The first time I heard the term ‘shrub’ I thought the person was talking about vegetation. When talking about food and drink though, it turns out a shrub is an old method of preserving fruit juice. Mix fruit, sugar and vinegar for a syrupy concentrate you can mix with water. They remind me a lot of a Scandinavian drink called ‘saft.’ Saft is a juice concentrate made from seasonal berries – often blackcurrants, sometimes raspberries or lingonberries – and lots of sugar. Mix saft with still or sparkling water (in a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5 usually) for a tasty, refreshing drink.
Shrubs are very similar, but the added vinegar makes them last almost forever and gives them a nice tart kick. If you look up shrub on dictionary.com, it is defined as “any of various acidulated beverages made from the juice of fruit, sugar, and other ingredients, often including alcohol.” The word has its origins in Arabic. The word shurb meant “to drink.” Though I imagine the Arabs weren’t adding any alcohol.
The garden at my parents house is slowly being taken over by their raspberry bushes. Despite my having had no hand in the quantity of raspberry bushes they planted (I’d like more black currants and blueberries), they have been harassing me in recent weeks to come pick raspberries. Don’t get me wrong, I love raspberries. But after making jam, ice cream, pie, and eating handfuls of fresh berries nearly everyday…I was getting raspberried out.
I made a simple raspberry concentrate with some of the excess berries one week, by simmering some raspberries with sugar for 15 minutes or so and then straining. It was syrupy and sweet and perfect when mixed about 1:6 with sparkling water. After hearing about shrubs a few more times though (twice in one week!), it was time to make a raspberry shrub.
The first time I tasted the shrub, it was the smell that hit me first. It was pretty vinegary. I love me some tangy-tartness, but whoa! And then I tasted it. It almost sparkled on my tongue. Once mixed with sparkling water it was even better. The New York Times recently had an article about raspberry shrub and I love how Amanda Hesser describes first tasting it, “The taste was sweet and full-bodied, and the acidity wasn’t the ephemeral “ping!” of most berries but more of a fiery bellow. The taste was intense and addictive, and I wanted to drink the syrup as an elixir.”
Recipes vary a great deal. Below is an approximation of what I made. I would adjust the vinegar and sugar according to your own taste.
1 quart fresh raspberries,
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar or more, to taste
Let the berries and vinegar soak for 4 days in the refrigerate. Strain, and add 1 cup of sugar or more to taste.
Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain through cheesecloth into a bottle. Keep in a cool place.
The first time I heard about shrubs was from Marley, a local bartender, at my last LUPEC meeting. So I couldn’t get my mind off the idea of making a boozy shrub. It appears that you can make a shrub out of just about any fruit and even ginger or rhubarb. A classic boozy shrub is made with Rum and citrus. Quantities and ingredients vary a little, but if you are interested in hard shrubs just search for “rum shrub” and you’ll find lots of options.
After my shrub was ready to use, I put a call out on Twitter for some ideas for cocktails. My friend Courtney over at the Cocktail Quest blog came through with lots of ideas, in 140 characters or less:
Basic rum shrub: 2.5 oz rum, 1 oz shrub, build over ice, fill w/ quality ginger beer (about 4 oz.). a good one to start with
Clarke’s conundrum: 2.25 rye, .5 shrub, .5 pedro xim. sherry, 3 dash ang., stir, lemon twist
Jan’s conundrum: 2.25 rum, .5 shrub, .5 dry amon. sherry, 3 dash ang., stir, lemon twist