Until we bought a great book on how to grow and cook kale and stumbled accidentally on a couple of shrub recipes, we weren’t even aware that the delightful rainbow of beverage flavors known as “shrubs” existed.
Who would have thought the curiously named “drinkable vinegars” could be so delicious, healthful, and super easy-to-make?
The name “shrub” comes from the Arabic “sharab,” meaning beverage, and is linked linguistically to sherbet, sorbet, and syrup, but my inner four-year old gets a chuckle anyway from having used a few sprigs from our favorite bushes for our strawberry rosemary shrub (recipe below).
Shrub… bush… get it? Ha ha. My humor is a BIG hit with the pre-school crowd.
There are a handful of ways to make shrubs, but because we’re big fans of all things fermented (cabbage, bread, grapes, and so on), we prefer the “cold process” that keeps the fruit raw and allows the fresh vibrancy of flavor to shine through.
Here’s how it works:
Some combination of fruit, vegetables, herbs and/or spices + sugar + a few days + vinegar + a week or two of partying at room temperature with airborne yeasts and microbes = an easy and delightful addition to your beverage repertoire.
Mix a tablespoon of the shrub with a handful of ice cubes and water for a thirst-quenching alternative to soda, use it as an intriguing base for salad dressings, or pour yourself into the creative swirl of sweet and savory cocktails and spritzers.
The best part is that, according to our copy of the marvelous new book on how to make shrub drinks by Michael Dietsch (surprise!), they’re almost impossible to screw up.
Prefer more tang? Amp up the vinegar. Love a big fruit-forward blast? Shift it up from a 1 fruit – 1 sugar – 1 vinegar ratio to a 2 – 1 – 1 ratio.
It’s perfect when it tastes right to you.
Just make sure you use a thoroughly clean jar (wash and boil it for 10 minutes if you run on the safe side), and wash your fruit and herbs well but gently.
The food-safety gurus suggest going so far as to “sanitize” your fruit by soaking it in 1 tbs white vinegar to 6 cups water for 10 minutes and treating your herbs to a quick bath of 1 tsp chlorine bleach to 6 cups water (rinse with cold, blot dry) to nuke any nasty microbes, but in our kitchen, this is called “overkill.”
The list of equipment needed for cold processing is minimal. Beyond the basics and a good knife and cutting board, you’ll want to consider stocking your kitchen with the following:
Citrus juicer (Cooks Illustrated’s top recommendation is an inexpensive Amco manual juicer)
Fine-meshed strainer (the Cooks Illustrated winner is the CIA Masters Collection 6 3/4-Inch Mesh Strainer)
Funnel (the Cooks Illustrated top pick for funnels is the Progressive Collapsible Funnel)
For use in your favorite cocktail shrub, you’ll probably also be looking for a decent cocktail shaker (the Cooks Illustrated recommendation is the Metrokane Cocktail Shaker, and maybe a jigger, but if you’re reading this, you probably already have those, right?
Finally, you’ll want to consider putting the current bible of shrubs, Michael Dietsch’s Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times, on your Christmas or birthday wish list. This well-written, gorgeously illustrated shrub drink recipe collection is chock full of historical insights, shopping tips, and everything you need to know to dive in.
How to Make a Strawberry Rosemary Shrub
- 2 cups strawberries
- 2 tbs rosemary
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- Muddle the strawberries in a glass canning jar
- Add fresh rosemary, lightly chopped
- Stir in the sugar to mix well
- Cover and store in the fridge for 1-2 days
- Add the vinegar and let sit at room temperature for about a week
- Strain out the solid ingredients
- Time to mix cocktails or enjoy with soda water over ice
Letting the shrub continue to ferment at room temperature will add complexity to the flavor.
After two weeks have elapsed, store in the refrigerator to enjoy whenever the mood arises. We’re still experimenting with different alcohols with this, but so far, tequila and rum have come out as winners. A shot each of the shrub and your weapon of choice over ice, topped off with soda water…. ahhh!
The strawberry rosemary shrub recipe came from the book I mentioned above:
Handy Shrub-Making Resources:
And because we always taste first with our eyes, a nice quality cocktail glass for your shrub concoctions is a perfect prelude to first sips. Here’s one of our favorites: