My daughter recently introduced me to shrubs. No, not the ones you plant for structural interest in the garden. These are the kind that have become popular with the artisanal cocktail crowd and they are made by combining fruit and hot vinegar and letting it steep before straining and adding sugar. Made as far back as the 1700s, colonial Americans used shrubs to preserve fruit without refrigeration. The acid in the vinegar prevented spoilage of the fruit and by mixing with water or spirits they were able to enjoy the taste of summer into the winter.
Today shrubs are becoming popular as a bright flavor addition to cocktails. Last weekend my daughter Melissa shared a strawberry fennel shrub she had made a few weeks earlier. Mixed with Hendricks Gin and club soda it was a totally tasty perfect-for-summer cocktail. One ounce of shrub stirred with one and a half ounces of spirits and ice and then topped with an ounce or two, to taste, of club soda and you will be ready to enjoy that taste of summer even before winter! For an even easier drink just add vermouth to your shrub over ice and enjoy.
Shrub recipes vary but all are truly quite easy. Fresh fruit is placed in a glass jar and simmering wine vinegar is poured over to cover. Close the lid and let stand on the counter for a week, shaking gently once or twice a day. At the end of the week the mixture is strained and sugar is added. Use 3/4 as much sugar as you have strained shrub mixture. Some recipes call for all three ingredients to be brought to a simmer for 20 minutes or more, some even contain alcohol which would of course negate the possibility of a non-alcoholic beverage. With this recipe you could add some sparkling water or club soda and ice to a shrub and make a treat for any time of the day.
The version I am making calls for spices or herbs to be added so, like Melissa, I added some fennel seeds (that were just now ripening in the garden) to strawberries. I used white wine vinegar in that variation and red wine vinegar in the blueberry/french tarragon experiment. For the last jar I cut up pineapple and added white balsamic vinegar and cinnamon sticks.
Now comes the hard part…waiting.
I’m looking forward to experimenting some more, as soon as I see how these three combinations turn out. Anyone for a blueberry tarragon spritzer?