A shrub is an old-fashioned elixir intended to preserve seasonal fruit using a combination of sugar and vinegar. Once outmoded, shrubs have seen a resurgence in popularity over the last couple of years. D and I had sampled several, both in their non-alcoholic state and mixed in to cocktails, but we had never made any until this past weekend. Perhaps we never would have tried our hand at these lovely summer sippers had it not been for Heidi.
Heidi is a purveyor of shrubs, selling her Mixers and Elixirs brand at our local farmers market. After meeting her a couple of weeks ago we added her on twitter where she promptly challenged us to try making shrubs of our own. The very next day D returned from his morning coffee run with a book on shrubs from our neighborhood culinary bookstore, Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks. D cannot walk within two blocks of this store without absolutely requiring a very important tome. And thus, with shrubs on the agenda, began our most recent Sunday Funday.
We started at the farmers market where we found lovely fresh currants and a flat of mixed berries. From this we decided on three shrubs from the book: red currant with white wine vinegar; raspberry and thyme with apple cider vinegar; and blackberries and lime (with the unscripted addition of mint because I have great difficulty sticking to a recipe), also with apple cider vinegar.
Initially I was concerned about using fresh herbs, as they may contain bacteria and mold that can rapidly multiply. However a quick Internet search affirmed that fresh herbs can be used to infuse vinegar but should not be used to infuse oil.
I washed each fruit and herb separately, allowing them to bathe in a solution of 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to 6 cups of water for 10 minutes and then rinsing them in cold water.
This, incidentally, is a fabulous way to clean berries to help increase shelf life. Then we went to work, muddling berries with sugar to extract as much juice as possible.
You may never have heard of a shrub before and may be wondering why that is. Shrubs were an early method of preserving fruit beyond the natural growing season, much the same way as beer preserved grain and wine preserved grapes, though in this instance without producing alcohol. (There are boozy shrubs but we’ll save those for another day.) With a shelf life of more than a year the preserved fruit flavor can then be enjoyed at any time. Shrubs are usually diluted, either with sparkling or flat water or with alcohol, before serving. But as food preservation techniques advanced shrubs were all but forgotten.
I’m not sure why shrubs are seeing a revival now, though I suspect it is a natural offshoot of our contemporary interest in antique cocktails. Whatever the reason, they add a new and fun dimension to any bar.
To be clear shrubs do have a pronounced vinegar taste. The vinegar should mellow as the solution ages but be sure to work only with vinegar that you actually like. Also if you decide to work with ‘live’ vinegar, such as Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar with “The Mother,” be prepared for your shrub to be cloudy. While I use live ACV for many purposes I selected pasteurized vinegar for project shrub.
Red Currant Shrub
- 1 ¾ cups red currants, cleaned and stemmed
- ½ cup turbinado sugar
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
Using a muddler or similar gently crush the currants in a medium bowl.
Add the sugar and continue to muddle until the mixture is juicy and the sugar is mostly incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate 2 hours.
Separate the liquid from the solids using a fine strainer. Discard the solids. Add the vinegar to the currant and sugar syrup, stirring well to incorporate any sugar crystals. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to rest in the fridge at least one week before using.
For a refreshing cocktail add ½ – 1 ounce of shrub and 1-3 ounces of dry vermouth to a highball glass. Top with soda water. Garnish with a twist.
Raspberry Thyme Shrub
- 2 cups raspberries, washed and picked over
- 1 cup sugar
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
Muddle the raspberries and sugar in a medium bowl until the juices are released and most of the sugar has been incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 2 days.
Place the thyme in a small mason jar and cover with the apple cider vinegar. Store in a cool dark place for 2 days.
Separate the liquid from the solids using a fine strainer. Discard the solids. Strain the thyme from the vinegar, discarding the thyme. Add the vinegar to the raspberry syrup, stirring well to incorporate any sugar. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to rest in the fridge at least one week before using.
For a refreshing cocktail shake 1/2 ounce raspberry thyme shrub with ½ ounce of elderflower liquor and 1 ounce of vodka or gin. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and top with soda or sparkling wine.
Blackberry Lime and Mint Shrub
- 1 ½ cups blackberries, washed and picked over
- Zest of 4 limes, pith carefully removed
- 1 large handful fresh mint, washed
- 1 cup turbinado sugar
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
Muddle the blackberries, lime zest, mint and sugar in a medium bowl until the juices are released and most of the sugar has been incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Separate the liquid from the solids using a fine strainer. Discard the solids. Add the vinegar to the blackberry syrup, stirring well to incorporate any sugar. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to rest in the fridge at least one week before using.
For a refreshing cocktail shake ½-1 ounce of blackberry lime shrub with 2 ounces of tequila or rum and ½ ounce of lime juice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or serve on the rocks topped with soda.