Mary Bannister laughs as she muddles the lemon rinds and sugar into an oleo-saccharum. She has a hard time saying “oleo-saccharum” with a straight face. “It basically means oily sugar,” she grins. “It’s such a pretentious term.”
Her laughter is infectious, but the results are real; the oils from the lemon rind are hygroscopically pulled into the sugar, giving the resulting mixture a deep, rich lemon flavor that no mere simple syrup can match. You’d have a hard time proving it scientifically, but it seemed that some of her laughter found its way into this bright, vivacious summer beverage, too. Whenever possible, we recommend joyful laughter as a secret ingredient in any kitchen project.
We spent a bright sunny morning together in the kitchen recently, making this Lemon, Basil & Blackberry Shrub. Mary’s gotten quite a bit of practice making shrubs, since she took over production at Vinegirl Vinegar, the one-woman vinegar business that she used to run out of the El Pajaro Kitchen Incubator. It’s was a labor of love that occupied her since she retired a few years ago. She uses local apples to make a fine apple cider, then ferments the cider into a golden, probiotic vinegar. She uses the vinegar to make her line of seasonal shrubs; aside from the oleo-saccharum, we also admired her technique for instantly transferring the blackberry juices into the vinegar, eliminating the longer infusion process that might have been used with whole berries. Her shrubs are never cooked, to preserve the beneficial probiotic properties of the vinegar. Read on to learn how she does it!
Sadly, we've lost touch with Mary and her vinegar. Perhaps she is still out there laboring in laughter. You can find raw apple cider vinegar to make your shrub in most health markets these days, or you can wait for apple season, and make your own.
Makes about 1 quart
Peel the rind from 5 lemons in wide strips. Place the peels in a mixing bowl and muddle them with the sugar to make an oleo-saccharum. The flavorful oils from the lemon rind are released into the sugar.
Juice the peeled lemons into a quart jar, straining to remove the seeds until you have about a cup and a half of juice. If needed, juice a few of the unpeeled lemons to make up the remaining measurement.
Place the blackberries in a bowl and mash them with a potato masher until they are a smooth, albeit seedy, consistency.
Place the mashed berries in a strainer, and press them through the mesh, so that their juice drips into the quart jar containing the lemon juice. You can save the blackberry solids, if desired, to put through a food mill for smoothies, fruit rolls, or other culinary adventures.
Remove the lemon peels from the sugar, reserving the oleo-sacchrum. Place the peels in a strainer, and pour the vinegar over the lemon peels, rinsing the lemon-sugar into the quart jar with the lemon and blackberry juices.
Place the basil leaves in the remaining lemon-sugar and muddle them well. Place the basil leaves and sugar in the quart jar, with the vinegar, blackberry and lemon juices and shake well until the sugar is dissolved.
Allow the blackberry lemon basil to infuse in the refrigerator for about 3 days.
Strain the basil leaves from the shrub, into a pretty bottle. Store the shrub in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a month.
To enjoy this beverage, fill a glass with ice. Mix 1/3 shrub with 2/3 sparkling water, and sip to be refreshed!
It’s ok with us if you want to add a splash of gin, too...
Cheers to summer, and lemons and blackberries. Cheers to small business! Cheers to the magical properties of laughter and oleo-saccharum!
It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old-fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.