Roasted Fig Cocktail

Figgy2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Figs are, for me, lovable fruit. If they were human, they might be those amiable friends you take for granted. Sure, they’re less than gorgeous and at times positively gritty, almost too real inside, but you can’t doubt their sweetness, even when it’s subtle. And, if you’re lucky, when the time is right, they seem to just be there, waiting for you to reach out.

Jonathan, both my sisters, and my older brother grow (or have grown) figs, and they may regard them differently. I never think of figs’ proliferation, their appeal to birds or deer, and the obligations of using an overabundant yearly harvest resourcefully. They will never be the zucchini yield my coworkers seems to proffer. I regard them as supermarket treats. They never last long enough.

All those feelings account for my search for a cocktail exploiting figs. This summer, this blog has focused on seasonal fruit, and, as we edge toward fall, figs seemed the ideal choice. If the groceries are already offering Octoberfest beer, why not turn toward some of the warmer flavors of autumn? The particular recipe I chose also includes a nod to the shrub we tried a few weeks ago. The roasting that creates the fig puree owes a great deal to the balsamic vinegar balancing sweet and sour. The inclusion of maple syrup and bourbon only add to the transitional character of this cocktail. It’s neither a light nor refreshing cocktail of summer. Instead, it’s rich and dense.

Yet, I’m hoping it’s also a little fun. Maybe that’s because I can’t help thinking of that old Nabisco ad. Those “of a certain age” will remember it—a nebbish-y guy named “Big Fig” wearing a fig costume calls on the piano player Hal to help him sing a paean—decidedly off-key—to the virtues of Fig Newtons. Meanwhile he does a dance that’s not nearly as difficult as he thinks. At one point, he cries, “Here’s the tricky part!” and strikes a pose. Of course it’s not tricky at all. My brother and I could do it at ease, from memory. It’s ordinary, and most viewers at the time probably said, “How silly.”

Maybe I’m alone in extolling the virtues of underappreciated figs, but… well… I love them.

Here’s the recipe:

For the fig purée:

  • 12 ripe figs, halved
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

For the cocktail:

  • 1 heaping teaspoon fig purée
  • 1 1/2 ounce bourbon
  • 1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce maple syrup
  • Dash orange bitters

Directions

  1. To make the fig purée: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place the figs in a 9″x9″ metal baking pan and pour the balsamic vinegar over top. Bake for 12 minutes, stirring twice to prevent burning. Remove the figs from the oven and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
  1. Pour the figs and remaining liquid into the blender and purée until fully blended. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  1. To make the cocktail: Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add fig purée, bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup, and orange bitters. Shake for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmfig

We have used some odd ingredients. For instance, the very first cocktail included a peanut orgeat. A regular orgeat with almonds, which we also made and used, is different enough but that peanut one was messy, sticky and oddly delicious. The Bengali Gimlet included so many spices that I still have a small part of the spice shelf devoted to the left overs. There have been vinegars, multiple syrups, and a few peculiar fruits. This week was a different fruit and a vinegar. Bonus.

The combination of figs and balsamic vinegar to create a paste wasn’t hard and it did result in wonderful smelling kitchen. I used black mission figs mostly because that was what I could find but also because the ones I am growing have been an easy snack for all of the critters that have been enjoying my attempt at an edible landscape. It created a paste that is a dark purple studded with gold seeds which is lovely. I hope the picture shows off both the purple and the gold floaties as it was quite a visual.

The drink itself was interesting which discerning readers will recognize as transparent code for “I won’t be making more of these.” It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it especially with it unique taste. It just wasn’t special enough that I would be blending up a batch of fig paste each week to make more. The bourbon also got lost in the drink to the point that I think the proportion needs to be increased to at least 2 ounces. It might also cut some of the thickness of the paste, which you get with that heaping teaspoon.

My question now is what do I do with the rest of that paste? I am afraid that the balsamic vinegar would stand out too much to throw some in a smoothie. I could have bought some frozen pastry dough and whooped up some homemade newtons, but that thought only occurred to me after we had been shopping. Not to mention that there is probably not enough paste even after all the scraping I did to get it out of the blender. I think the best option is crostini, cream cheese and a schmear of paste. Mmmm, fig paste!

Jonathan’s take: One of the prettiest drinks that we have made

David’s take: Certainly not an everyday drink, but enjoyable

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Did anyone know there is more than one Maharani cocktail? Me neither. The one I am proposing uses Tanqueray Rangpur (that goes back to the Bengali Gimlet) and St. Germain. I still have both and am hoping that David does too.

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Shrub Cocktails

Shrub.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Yes, “shrub” is a funny word—as is, Monty Python fans will tell you, the word “shrubbery.” Normally a shrub is a woody plant smaller than a tree with several main stems arising at or near the ground, but in cocktailian lore, the word derives from sharāb, Arabic meaning “to drink,” which also gives us “sherbet” and “syrup” as metathetic variants… of course.

A shrub combines three basic ingredients: fruit, sugar, and vinegar. It’s the vinegar that’s strange, but the history of shrubs goes back to medicinal cordials of the 15th century and early cocktails 17th and 18th century England, when the lack of refrigeration may have made vinegar an almost inevitable part of every fruit syrup. Shrubs, often called “drinking vinegars,” were thought to have health benefits and were particularly popular in the American colonies. They often included infusions of herbs and spices as well as various fruit and rinds.

To us, it may seem odd to drink vinegar, but, if people make cocktails from pickle and olive brine, how’s a shrub strange? Trust me, the combination of sweet and sour flavors will be more familiar. As I said in my proposal last week, a shrub makes a lot of sense if you don’t live in Florida or California and are looking for a locally grown alternative to citrus.

Plus, in these-here modern times, shrub has become hip, and it’s easier to make (and more appetizing) than just leaving sweetened fruit on the counter until it begins to turn. You can make it with a hot or cold method or you can add the vinegar right in the cocktail glass. Some people don’t even want alcohol. Combined with carbonated water, shrubs may have been some of America’s earliest soft drinks.

The particular fruit I chose for my shrub was rhubarb, not because it’s another funny word but because we had some topping we’d been using for angel food cake and ice cream. However, any fruit would work… even prickly pear, I bet. Then you add some spirit (I chose bourbon), and perhaps some bubbles to lighten things up (I chose ginger ale), and some bitters. I chose cardamom bitters because that’s what the recipe I used called for… and I like to show off that I have such strange bitters… and I haven’t yet found a drink that cardamom bitters didn’t overwhelm (until now).

Here are the recipes, first for shrub and then for the drink I chose.

Fruit Shrub:

2-3 parts fruit
1 part apple cider or red wine vinegar
2/3 parts brown or white sugar

Shred or macerate fruit

Add Sugar

Cold Method: combine with vinegar and refrigerate, strain out fruit before using.

Hot Method: heat fruit and sugar, cool, add vinegar and refrigerate, strain out fruit before using.

Note: the hot method matures more quickly and is ready to use once it’s cool. The cold method takes longer because the flavors need to meld over a few days.

Bourbon Shrub Cocktail:

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce fruit shrub
3-4 dashes cardamom bitters
Ginger ale
2 apple slices

Fill a cocktail glass with ice and add in bourbon, apple shrub and bitter.

Stir gently and top with ginger ale.

Garnish with apple slices.

This formula is only a guideline, of course. Bourbon and rhubarb seem a congenial couple to me, but with so many variables to explore, a shrub could become (and has become) the basis for any number of cocktails using every sort of fruit and every sort of spirit. The English liked rum and brandy with their shrubs, so if this recipe doesn’t work for you… try another. Before I made a shrub, I never thought of drinking vinegar, but now I may add gin, or vodka, or scotch, or aquavit… boy, my liquor cabinet is full.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

schrub.jmThere are a number of classic commercials that I cite on a regular basis. The Popeil pocket fisherman, that portable wonder, is useful anytime one needs to compare something to an item so simple and ingenious that you wonder why you didn’t invent it yourself. Seriously, how is it still not popular? Chisanbop was a math aid that purported to turn kids into adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing aces in no time. The method was something akin to creating an abacus with your fingers and I still reference its possible use anytime some quick mind bending calculations need to be made. Of course that reference is not complete without a completely inaccurate display of Chisanbop calculations. The other regular reference is Jogging in a Jug.

Jogging in a Jug was a magic health elixir that claimed to help a person enjoy all the benefits of a running regimen without stepping a foot outside or on a treadmill. During the height of its popularity, before those pesky government health experts shut it down, I actually tried the stuff. One taste and it was obvious that a main ingredient was vinegar – apple cider vinegar as it turns out. Mixed with fruit juices to make it palatable, it enjoyed some success in sales, but now it is simply a reference to miracle cures.

This week’s drink with its odd mix of shrub and bourbon brought to mind that magic cure. The shrub is much more complicated than mixing fruit juices with vinegar but follows the same concept. The sweet apples and brown sugar create just enough distraction so that you don’t think about the fact that the liquid you are drinking is predominantly vinegar. So much so that the shrub by itself wasn’t bad at all.

The funny part is that the combination with bourbon is interesting, so different that I can’t recall another drink like it, and really good. Almost every drink we try, especially this far into the project, can be compared to something else but not this one. The shrub was distinctive and dominated the drink in a good way. I didn’t have cardamom bitters (I used Peychaud’s) and would have been interested what they added even though it is doubtful they would have changed the emphasis.

My final thought is that I have no idea what I am going to with the rest of my shrub. I guess it is there if I decide it’s time to start running again, and I really don’t want to get off the sofa.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I hope David is not a purist (actually we know that he is not) because I think we should make a non-traditional sangria. The season of fresh peaches is dwindling, and I want to try a lighter sangria made with that fruit and white wine before the peaches go. It is also a drink that can be made in large quantities, and David will be with a big group of ready tasters. There will be a basic recipe but this is a drink that can, and should, vary with what’s available.

Jonathan’s take: Is it just me or do I look lighter after that drink?

David’s Take: Quite a discovery. You think you’ve learned everything, and then…