It was delicious. A game changer. Sour-sweet, adult cordial. Sevilla presented mine in a champagne glass with a dash of basil bitters and mixed with ice cold sparkling water. It was a perfect substitute for alcohol.
Shrubs are old-fashioned vinegar and fruit based drinks. The addition of sugar (or maple syrup) to the mix tempers the tang of the vinegar, so you end up with a sweet sour mix that doesn’t cause your lips to pucker, but does catch at the back of your mouth. Just a bit. The great thing about this is they can be added to water or sparkling water, cocktails, or even, if you have it – shaved ice. What I love about them is that they don’t leave that sugary coating in your mouth that lemonade or other cordials do.
I had a bit of a glut of strawberries the other day and wanted to use them in something other than the Jamie Oliver Easy Strawberry Jam (which is delicious). I found the recipe below in Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times by Michael Dietsch. Which I have purchased and which I plan to use plenty. Who knows, could be the beginning of a whole new career. His version is a cold-pressed one, where you extrude the flavour from the fruit by mixing it with sugar and overnighting it in the fridge, rather than boiling it. I like that idea as it keeps things fresh and doesn’t make me have to wash a pot.
The other great thing about shrubs is that they are dead easy to make, and need only three ingredients: fruit, sugar (or maple syrup) and vinegar. The only laborious part is chopping the fruit and then squeezing the juice out of it afterwards, which, let’s face it – is hardly exhausting. Some of the recipes called for the shrub to be filtered, and i may try that through muslin or a coffee filter at some point, but with the strawberry version I made, I just used a fine mesh strainer.
The usual rule of cooking applies – the better your ingredients, the better the result. But I have to be honest and say I bought cheap and cheerful wine vinegar for my first attempt – and it worked perfectly well. I want to work on a cherry and balsamic vinegar one next – and for that I will definitely up the quality of the vinegar.
Michael Dietsch’s Cold-Pressed Shrub
1 cup berries or other fruit, washed and quartered or lightly crushed
1 cup sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
1. Place berries or fruit in bowl. Cover with sugar and stir.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator until juice exudes from fruit and starts to combine with sugar to form syrup. This may take only 5 or 6 hours, or it may need a couple of days. A longer maceration won’t harm anything, so feel free to leave it in fridge longer than it might need. (Note – mine was in for three days)
3. Strain syrup from fruit. Press lightly on solids to express any remaining juice/syrup. Scrape remaining sugar into syrup.
4. Add vinegar and whisk to combine.
5. Pour through funnel into clean bottle. Cap and shake vigorously, and mark date on bottle. Store in refrigerator.
6. Check periodically. Some sugar may remain undissolved for up to a few days. Shake to combine. After about a week, acids in juice and vinegar should dissolve sugar entirely. The longer the shrub sits, the more mellow it becomes.
Imbibe Magazine recommended adding a tablespoon of the shrub to a Gin Collins – which sounds delicious and shall be tried as soon as I am on my porch in McGregor. Which will be this time next week. Meantime, I added a sprig of basil and submerged it in the shrub/sparkling water combo pictured above. By the time I had tied up – it had infused the mix with a lovely pepperiness… look at me experimenting …. the world, truly, is now my shrub.
Bring on the holidays!