Nature’s First Green Is Gold

The blackcurrant vinegar took six months to fully ferment. Today I bottled it; with some evaporation, what started as a half gallon ended up just filling two 20-ounce former soy sauce bottles (I left a little in the jar to give a head start to the next half gallon, which I poured right in). After tasting it, admiring the bottles, and reminding myself to make labels for them–it’s a pity that there’s no F in either word, because I had a hankering for some ye olde maple fyrup type font–it came time to figure out what to do with it.

Yes, my windows are dirty. Deal with it.

Because this is the Winter That Would Not Die, the nights have been seriously cold. As a result, sap season is still going strong and my buddy with all the trees gave me another 15 gallons. It’s about half cooked down in the huge canning tub, crowding the rest of the stove, and thus pretty hard to ignore. So naturally I thought that a blackcurrant-maple gastrique wouldn’t be the worst thing ever made. Next question: what to eat with it? As is so often the case, the freezer held the answer to this and many other questions. A lovely big hunk of locally-raised venison was as perfect a match as central casting could have provided with a week’s notice. And the rest of the meal was just sort of me playing grab-ass with the pantry and yard.

I ran out and dug/yanked a bunch of the wild garlic that is fast becoming my favorite plant on account of at least it’s fucking growing in this wintry purgatory we’re enjoying so much right now. And I found a bag of amaranth in the cupboard, and some brussels sprouts in the fridge. I cooked the amaranth in whey, adding minced garlic greens towards the end for a little sour cream and onion vibe that actually worked pretty well in a subtle sort of way. The brussels sprouts got the usual caramelize and then steam, this time with cider vinegar and a quivering spoon of some pork stock reduction. I sprinkled the meat with salt and pepper and seared it nice and hard all the way around while the vinegar and syrup reduced to a blood red stickiness. Lastly, I threw the garlic in the meat pan to brown after I took the venison out to rest.

It worked well, and the gastrique was a winner with the deer as of course it had to be. The amaranth’s slightly cheesy tang and tobiko texture made a surprising counterpoint, the sprouts are always a favorite, and the charred garlic is a treat. All the food internets are fixing to go ramp-happy any day now, but I’d like to give some major props to these little guys before that circus starts up again. They come up super-early, show up again in the fall, and have an addictively assertive flavor. And they make up about 17% of my lawn, so there’s that.

The vinegar is an interesting ingredient; very dark red, it shares a certain profile with wine vinegar. But the maple brought that fat black jammy fruit quality of the currants right back up in front. Careful balancing of the sweetness could make this into a whole bunch of exciting things from caramels to cocktails. And the color is sublime. You can read my vinegar-making post here if you haven’t already. I encourage everyone to give it a shot.

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  1. March 31

    Since I pretty much had beer for dinner, I am uncontrollably salivating right now. It all looks and sounds amazing. I have a hardcore green garlic addiction this year, which is good since it’s everywhere. Glad you at least have that since you have to deal with such crappy weather!

  2. March 31

    You still need to splain the “locally-raised venison” thing to me again. Peeps out by you are actually *raising* deer? Wild.

    I applaud all your fermento experiments of course. I’m finally back to raising blackcurrants too. There’d been a moratorium on them for a while out here because the Euro varieties had a bug that the other ribes (red currants, gooseberries, etc.) could get; now we have better cootie-free varieties to choose from. Just need to ensure the birds and especially chickens don’t get them so we can get our own vinegar groove on.

  3. March 31

    That vinegar sounds like it might be perfect in the drink charmingly known as a “shrub.” I’m sick of this weather too. I’d like to see something green. Not that that’s going to happen anyway- I live surrounded by bricks and concrete. *sigh*

  4. I am playing with a 150-odd year old recipe next week that uses elderflower vinegar… which I am going to have to manufacture but want to try to make this spring when the flowers come out. Those floral vinegars were very popular in years gone by… I’m seeing how you make the black currant… because it looks spectacular and I can imagine the maple gives it that wonderful warmth ( I use maple syrup in so many things… it is a wonder) The dish looks fab… the amaranth looks like an explosion of caviar… not a bad thing at all! btw… I hear snow next week… in April!

  5. Peter
    March 31

    Mo: It’s going to snow 4-8 inches tonight. Beer me.

    El: The currants also carried a blight that hurt white pine, so there were concerns about forestry and lumber. We got tons of pink and white last year, and I’m hoping that the blacks I planted last year will fruit copiously this time around.

    Christine: I have a growing list of cocktail possibilities that include shrub variants, and am going to need to start making them soon since the sun will never come out again.

    Deana: I have some plans for flower vinegars, too, and to plant more berries and fruit next month. At this rate I’ll have a dozen vinegars going by May.

  6. March 31

    sounds pretty rad, Peter. Stay gold, ponyboy, stay gold…

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