There are many ways to enjoy the bounty of fresh summer fruits – jams, salads and desserts to name a few. One technique that’s having a resurgence is a fruit shrub. Popular in 17th and 18th century England, British shrubs were made with citrus fruits and sugar combined with brandy or rum. In Colonial America, shrubs were a way to preserve precious fruit harvests. Early American recipes infused simple syrup with berries, then added vinegar for a sweet and sour concoction. It might seem odd to drink something that contains vinegar but the combination of tart and sweet mellows over time and works magic when combined with cocktails in place of bitters. The concentrated flavors of a shrub can be served with a little water and ice or combined with sparkling water and/or alcohol, making it a perfect addition to your summer beverage table.
With home confinement during the pandemic, we’ve been able to closely monitor the seasons and watch the ever-changing flora and fauna around our home. We’ve seen our groundhog teach her six offspring to forage for themselves and watched our red fox proudly parade her kits across our lawn. We’ve also been able to keep a closer eye than ever on the wild berry plants along our hedgerow. This year was a record-breaking harvest probably because we’ve been around each day to pick berries, leaving less for the local wildlife to enjoy. We had no idea that there were so many bushes of wild blackcaps, raspberries and blackberries on our property! I’ve packed most of the berries into our freezer to enjoy during the colder months. One of our favorite recipes is venison with a wild blackcap reduction. This year, with a harvest of a “gazillion” berries (according to my husband’s calculation) I thought it might be fun to also make some shrub.
Although raspberries and strawberries make delicious shrubs, don’t confine yourself to berries. Stone fruits such as peaches, apricots and plums are also great choices as are pears. I’ve even seen recipes for more savory shrubs make with combinations such as tomato/basil or cucumber/dill. The basic recipe I use stays the same: crushed fruit, sugar and vinegar. Although I prefer using apple cider vinegar because of its mellow flavor, red wine vinegar will also work.
2 cups raspberries
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan. Lightly crush the berries to help release their juice.
Simmer the mixture on low heat, stirring constantly so it doesn’t scorch. The sugar should be totally dissolved in about 10 minutes. Let the mixture cool. Strain out the solids using a fine mesh colander or several layers of cheesecloth. Discard the solids. Store the shrub in the refrigerator.
A good rule of thumb for mixing shrubs into a drink is to use 1 part shrub with 5 parts sparkling water. Serve with ice.