Process Pieces: Shrubs and Bitters primer
Making, using, and gifting some favorite infusions
Process pieces is a series for paid subscribers that explores my writing and cooking processes, and I encourage you to comment with your own processes if you feel so called. I hope you enjoy!
As writing for the Essential Preserving Handbook continues apace, and the mercury begins to drop (or perhaps where you are it's been cold for some time), I'm turning my attention to two main avenues of inquiry: late fall produce, and holiday gifts.
I rarely purchase people gifts. Instead, friends and family are barraged with a delightful selection of pickles and jams (dealer's choice!) each year, the final flavors decided purely by whatever I happened to rummage up at the market or in my garden. People seem to like them a lot, and if they don't, they're too polite to tell me.
I have two homemade holiday gift guides coming out this month in a couple different publications, as well as a brief guide to one of my favorite wedding gifts to give here in this very newsletter, a further reminder that we're getting close to Gift Giving Season.
Gifting is my current theme, apparently, and it tends to be a point of stress for a lot of people, particularly when we're expected to buy and buy. And particularly when we're balancing the tension of giving people things they like with our desire to not just consume for consumption's sake.
This is why I wrote/am writing so many gift guides this month, because I firmly believe with a little bit of time and a few good ideas, you can make people things they want and will use that won't cost you a million dollars.
As part of this, I'm trying to expand my own gifting repertoire to encompass not only the perennial favorite pickles and jams, but also flavorful syrups, cocktail cherries preserved in bourbon, and carrot cake jam (to name a few: all part of the forthcoming Handbook!)
And I'm really leaning into shrubs and bitters: Longtime personal favorites for exploring seasonal flavors simply and easily. Both offer the chance to really stretch a limited ingredient, to play with balancing and exploring flavors, and to use up scraps or make a new product when you just have a few minutes to spare.
I've talked about bitters before, whether in this issue devoted to the history of bitter flavors or this issue that shows an example of how bitters-making can be used to reduce food waste. More on that below, too!
Or, one of my personal favorite bitters, this recipe (scroll to the bottom!) inspired by Stephen Crane's poem, In the Desert.
And I've talked about vinegar, a lot, too, through the lens of grief, for example, or its history as medicine, but also just practically, as a food we make and a food we use to make other foods. And shrubs (like this one, part of a larger menu made to explore my personal experience of a 500 year flood), though I haven't really done a deep dive into shrubs here yet.
I decided, though, that we all deserve a good deep dive into the magic of shrubs: Forever a favorite of mine, and my eternal go-to drink for mocktail hours as well as for cocktail hours (peach shrub + bourbon, yes please!) Bitters, too, while we tend to associate them with cocktails, have plenty of uses in our non-alcoholic pantry too. And both don't need to be limited to our drinks: I stir them into all kinds of experiments around my kitchen.
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