I apologize to my readers for being away from the blog universe for a few weeks. I was in Orlando, Florida, having a decidedly non-colonial experience with my family at the Harry Potter theme park. I was also letting my shrubs age and mellow.
Shrubs, also known as “drinking vinegars,” are syrups made from fruit (usually berries), vinegar, and sugar, which are then combined with water, wine, or spirits to make a refreshing, tart summer drink. An easy way to preserve fruits in the days before refrigeration, shrubs date back to 17th century England and were popular thirst-quenchers in colonial America.
Shrubs have made a comeback recently, and many bartenders now make their own. “Shrubbers,” as they’re called, make the syrup many different ways. Some macerate the fruit in sugar and then add vinegar, while others mix the fruit and vinegar first, then add sugar. Opinion is also divided as to whether to cook the syrup or follow a cold-process method. I decided to try all these approaches and drive myself a little batty. I ended up with a refrigerator full of strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry shrubs.
Here is an early 19th-century recipe for raspberry shrub, reprinted in Helen Bullock’s The Williamsburg Art of Cookery. It uses the simmering method:
Measure your Raspberries into a Bowl, and pour over them an equal Quantity of Vinegar. The next Day take out the Fruit and add as much more to the same Vinegar. The Day following, remove the Raspberries as before and again replace them with Fresh and on the fourth Day put to each Pint of Liquid a Pound of Loaf-sugar — place it in a Skillet on a gentle Fire, simmer and skim it for a short Time when it will be ready to bottle for Use — Seal it down well.
What struck me about this recipe was that the author used a ton of raspberries. How nice to have a raspberry patch rather than buy them at enormous cost at a supermarket. (Although of course it was more work.) Anyway, I made a similar recipe but didn’t swap out the raspberries each day.
Adapted from farmhousemagazine.com
1 pint raspberries, rinsed
apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1. Add vinegar to the raspberries to make 2 cups total (a large glass measuring cup works well for this), making sure that the vinegar covers the raspberries. You might have to press the raspberries down a bit.
2. Let the mixture sit for about two days in the refrigerator.
3. Strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve into a stockpot, pressing down on the berries to get all the liquid out.
4. Add the sugar to the juice and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until syrupy, about 10-15 minutes.
5. Let cool, then pour through a funnel into a clean glass container with an air-tight lid (a mason jar works well). Store in the refrigerator for at least a week, and up to 6 months. The vinegar in the shrub will mellow over time, and the flavors will meld.
6. To serve, put one or two tablespoons of the syrup in a glass, add ice if desired, and fill with flat or sparkling water, or sparkling wine. Stir. (You can also mix this or any shrub with gin, rum, vodka, or a liqueur.)
This cold-process shrub is based on recipes by Michael Dietsch in Stirred, Not Shaken and Ellen Jackson in Culinate.com. (Jackson’s article also has good recommendations for different combinations of fruit, vinegar, and herbs to try in shrub making.)
4 cups fresh strawberries, preferably organic, washed and quartered
2 cups sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1. Combine the fruit and sugar in a large bowl. Gently break up the fruit with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. The mixture will become very syrupy.
2. Strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl, pressing on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible. Add the vinegar to the syrup and whisk well to combine and dissolve the sugar. (Don’t throw away the solids! They can be used like preserves on toast, etc.)
3. Pour the shrub mixture through a funnel into a clean glass jar or bottle, then cap, shake well, and refrigerate. Shake again every few days to dissolve sugar that may settle to the bottom of the bottle. Your shrub should be ready to drink in about a week and will improve over time. (It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.)
4. To serve, place a few tablespoons of the shrub in a glass and add still or sparkling water, using ice if deserved. This also tastes great with sparkling wine.