Use almost any berry or fruit to make this refreshing beverage
Shrubs were all the rage during colonial times, both here in the US and in Britain.
Shrub syrup is usually made from fruit preserved with vinegar and sugar. Berries are a popular choice of fruit – and they’re our favorite.
Shrub syrups tend to be used in drinks (with or without booze). Today we’re making a nonalcoholic shrub drink, so you can serve this one to the whole family. It’s easy to make too. Just add shrub syrup to soda water and you’ll have an old-timey beverage that’s better than commercial sodas.
So mix one up and quaff like Alexander Hamilton. No wig required.
Recipe: Berry Shrub (Nonalcoholic)
There are two ways to make shrub syrup: cold or hot process. For the cold process, you just combine fruit and sugar, then let them mingle for a couple of days in the fridge. When you’re ready to drink, you strain the liquid (discarding the remaining solids) and add vinegar. That’s it.
For the hot process, you combine fruit, sugar, and water in a saucepan. Heat, then strain the liquid and add vinegar.
The cold process method takes longer (most of that time without any input from you), but the resulting syrup tastes brighter and less “cooked.” The hot process takes only about half an hour, so you can use the syrup right away. We describe both methods in more detail below.
The standard shrub recipe combines equal quantities of each ingredient. But after you’ve made it once or twice, you may elect to use less sugar and/or vinegar. If you become interested in making shrubs, we recommend Michael Dietsch’s book Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times. His book includes recipes for preparing shrub syrups from berries, cherries, apples, and even cucumbers or other veggies. He features recipes for shrub drinks (with and without alcohol), and has loads of tips on shrub making.
Before you can make a shrub drink, you need to make the syrup, of course. So we include two recipes today. The first, for making the syrup, yields about 2 to 3 cups (depending on whether you use the cold or hot process). You can easily scale it up. Shrub syrup keeps well for weeks (or even months) if refrigerated in a glass container.
The second recipe explains how to make a drink using shrub syrup. This recipe takes about 5 minutes, and yields 1 serving.
Ingredients for Shrub Syrup
- 1 cup berries (or other fruit; we used raspberries in our shrub)
- 1 cup sugar (but see Notes)
- 1 cup water (only if using the hot process)
- 1 cup cider vinegar (may substitute wine vinegar; balsamic vinegar is nice when making a strawberry shrub)
For the cold process method:
- Rinse the berries. If using strawberries, hull them and cut them into quarters. Place the berries in a nonreactive bowl and crush them slightly. Add the sugar, then stir well to combine. Cover the mixture with shrink wrap and refrigerate for 2 days. Stir once or twice during that time.
- Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour the berry/sugar mixture into the strainer. With a spatula, press the berries to extract their liquid. Pour the vinegar over the berries (this helps wash off the sugar) and allow it to drain into the bowl. Using the spatula, press the remaining liquid into the bowl. Discard the berry solids (or save them to serve over ice cream).
- Pour the liquid into a glass jar or bottle. Cover tightly, then shake to combine the mixture thoroughly. Label the shrub jar/bottle and refrigerate it. Before using the syrup, shake it again to combine.
- Prepare the berries as in Step 1 above, then place them in a 2-quart sauce pan. Add the sugar and water, then bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour the berry mixture from the sauce pan into the strainer. With a spatula, press the berries to extract their liquid. Discard the berry solids.
- Add the vinegar to the berry liquid. Pour the liquid into a glass jar or bottle. Cover tightly, then shake to combine the mixture thoroughly. Label the shrub jar/bottle and refrigerate it. Before using the syrup, shake it again to combine.
- 1 to 2 ounces shrub syrup (to taste)
- 4 to 6 ounces seltzer water (to taste; may also use ginger ale)
- garnish of mint sprigs or orange wheel (optional)
- Add the shrub syrup to an ice-filled glass. Add the seltzer water, then stir briefly.
- Garnish, if you wish, with mint sprigs or an orange wheel. Add straws, then serve.
- Make sure to store the finished shrub syrup in a glass container. Vinegar can react with plastic.
- We’ve made shrub syrup using both the cold and hot process methods. If we’re in a hurry, we use the hot process. But we prefer the cold process method – we think the flavor is somewhat better.
- If you’re using the cold process method, you can reduce the amount of sugar and/or vinegar (try using ½ to ¾ cup of each per cup of fruit). The shrub syrup will be less sweet/tart. Don’t go below ½ cup, though – you don’t want to compromise the preserving properties of the vinegar and sugar.
- We like to use cider vinegar in shrub syrups. It has lots of flavor, without being lip-puckeringly tart. But wine vinegar, rice vinegar, and balsamic vinegar also work. We suggest you avoid plain white vinegar – it tends to be rather harsh.
- You can flavor shrub syrups with herbs, such as thyme. If using the cold process method, just soak a few sprigs in the vinegar while the berry/sugar mixture is “mingling” in the refrigerator (Step 1 of the cold process recipe). Remove the thyme before you combine the vinegar and juice from the berries in Step 2. If using the hot process method: While the berries are heating in Step 1, heat the vinegar in a separate sauce pan. When the vinegar reaches a simmer, turn off the heat and add a few sprigs of thyme (or another herb of choice). Let the herb sprigs steep in the vinegar for 2 minutes, then remove them with a pair of tongs.
- Riper fruit makes a better shrub syrup. In fact, if you have overripe fruit (that’s not spoiled), making shrub syrup is a good way to use it.
- Shrub syrup can be used to make a fruit-tinged vinaigrette salad dressing. Use 1 to 3 parts oil for each part shrub syrup (in other words, to taste).
- We like to use seltzer or soda water when making a drink with shrub syrup. But you can substitute ginger ale for a sweeter drink. You might also want to experiment with other sodas, or even ginger beer.
- Shrub syrups make excellent alcoholic drinks. We’ll be sharing a shrub cocktail recipe later this month. Originally, most people drank their shrubs with alcohol.
- Shrub drinks have been around for centuries. They were particularly popular from the 17th through the 19th centuries in Britain and America – most often mixed with brandy or rum.
- Vinegar and sugar help preserve fruit, so making shrub syrup was a good way to preserve summer’s bounty before refrigeration arrived.
- BTW, the word shrub reportedly derives from the Arabic word for “to drink.”
Monty Python and the Kitchen Riffs
“Shrub, eh?” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Guess this is the Holy Grail of summer drinks.”
“Ni! Ni!” I said. “So glad I could bring you a shrubbery.”
“We’re lucky there’s no pestilence upon this land,” said Mrs K R. “Otherwise, those who arrange and design shrubberies might be under considerable economic stress at this period in history.”
“True,” I said. “Fortunately, I’m not dead yet.”
“And you’re no doubt obsessed with huuuuge . . . tracts of land,” said Mrs K R.
“That’s not me, that’s one of the presidential candidates,” I said.
“Just for that,” said Mrs K R, “I should turn you into a newt.”
Run away! Run away!
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