On a whim, I sought out a pick-your-own farm near where we live because I have been craving fresh blackberries. They are plentiful in the produce section at the supermarket right now, but those aren’t the berries that make dreams come true. Last summer I picked wild blackberries in Washington State on the side of the road near my great-aunt’s home. They were some of the best I’ve ever eaten. A few weeks ago we found a farm stand with Oregon blackberries that were sweet and juicy as could be. We ate then straight from the blue paper carton, our fingers stained deep purple for several days following. Those berries were marvelous, but what I was needing, what I was lacking, was getting tangled up in the branches and leaves as I searched for the perfect, warm-from-the-sun berries.
We drove to the farm – big busy roads became a two lane highway with corn as tall as buildings along the side and the sent of fresh cut hay wafting into the windows. We sang at the top of our lungs to our favorite Idaho songs and watched the farms whizz by. The road started to twist and turn and we found ourselves on a dusty road with hand painted signs directing us where to go. The stand looks abandoned, but as soon as the dust settled and our rambunctious kids flung open their doors, the farmers (husband and wife) were there to greet us.
Everyone we’ve met in Idaho has been friendly. Literally everyone. This couple was no different. They explained that we’d arrived just after another couple of blackberry pickers had left with a bounteous harvest. He told me to check underneath the bushes because no on checked under there and I was sure to find the biggest, juiciest berries. (He was right.) In the extreme heat of the late afternoon, we plucked a few big juicy, sweet berries, and a few more tart, tiny clusters of jewel-toned berries. My kids quickly lost interest when they realized it wasn’t going to be so easy to find the berries. I was determined to take some home though. They were more fascinated by the apple trees (we picked some of those too!) and free range turkeys (I ordered one for Thanksgiving!) I was determined to come home with enough blackberries to make something…anything. My haul was weighed out at modest 1.5 pounds and I declared that half hour or so was worth it.
I’ve been drooling over gorgeous drink recipes posted by my fellow bloggers this summer. So many gorgeous beverages! I’ve been caught up in brewing batch after batch of kombucha and flavoring it in all sorts of ways. It has been satisfying my need for fun, fruity, fizzy drinks. But then I saw Alanna’s Cherry Vanilla Maple Shrub and my heart skipped a beat. It’s been on my mind ever since. I had heard of a shrub and vaguely knew it had vinegar in it, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I don’t really drink, so cocktails aren’t my forte. A shrub is a fruit syrup made with mashed fruit, sugar, and vinegar. It’s combined with liqueurs, soda water, or whatever else to make a delightfully delicious cocktail.
I brew about 2 gallons of kombucha a week. I have had a few jars of kombucha vinegar hanging out on my kitchen counter for the last few weeks. To get kombucha vinegar, the brewer allows the kombucha to ferment until all or most of the sugar has been used up by the culture. It is incredibly acidic – way too acidic to drink straight up. I found out through trial and error that my brewing times weren’t always the same each week. I’ve had (ahem) several batches of kombucha turn to vinegar. I decided to use some of my kombucha vinegar to make a blackberry shrub. My little herb garden needed to be trimmed down, so I added some fresh Thai and Sweet Basil, which was spectacular.
I’m at that place where I feel a little sad that summer is about over but also feel very excited in anticipation of fall. I love the nip in the air and the plethora of fall fruit and veggies. It’s simply marvelous. Here in Boise, the leaves have already been changing on a few trees since July. Can you believe that? Crazy. Boise is The City of Trees, so I can’t wait for them to all turn gorgeous yellows and reds. And I’m sure there will be more blackberries well into fall for us to pick, and we’ll enjoy drinking this again as we say goodbye to summer and hello to autumn.
- For shrub
- 2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
- ½ cup maple syrup (can also use sugar or honey, etc.)
- 1 cup vinegary kombucha (can also use unflavored, raw kombucha)
- 2-4 Tablespoons loosely packed basil leaves and blossoms
- For cocktail (or mocktail):
- Crushed ice
- 2 ounces kombucha scrub
- 2 ounces liqueur (optional)
- Sparkling mineral water
- extra berries and basil blossoms, for garnish
- For shrub- place berries, maple syrup, basil, and blossoms in a large jar. Mash well to release the berry juices. Add the kombucha vinegar. Cover and let steep in the refrigerator at least 24 hours for best flavor. Strain, pressing down on the berries to get as much juice as possible. Discard the pulp. Keep in the refrigerator in a lidded jar until ready to use.
- To make a cocktail - place desired amount of ice in a glass and add the kombucha scrub and liqueur, if using. Fill the glass with sparkling water and garnish. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Alanna Taylor-Tobin of Bojon Gourmet
Alanna suggests using 1 part shrub to 4 parts soda water with a splash of your preferred liqueur or whiskey