decided to start with that amount and add more as needed.
After stirring in the 3 cups, though, the fruit didn’t seem very well coated with sugar, so I ended up adding in the fourth cup after all (and reminding myself that only a very small amount of sugar ends up in each beverage).
I mixed everything up thoroughly, snapped a lip onto the bowl, and put the whole thing in the refrigerator. The next day, I worked on it a bit with a potato masher (which in my house is never actually used for potatoes—those go in a ricer) to encourage more of the juice to come out. Pineapple is somewhat juicy, but red pepper doesn’t release nearly the same amount of liquid. So the sugar mixture had a consistency that was more pastelike than syrupy.
One day later I took the bowl out of the fridge and stirred it up again. The sugar was still pastelike, though, and I was worried that when I strained the mixture I’d end up leaving a lot of the sugar behind. So instead of adding the vinegar after straining per Dietsch’s instructions, I added it at this point so it could help dissolve the sugar and carry it along into the final product. I used apple cider vinegar, which has mellower edges than white vinegar.
Then it was time to strain the mixture. For this, I turned to our chinois. (A chinois is a ridiculously overpriced piece of kitchen equipment. After making do with other sieves, strainers, and cheesecloth for years, we finally broke down and bought a chinois two years ago. We use ours all the time [best way to strain yogurt!] and wish we’d gotten this sooner.) Its very fine mesh ensures that no solids get through. And the wooden cone-shaped pestle that comes with it is just fantastic at pressing out the last bits of liquid—in this case, at least a full cup of liquid that would have otherwise been lost to the compost bin.
This recipe yielded two quarts of pineapple-and-red-pepper shrub. I like to add about 4 Tb of shrub to a tall glass of seltzer. Any less, and the flavor (especially the red pepper) is a bit too faint; any more, and the drink is just too piquant. This is an amazingly refreshing beverage on a hot day!