Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shrubs Growing in Portland Bars

It hasn't hit an episode of Portlandia yet, but drinking vinegars and their close relatives known as shrubs are taking over some of the city's toniest bar tops. The shrub has been around since the 17th century or so when vinegar was used to preserve fruits and berries for use in the winter. The fruit would be left to infuse the vinegar, then the fruit would be strained off and the resulting liquid would be sweetened with honey or sugar to make a syrup. It could then be mixed with water or soda to make a soft drink, or with alcohol to make a cocktail.

The advent of refrigeration made this method of preservation unnecessary, but in the last few years the shrub has experienced a resurgence among bartenders who are making their own syrups and bitters. A recent visit with Raven & Rose bar manager Dave Shenaut gave a glimpse into the process of making this shout-out to his predecessors of yore, as well as a recipe for a mighty fine cocktail to be featured on the specials board at that establishment. (Shenaut warns, however, that there is a limited quantity of the syrup, so get it if you see it on the board.)

The recipe for the shrub calls for medlars, an unusual fruit that was popular in the Victorian era but, like the vinegary shrub, fell out of fashion, perhaps because of its extreme astringency. Chef David Padberg, also of Raven & Rose, got a delivery of these fruits from a uniquely named fellow, Tremaine Arkley, who grows the equally arcane quince on his farm in Independence, Oregon. His experiments with the strange fruit resulted in several new applications, including this shrub. (Read a more complete description of medlars and their Shakespearean bona fides in Padberg's post, What to do with a Medlar?)

As You Like It

For the medlar shrub:
4 c. medlars
2 c. demerara sugar
2 c. muscat vinegar

For the cocktail:
3/4 oz. madeira
1 1/2 oz. pisco
1/2 oz. medlar shrub
Splash of Bittermen's Orange Cream Citrate

The medlars, like other astringent fruits such as persimmons and loquat, should be so ripe that they're mushy, or bletted, when used. In a large glass jar or other glass container combine the bletted medlars with the sugar. Cover and let sit in a cool, dark place for 24 hours. Add the vinegar and stir until the sugar dissolves, cover and let sit for a week or so in a cool, dark place. After a week, pass the mixture through a food mill, then strain through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer to remove most of the organic matter. Taste and adjust the sweetness. Store in the refrigerator for another week until the vinegar flavor mellows.

For the cocktail, fill a mixing glass half full of ice. Add madeira, pisco, the shrub and the splash of orange cream. Stir for a minute or so to chill and serve up with a twist of lemon.

Photo of medlar, top, by David Padberg.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! The pictures and details of story are amazing. It sounds like you got to connect with the Davids mucho to get the scoop.

- Natalia

Kathleen Bauer said...

I'm thankful to "the Davids" for being willing to share, and to you for your kind words, Natalia!