While visiting my family up in Seattle for the holidays last year I stumbled into a little French macaroon bakery. The colors of this sweet space were enough to lure me through the door, but what really caught my attention after inspecting the twenty plus flavors of macaroons, were the intriguing rows of bottles sitting on the shelf. At closer inspection I realized the bottles each had a different fruit name and they were filled with something called Shrubs.
If you haven’t heard about shrubs yet, you are not alone, although this fruit and vinegar concoction dates back to Babylonian times. Much like the reason jams and jellies have been around so long, shrubs were created in part to preserve the fruit and sometimes vegetables long after harvest time. Fruit combined with compatible herbs and flowers, sugar and a vinegar base make for a most delightful tangy, sweet and tart surprise. With the addition of vinegar, shrubs are basically fruit infused syrups or an acidulated beverage rather than a preserve smeared over toast.
My research led me to find a few originations for the word shrub. First this acidulated beverage is referred to in Arabic as sharab or shurb, which literally means “a drink”, or “to drink.” The words syrup and sherbet also come from the word sharab. The translation of the Hindi word sharbat is an aromatic syrup made from herbs and flower extracts and fruit. The history of shrubs date back to the Babylonian time when they used date vinegar to make cooling drinks. The Italian beverage Posca dates back to the early Romans where they also mixed vinegars and water. Lastly I found that because the use of fruit in this refreshing drink makes for a high dose of vitamin C, sailors during the Colonial era also were known to carry the ingredients for the drink on-board to ward off scurvy for the sailors.
Those in the know, actually think of drinking shrubs in the warmer months because when the ingredients meld, our salvation glands are triggered to create saliva that in turn refreshes us when our mouths are dry. Nothing is more refreshing than a cool glass of juice. OK, then take it a few steps further with the addition of vinegar, which is tangy and acts as a great balancing agent for the sweet fruit. Then if you like, add your favorite alcoholic beverage to create the ultimate cocktail. My favorite way to drink a shrub is actually with the addition of a bubbly water, such as tonic or seltzer water without the alcohol, but indeed a bit of gin, vodka or rum makes for a really creative and tasty drink.
If you know me, and the types of food I like to create, you’ll understand why this drink resonates with me. I’m all about making combinations of different foods, especially locally grown ones. Figuring out which things will make the perfect marriage in the mouth gets my juices going and I just love turning friends on to something new and exciting to eat or drink.
I’m bringing up the subject of shrubs in the winter because I just so happen to have an abundance of fruit in my freezer, which is chopped and ready for making into something sweet. After discovering shrubs I’ve been on a super shrub kick and have been having a blast in the kitchen making combinations that seem to delight everyone who enters my kitchen. In fact, I was writing about shrubs on Facebook one evening and a fun Valentine’s evening cocktail party quickly was pulled together with you guessed it… shrubs as the centerpiece at the makeshift bar.
A few of my favorite combinations~
Blueberry, Lavender & Black Pepper Peaches & Ginger
Plums & Lemon Verbena Beets & Lemon
Cranberries, Orange and Lime Peel with Lemon Verbena & Kefir Lime Leaves
The House Favorite~ Blueberry Lavender & Pepper Shrub
This recipe works great with frozen berries. It’s time to make some room in your freezer!
2 cups of blueberries
3 tablespoons lavender flowers
10 black peppercorns, slightly crushed
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of white wine vinegar
1 cup of cider vinegar
Combine blueberries, lavender, peppercorns, and sugar in a bowl or jar, stirring to evenly-coat the fruit. Cover. Allow mixture to sit for two hours, and then macerate (stir) until everything broken up. Cover and let sit for 24 hours at room temperature or in the fridge.
After 24 hours, macerate the mixture again, trying to crush the fruit as much as possible. Let it sit for another 24 hours.
Combine the vinegars and add to the fruit. Stir to combine everything. Store at room temperature for 7–9 days; stir the mixture a few times 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.
For drinking: Add 1 part syrup to 2.5–3 parts seltzer, or add to spirits. Be Creative!
Rosemary Kiwi Shrub
Since it’s kiwi season here on the North Coast I thought I’d share this recipe for a bit of spring in a glass.
2 pounds of peeled and sliced kiwi
Half of a lemon, sliced thinly
1 sprig of rosemary, a few lemon verbena leaves if you have them
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar- preferably champagne or white wine vinegar, but apple cider works
In a quart size-canning jar or bowl, alternate the slices of kiwi with the sugar. Cover and let sit for at least 5 hours or overnight to extract the juice out of the fruit creating kiwi syrup.
Uncover and add the lemon, herbs and the vinegar. Reseal and let stand for 24 hours, shaking the jar or stirring the bowl every once and a while to dissolve the sugar.
Using a strainer or sieve, strain the mixture, stir and store in the refrigerator. The shrub will last for months in your refrigerator.
Combine a few tablespoons of shrub in a glass with bubbly water or a combination of shrub, alcohol of your choice and bubbly water with a lemon slice as garnish.