Shrubs: What Are They?

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Ready for tasting!

(Blogger’s Note: I took a billion pictures for this blog. In a moment of total idiocy, I deleted most of them before uploading them to my Google Drive. I contemplated reconstructing the entire project, but the enormity of it all became overwhelming, so I skipped a lot of the step by step photos, because the recipe is so basic. It’s literally cut everything up, stick it in a jar and stir. I hope you forgive me for that, and enjoy the blog anyway!)

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Cytisus_scoparius2.jpg
Not this kind of shrub, people! Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Cytisus_scoparius2.jpg

You’ve probably heard the word shrub before, but not in this context. I’m not talking about bushes here, although they’re often lovely. I’m talking about the beverage. Yes, there’s a type of beverage called a shrub! Two, actually. According to the Wikipedia entry for “Shrub (drink)”, a shrub is one of two types of related acidulated beverages. In 17th and 18th century England a fruit liqueur was made by blending rum or brandy with sugar and the rinds or juice of citrus fruit (to stave off scurvy by seafarers is my guess). By the colonial period, the shrub had evolved to a cocktail or soft drink made from a vinegared syrup that could then be mixed with spirits, water or carbonated water. Today, the term shrub refers directly to the syrup, also known as “drinking vinegar”. The vinegar or acid helped preserve the fruit (acidic foods have a longer shelf life), but fell out of favor with the advent of home refrigeration. Recently, however, shrubs have regained popularity, particularly with the bar scene (thanks, hipsters!), but also as a gourmet alternative to soda. This latter usage is what I will be exploring here.

I first heard of shrubs on Cooking Channel a few years ago, but only recently have I really thought about making some myself. Summer is coming soon, and a refreshing fruity drink seems like just the thing to enjoy on my terrace. But what really sparked my decision to just go for it was a stop at the Bird-In-Hand Bake Shop in Bird-In-Hand Pennsylvania where I spied bottles of home brewed birch beer. (If you’ve never had birch beer, you should. I prefer the red kind as opposed to the clear.) The birch beer got me thinking about shrubs again, and what poked at my brain was the Vietnamese-inspired dinner I was planning for later in the week. Specifically? Lemongrass. I love lemongrass, and I always buy more than I need, because it comes in bunches from Asian Market where it’s dirt cheap. I also love the taste of fresh ginger. Thus sparked, I came up with a plan: I would make three different shrubs, and sample each for you!

Honey Blackberry Shrub Ingredients
Honey Blackberry Shrub Ingredients

First up was Honey Blackberry. Blackberries were relatively inexpensive at our local Produce Junction, so I grabbed a couple half-pints while I was there. And I always keep honey in the house! I found a great recipe on Serious Eats, so I figured I would try that one unadulterated.

Pineapple Cilantro Shrub Ingredients
Pineapple Cilantro Shrub Ingredients

Next up was Pineapple Cilantro. This was inspired by there always being a surplus of cilantro in my fridge, because I can get it SO DARN CHEAP. (Seriously, I get 3 bunches for $1 this time of year at Produce Junction.) I thought it would go nicely with the pineapple for a nice tropical feel.

Ginger Lemongrass Asian Pear Shrub Ingedients
Ginger Lemongrass Asian Pear Shrub Ingredients

Lastly was Ginger Lemongrass Asian Pear. I had lemongrass and ginger in my fridge leftover from a delicious Vietnamese meatball recipe, and I pondered just making sure ginger lemongrass shrub, but I thought for a little while and decided to add fruit too. And since lemongrass and ginger are Asian flavors, why not the subtle sweetness of Asian pear?

The basic recipe is straightforward: ½ cup vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar), ½ cup sweetener (honey for the blackberry and ginger lemongrass Asian pear, and plain ol’ white sugar for the pineapple cilantro) and 1 cup of fruit/flavor. I made mine in mason jars, literally just putting in the fruit and sweetener and then pouring the vinegar on top before giving it a little bit of a stir and stashing them in the fridge. I stirred them or shook them a little daily for a week before I gave them a try. I decided to use club soda as a mixer, using 8 oz. of club soda to 1 tablespoon of the shrub.

But HOW DO THEY TASTE?!

If I had to describe them in a single word it would be subtle, but that probably has more to do with my tasting method than anything. The Hubs and I both agreed the Blackberry Honey was our favorite. Plus, it looks so pretty! Mixed with club soda it tasted like a lightly flavored sparkling water. Just slightly sweet. The Ginger Lemongrass Asian Pear was also subtle, having a flavor reminiscent of gingerbread, which was interesting. The shocker was the pineapple cilantro. I had tasted this one the day after making it, and it was packed with cilantro flavor. I couldn’t taste the pineapple at all, and it was very vinegary tasting. Now? The cilantro has totally mellowed out and the pineapple filters through the herbaceousness. I think this would be great mixed with rum in a sort of mojito-style preparation. All in all, they all turned out well, and add refreshing flavor to sparkling water. I’m already dreaming of making one from fresh Jersey peaches come August!

The recipes I read recommended straining the shrubs through cheesecloth before storing, and I’m definitely going to be doing that. They should last a while in the fridge, due to the acidic nature of the finished product. Should be a great addition to the heat of summer!

Have you tried shrubs before? How did you like them? If you haven’t made them before, will you try them now?

Also, I joined Instagram this weekend! Feel free to follow me on there by clicking the image below:

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2 comments

  1. Really similar methods to making herbal oils. These are popular as a perfume alternative in DIY communities (I found them kind of lacking), but also can be used as flavored cooking oils. Just skip the vinegar, let oil soak up the herbal mix of your choice. Funny, how popularity of these old school methods are on the rise. 🙂

    I may consider trying something like this. I’m not really a soda drinker, but I have to admit there is something about the warm weather that makes me crave that sugary fizz once in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

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