I’m a big fan of shrubs. Not the kind you purchase at the Garden Center, plant in the ground, and prune on occasion. I’ve never been much of a gardener at all, really. I like a pretty flower, relish the taste of a freshly plucked tomato, and it is nice to be able to pick fresh basil, rosemary, or sage at a moment’s notice. But I haven’t the patience for planting flowers, and I’ve tried every which way to grow a tomato in the middle of our woods, to no avail. There are usually some fresh herbs somewhere in the yard, but that is all due to my husband’s dedication, not mine.
So yes, I am very interested in shrubs. But shrubs of a different sort:
shrub2 – SHrəb/ noun
a drink made of sweetened fruit juice and liquor, typically rum or brandy.
a slightly acid cordial made from fruit juice and water.
early 18th century: from Arabic šurb, šarāb, from šariba ‘to drink’; compare with sherbet and syrup.
There is a great book on the subject of shrubs, as well as many delightful recipes, titled Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times by Michael Dietsch. I began my deep dive into shrub making with this book and I continue to refer to it all the time when considering a new flavor combination, a particular fruit, or just for inspiration. If you have a real interest in making some of your own shrubs, I highly encourage you to start with this book.
Lemon-lime (made with Turbinado sugar), Blueberry, Watermelon-Lime, Cucumber, Pink Grapefruit
The shrubs I make consist of a fruit and/or occasionally a vegetable, a sweetener, and vinegar. I’m a big fan of using what’s in season, so this time of year I lean towards berries. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are pretty easy to come by, but there is no reason why you couldn’t try huckleberries or even gooseberries, if you have a source.
My general rule is for every 2 cups of berries, I use 3/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2-3/4 cup of vinegar, but these proportions may change on the sweetness of the berries, the final sweetness desired, and/or the level of acid you desire in your shrub. In other words, experimentation is key. It’s also important to remember that the flavor of the shrub right after mixing will be different than the flavor 5 days later. The vinegar will have co-mingled with the sweet fruit syrup that much longer, making the vinegar less intense and the flavor that much more balanced.
If you’re interested in making a basic berry shrub, start with 2 cups of berries and 3/4 cup of sugar.* Mix the berries with the sugar, stirring well to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for anywhere from 24-48 hours, being sure to stir once or twice a day. When you have a nice syrup, place the berry and sugar mixture into a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl (I use an 8-cup glass measuring cup) and strain, pressing down on the berries to make sure you release as much of the juice as possible.
Now. At this point, you could easily throw all your berry bits and pieces into the compost and be done with it. But you might consider freezing it, seeds and all, and keep it for smoothies.
After you have your strained, sweetened berry juice, add your vinegar. You could try a raspberry, white, or red wine vinegar, or a champagne vinegar, or even just apple cider vinegar. Or combine them and see what happens. Start with 1/2 cup, give it a taste, and if you think you might like more, add more, but I would do it gradually, no more than about 1/4 cup at a time. I generally use around the same amount of vinegar as the amount of sugar, but not all the time. (I made a strawberry shrub with balsamic vinegar once and I did not enjoy it as a drink, but it made a pretty decent salad dressing!)
*The sugar you use could be white, turbinado, raw, pure cane, etc. Keep in mind, darker sugar will not only affect the flavor a bit, but also the color. I experimented once with some calorie free all natural sweetener but had little success. It never really dissolved into the syrup.
Once you have everything mixed together, put it all in a jar or bottle(s) and store in the refrigerator. After anywhere from 3-5 days (the longer the better, but I’m horribly impatient), you have a finished shrub. Mix about 1.5 oz with club soda for a refreshing, non-alcoholic drink. Or, add an alcohol of your choosing, maybe a squeeze of lime, throw in the shrub and club soda and you have a great cocktail.
My first raspberry shrub. I mixed about 2oz of gin, 1.5 oz of shrub, a healthy splash of Domaine de Canton, and topped with club soda. Delicious.