Touted as a summer drink, fruit shrubs are actually a great way to bring some fruit into the cooler months.
Who doesn’t love the idea of a healthy elixir? From “detox” juices and turmeric infusions to coconut water and kombucha, the idea of drinking the body into balance resonates with many of us. A few years ago drinking vinegars (also known as shrubs) stumbled onto the scene as a delicious way to get a health boost. These fruit syrups preserved with vinegar are lovely. And not only do they provide a great assist in getting apple cider vinegar down the hatch, they can be used in cocktails or anytime you want a sweet and tart little blast.
Variations date back to various times and places all over the globe, even the American colonials and temperance-seekers got into the action. As The Kitchn explains:
The word "shrub" is derived from the Arabic sharbah, which means "a drink." ("Sherbet" and "syrup" also come from this Arabic root.) Although drinking vinegars aren't so common today, they have a long history stretching back to the Babylonians (who added date vinegar to water to make it safe to drink), and the Romans (who mixed vinegar and water to make a beverage called posca). Colonial-era sailors carried shrubs, rich with Vitamin C, aboard their boats to prevent scurvy. Shrubs also gained popularity during the Temperance movement, and many 19th- and early 20th-century housekeeping manuals contain recipes for them.
Fast forward a century and all that is old is new again ... and shrub syrups and drinks have started to populate supermarket shelves. But the great part about shrubs is that if you account for infusing time, they are easy to make at home. All you need is fruit, vinegar and sugar.
Fruit: Berries are a natural for this, but you can use any fruit you want. They should be ripe, but they don’t have to be pretty. Wash fruit thoroughly; chopping and/or crushing the fruit can shorten the infusing time.
Vinegar: Use your favorite vinegar that has at least 5 percent acidity. White vinegar imparts a clean flavor; apple cider vinegar is mild but earthy; wine vinegars are smooth and rich; balsamic vinegar gives a wonderfully deep flavor which pairs well with strong-flavored allies.
Sugar: White granulated sugar is the standard, it isn’t something we generally turn to around here, so at the very least use Fair Trade certified and/or organic. Raw sugar can also be used. (I’ve been playing around with alternatives like SuCaNat and maple syrup, I’ll update when I have something to report.)
Make sure to thoroughly clean all supplies and equipment first. The vinegar will take care of things like the bacteria responsible for botulism, but there are other bacteria that can lurk.
Simple Fruit Shrub Syrup
2 cups fresh, whole berries
2 cups vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, or more, to taste
Combine the fruit and vinegar in a large jar, tightly screw on the lid and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Let infuse for one week at room temperature, shaking daily. Strain the juice through a double layer of cheesecloth and funnel into a clean glass bottle. Add sugar and shake to combine. Refrigerate for one week before using, shaking daily until sugar has fully dissolved.
To dilute in a drink, add one ounce (or more, depending on taste) to five ounces of soda water. Serve over ice.
Imbibe makes some suggestions for flavor combinations, including blackberry and fresh thyme or strawberry and basil. With cooler seasons in mind, however, I’m also thinking:
- Pear, cardamom and ginger
- Plum and vanilla bean
- Apple and cinnamon
- Persimmon and ginger
- Cherry and pure almond extract
- Peach, nutmeg and cayenne pepper
The bottom line is that with the combination of sweet and tangy, many combinations will work wonderfully – be creative. Start with your favorite fruit, or that which you have in abundance, or that may be starting to turn the corner on freshness ... and get shrubbing!