If you caught our first shrub post, you’ll know that there’s no single cranberry shrub recipe that can claim to corner that market any more than there’s one single way to make shrubs, period.
Instead, it’s better to think about the culinary opportunities that are available to you in terms of the qualities of the ingredients, conventional ratios, and personal preference options that make sense, and then tweak from there.
(Don’t bail on us just yet: there is an actual tried-and-delicious Cranberry Thyme Shrub recipe at the end of the post, if you just want to skootch there directly.)
- fruit and/or vegetable
- sugar (as newbies, we’re sticking with white or raw cane sugar that lets the main flavors shine), and
- vinegar (again, until further notice, we’re going with organic apple cider, complete with the “mother” until we find a good reason to do otherwise).
However, we far prefer a more fruit-forward, less sweet/tang hit on the taste buds, so we’ve landed on a starting point of 2-1-1 ratio, as recommended by our shrub guru, Michael Dietsch, in his entertaining and enlightening book:
Plus, in addition to the straight up fruit/sugar/vinegar possibilities…
… to achieve the complex wonders you’ve been sampling at your local chi-chi cocktail bar, you’re going to want to add a sprinkling of ordinary–yet out of context, stunningly exotic–herbs, roots, citrus, spice, and botanical options.
Blackberries and lime for a fresh hit of summer? Absolutely. Figs and cinnamon? Screams “autumn and football is here!” Mint with cherries, cantaloupe, or yellow plums? Dietsch declares it one of his favorite complementary flavors.
This is all about establishing a solid point of departure, and then experimenting, tweaking, trying, investigating, looking into, venturing your way forward… and we haven’t even begun to discuss which alcohol to use when skipping down the “let’s make a shrub cocktail!” path between the poppy fields.
We’ve just come through a delightful Christmas holiday season, so we’re talking cranberries here, bursting with TART, TANGY, scurvy-scolding zesty flavor.
Given that description–plus the conventional 1-1-1 ratio of fruit, sugar, and vinegar–what would you do?
To our new standard of 2-1-1, we amped the sugar, and then we added some kick-*ss vodka and ice and soda, shook vigorously, and it was delicious, and festive, and we laughed and …
How to Make a Cranberry-Thyme Shrub
- 2 cups cranberries
- 2 tbs thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- Muddle the cranberries in a glass canning jar
- Add fresh thyme leaves, lightly chopped
- Stir in the sugar to mix well
- Cover and store in the fridge for 1-2 days
- Using a fine mesh strainer positioned over a bowl, strain out the solid ingredients. Whisk the syrup well to dissolve any remaining solid sugar. Chuck the solids or use for something else… muffins?
- Add the vinegar and let sit at room temperature for about a week or two.*
- Pour the syrup into a clean jar or bottle, cap, shake to dissolve any remaining sugar, and label your jar. Seriously, once you get bit by the shrub bug and have several bottles of orangy or berry-looking concoctions in your fridge at the same time, you’ll forget which one is which.
- Refrigerate and enjoy anytime over the next six months or so over ice cream, mixed into a pretty cocktail with vodka or gin for a Christmassy hit, or simply serve with soda water over ice for a refreshing non-alcoholic alternative.
*To Refrigerate After Adding the Vinegar Or Not?
Because we came to shrubs through the “Oh look! Another way to ferment things!” door, we depart on this point from Dietsch’s recommendation to refrigerate throughout the whole process.
Our original recipe for the strawberry-rosemary shrub from The Book of Kale and Friends: 14 Easy-To-Grow Superfoods with 130+ Recipes directed us to leave the syrup at room temp for a week or two after adding the vinegar, which makes sense to our fermentation-friendly thinking.
We trust that at room temperature, the yeast on the fruit and from the air have the best ambience for dining on the sugar and producing their delightful waste product, alcohol and a bit of CO2. (Yay, yeast!)
The acetobacter (the bacteria in unpasteurized vinegar) then feeds on the alcohol, turning it into more vinegar. The yeast, encouraged by their new clean environment (thanks, vinegar!) happily gets to work making more alcohol, and so on in the positive cycle known as “fermentation.”
Eventually this process winds down (something to do with the bacteria-induced pH change, phase of the moon, blah, blah, blah) and you’re left with the delicious, slightly bubbly nectar you’ve been shooting for, which you should then refrigerate.
Handy Shrub-Making Resources
A citrus juicer (Cooks Illustrated’s top recommendation is the inexpensive AMCO manual juicer):
A wooden muddler:
A fine-meshed strainer (the Cooks Illustrated winner is the CIA Masters Collection 6 3/4-inch version):
A funnel for getting juice into jars without making a huge mess (the Cooks Illustrated top pick for funnels is the Progressive Collapsible Funnel):
For use in cocktails, you’ll probably also be looking for a decent cocktail shaker (the Cook’s Illustrated recommendation is the Metrokane Fliptop), and maybe a jigger, but if you’re reading this, you probably already have those, right?
And, finally, a nice cocktail glass to enjoy your shrub concoctions in. Here’s one of our favorites:
*Cook’s Illustrated has not yet published a book of cocktails yet, to our knowledge, but we think that’s just a matter of time, don’t you?