Jams, jellies and juices: Making the most of autumn’s bounty

Where I Eat, Massachusetts: Elizabeth Benbow shares a recipe for Bourbon-Cranberry Shrub Cocktail

‘To be forced to figure out ways to use flavours and produce you would ordinarily pass by in a supermarket has been a real eye-opener for me, and a true pleasure.’

‘To be forced to figure out ways to use flavours and produce you would ordinarily pass by in a supermarket has been a real eye-opener for me, and a true pleasure.’

 

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Throughout Food Month this November, Irish readers abroad will be sharing their favourite food experiences, memories and recipes from where they live now. Want to write one of your own? Email emigration@irishtimes.com.

My five years in Massachusetts have been coloured not just by the autumn leaves tossed around by the wind and sparkling on the trees, but also by the flavours I have encountered through participating in community-supported agriculture (CSAs).

Before the growing season starts, a farm sells shares in their crop, which helps them to plan ahead, buy seeds and supplies, and generally get through the leaner winter months. Once the summer comes along, everyone shares in the bounty, provided all goes well with the crop. Fresh organic or near-organic produce is provided each week during the summer and autumn and it is up to me to figure out what to do with it if I don’t want to find a forgotten red cabbage at the back of my fridge many months hence.

Last year brought a few firsts for me when we switched to a farm co-operative that sources crops from many local Massachusetts growers. Each week the organisers call local farms and ask what they are selling, factoring their budget in their decision but also remaining flexible to pounce on a particular glut of food a farmer might have that week.

It means I have to be on my toes in the kitchen, since we only get an email the night before with a vague idea of what will be provided. It was an easy switch to make however, because the coop depot was closer to our house than our CSA, offered bulk orders of many crops and fruits, and they had more fruit options which was great for my two sons, who regularly finish that week’s berries before I’m finished weighing the other produce.

My first epiphany came when I picked up a large supply of leftover Concord grapes at the farm depot, and brought it home to make grape jam and grape jelly. It was a lot of work separating the skins and flesh for the jam (the jelly is merely cooked down and drained through a cheesecloth), but the yield was so excellent that this year I still have some jelly left over.

This year, I made grape syrup with the small amount of grapes included in our share from the co-op, which was delicious as a cordial mixed with water.

By autumn last year I was completely hooked on buying fruit in bulk from our new co-op and making jam with it. When we got two lots of cranberries back to back and I still had not done anything with them by the second week, I determined to make cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving turkey. It was not something I had previously relished (I’m a gravy girl myself) but I knew my husband’s family would enjoy some at the Thanksgiving table so I went for it.

The berries make a delicious popping sound as they cook. The sauce was so much better than what you buy in the stores and I even have a jar leftover for this year… which is handy because I discovered the most amazing cocktail to use this year’s crop for instead. It is a “cranberry shrub” recipe, adapted from one I found in a Martha Stewart Living magazine.

A shrub is like a cordial made with vinegar. You add it to a copious amount of alcohol (in this case bourbon) for a most enticing drink. I just need this year’s mixture to stay in the fridge a smidgeon longer, as I have four more weeks of pregnancy to get over before I can tuck in.

Getting to know native fruits and berries in the kitchen has been such a blessing for me. I had already discovered that some native fruits should be embraced in all forms (blueberry soda and blueberry pancake syrup especially!) However, to be forced to figure out ways to use flavours and produce you would ordinarily pass by in a supermarket has been a real eye-opener for me, and a true pleasure.

Bourbon-Cranberry Shrub Cocktail

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 shots bourbon
1 shot 7-Up or Sprite

Method:
Combine the cranberries, sugar and vinegar in a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove once it has come to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool completely. You can keep it in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

For the cocktail, fill a rocks glass with ice. Add bourbon, Sprite and 2 tablespoons of the shrub liquid along with one tablespoon of the cranberries. Stir and enjoy.

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