Three Delicious Shrubs

Let’s begin with a couple of apologies: First, I’d like to say sorry for posting this much later than intended, as the fruits included in these tasty things are no longer in season where many of us live. I’d also like to apologize for the shots of the final product, which are not my finest. I tried on numerous occasions to take pictures of the individual drinks, but things just were not working for me. So this weekend, I just said “screw it!” and crammed them all together into one shoot, hoping that the varying colors would bring some life to the photos. But still, I was not happy with what I managed to capture. After trying a ton of slight adjustments in Lightroom to get things where I wanted them, I lost it. I gave up and applied a color filter. So now, I present you with photos that look like they were created in Instagram. Except it took me hours. But it’s OK, because I have plenty of nice ingredient pictures to supplement them. (Focus on the positives, Nersh! And stop complaining like a psycho . . . also, stop referring to yourself in the third person.)

OK, now that we got my crazy out of the way, let’s talk shrubs. Many of you that follow the blog are already familiar with these things (as I’m slightly obsessed). But for those who are wondering why I’m talking about short trees but showing you pictures of fizzy drinks: A shrub is a beverage made from fruit, sugar, and vinegar, which dates back to the days when preservation via refrigeration was not an option. Instead, people would macerate fruit and sugar together to extract the juices, then steep everything in vinegar for a week or so. Then they’d filter out the fruit, and be left with a delicious drinking vinegar. (For more on shrubs, see this post on Serious Eats.)

Shrubs have made quite a comeback in recent years, and for good reason — they’re awesome. Their sweet-yet-tangy flavor makes for a refreshing beverage when mixed with seltzer. And that same punchy taste can also do wonderful things in cocktails. And with a variety of fruits, sugars, and vinegars to mix and match, the combinations are nearly endless.

And that is how I wound up with over two gallons of shrubs this fall. See, I have this tendency to become a little obsessed with things. Especially food projects. And especially ones that involve things I can drink (ESPECIALLY with booze — see also this post). So I collected a ton of fruits from the farmers’ market. And I bought so much vinegar, I actually had to use a shopping cart. (I’m a basket girl — the weight keeps me from spending too much money. And of course shopping cart vinegar day was also the day I spent way more than I had intended. Also the day I realized at the register that I’d left my cash and debit card in my other bag after spending the morning at the farmers’ market. That was fun.)

And so, I set to work on four different shrubs. Giant 2-quart batches of each. One was a new batch of this (hurray second rhubarb crop!). And the other three were:

raspberry + lemon + white wine vinegar + cider vinegar

blueberry + peach + basil + white wine vinegar + cider vinegar

plum + orange + cider vinegar + balsamic vinegar

And what I wound up with were three very different shrubs. The raspberry-lemon shrub is extremely floral and tangy. The blueberry-peach-basil shrub is almost vegetal. And the plum-orange shrub has a much smoother, full-bodied flavor.

Out of all three, I have to say that the plum-orange is my favorite. Or perhaps it would be better described as my current obsession. And that’s because it pairs splendidly with applejack and ginger beer. A few dashes of apple bitters, and it tastes like pure, amazing fall. The blueberry shrub, on the other hand, works well with gin/vodka, Pimm’s, and Lillet. And the raspberry shrub is a little bit of a strange thing. Its perfume-y nature can easily overpower a lighter drink, but adds a really nice flavor in small doses. On the other hand, it can be nicely balanced by a stronger liquor, such as whiskey or brandy. (This is the one I’ve experimented with the least, so I haven’t nailed down a particular drink just yet.)

Even if you can’t get your hands on some in-season fruit, I highly recommend giving these a try (they work very well with frozen fruit), or putting them in your pocket for a later date. And for those of you in the southern hemisphere, put these on your To Do list this summer!

(Instructions follow recipe ingredient lists. Yield for each recipe approximately 2 cups of syrup.)

Raspberry-Lemon Shrub

  • 2 cups of raspberries
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 10 black peppercorns, slightly crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar

Blueberry-Peach-Basil Shrub

  • 1 1/4 cups of blueberries
  • 3/4 cup of peaches, pitted and chopped
  • a dozen large basil leaves, bruised
  • 10 black peppercorns, slightly crushed
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup of cider vinegar

Plum-Orange Shrub

  • 2 cups of plums, pitted and chopped
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 10 black peppercorns, slightly crushed
  • 2 cups of light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups of cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar

Combine fruit, peppercorns, and sugar in a bowl or jar, stirring to evenly-coat the fruit. Allow mixture to sit for around 1 hour, then macerate until everything is nice and broken up. Cover and let sit for 24 hours. (At room temperature is fine, but feel free to stick it in the fridge too.)

After 24 hours, macerate the mixture again, trying to crush the fruit as much as possible. Let it sit for another 24 hours.

Add the vinegars and stir well. Store at room temperature for 7–9 days, giving it a good stir each day. When finished, pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, then transfer to a clean jar or container. Store syrup in the fridge.

To mix: Add 1 part syrup to 2.5–3 parts seltzer, or experiment with it in cocktails!

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve never heard of shrubs before. Are they similar to kombucha in any way?

    Your flavors sound so dreamy, Carey! Gosh, raspberry and lemon? Blueberry, peach, and basil? And yowza, plum and orange! Yum. My curiosity has been whetted. I’ll definitely have to give these a try… next summer I guess?

    • says

      Kind of! They definitely have the tang of kombucha, but the vinegary-ness is balanced out by the fruit juice and sugar. When you take a sip, the sugary fruit is the first thing you taste, but then the vinegar sneaks up and gives you a nice kick in the teeth — I love it. Definitely give them a try! I’ve had others tell me that they work very well with frozen fruit, but there’s just something about buying up tons of almost out-of-season fruits that makes the whole process feel a lot more authentic. (In the I-like-getting-lost-in-a-world-of-olden-days-charm sense, at least.)

      It’s funny, just a little over a year ago I was that person that DESPISED all things pickled. Now, I can’t get enough. I should give kombucha another try now that I’ve become addicted to these shrub drinks. I was using it in smoothies this spring, but maybe now I’ll have a taste for it straight up.

  2. says

    You weren’t kidding when you said you had gallons of shrubs in the making! These all sound amazing! I’m not a big fan of plums, but I would definitely give your plum and orange shrub a shot. I’m going to be dreaming of these all day while I attempt to complete some statistics homework.

    I’m curious why you add peppercorns to all of your shrubs. What kind of flavor does that add? How do you think they would taste without them?

    • says

      Oh man, I’m going to sound like a doof, but I really have no idea why the peppercorns are necessary! :D They were included in the strawberry-balsamic shrub recipe that I used for my strawberry-rhubarb shrub, so I’ve added them to all my other shrubs ever since. They might add a little extra kick (and provide a bit of balance to some of the sweeter shrubs), but I think they could definitely be left out too without changing the flavor all that much.

      I rode a bit of an emotional rollercoaster with that plum-orange shrub. At first, when it was just all the macerated plums and sugar, it smelled AMAZING. Then once I added the vinegars and had been stirring it for a few days, it started to smell kind of intense. Like one of those drinks that’s just too much of everything. And then I filtered it and the color left a lot to be desired. It just looks like murky water. But then I added it to some applejack and it completely blew me away. I don’t particularly care for it on its own, but it’s an amazing mixer. Definitely perfect with brandy, but it also works well with rye. (I love it so much, it’s already half gone!) It will be a sad day when it’s finished, but I’m going to start batches of beet and apple shrubs soon, so I think I’ll be ok. :)

      • says

        I am making a batch of the plum-orange shrub this week…after I get paid :D Peppercorns will definitely be included! Thank you for sharing your thought process on the stuff, thereby saving me from a potential emotional rollercoaster. Beet and apple shrubs are also on the lineup in my kitchen. Shrubs for everyone!

        • says

          Weee! YES. I’m also dreaming of making a giant batch of peach shrub next year. (Apparently peach and my new favorite liqueur Cynar are best friends. I read it in one of Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s posts, and now I can totally taste it. I’m obsessing over it, but it will need to wait!)

  3. Avalon Coleman says

    Your Site is Beautiful! Can’t wait to try your Shrubs…Thanx so much for making Life a little Sweeter.

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