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Bring us a Shrubbery (Berry Shrub?)

June 14, 2011

Summertime is in full swing finally thawing the long winters’ cold away.  Backyard grilling, barbeques, ball games, and swimming pools rule the next few precious months that  carry us through the long dark periods of the year.  Time can stop for a day as we celebrate with family and friends, letting loose a little and enjoying the “good times” with outr bare feet up basking the sun’s glow.  The music we listen to, the food we dine upon and the drinks that cool us down all playing together as we drive along with the windows down, and the radio up.

Nowadays, we have a host of drinks available at every corner store that keep us cooled down as we cruise through our day. (By the way, no matter how busy, your life gets, or how hectic your day has become, or how late you are running, if you see a kid with a lemonade stand, pull over, stop, and buy a glass.  Trust me, you will never regret it!).  Being able to grab any flavor of soda, juice, or smart water,  and electrolyte filled energy drink wasn’t always the case.  Yes, back in the day, you actually had to make your own.

Before refrigeration, and pre industrial revolution, families and communities had to find a way to preserve the harvest for year-round use.  There were a lot of ways of doing the:  meat  being smoked or salt curing, veggies being pickled, and fruits being preserved or made into a shrub.  A shrub is a way of preserving fruits for future use,: not just where the fruit comes from (or a request of the Knights who say NI! (did you think I’d forgotten to tie the title in??)

Take fresh fruit, combine it with a little vinegar and sugar, let it stand for a while, strain it, bottle it, and you got a shrub.  Vinegar is a natural preservative that will allow the use of the berry flavor year round when that fruit is not in season ( remember we are thinking Colonial days).  The is similar to a culinary gastrique ( vinegar and sugar combined to make a syrup like sauce used on meats.   The berry/vinegar/ sugar combo can be used as a marinade, a sauce,(think Duck L’Orange), and of course as a drinks.

Yep, a drink.  The first impressions everyone gets when thinking about a shrub, is, “Vinegar??  EEWWWW!” or some various adult explicative that would rate this blog into the X rated category.  But, please let me set you mind at ease.  Shrubs are fantastic flavoring for drinks.  So let’s get cracking on a recipe…….

  • 16 oz berries
  • 8 oz vinegar
  • 8 oz sugar

Traditionally, this mixture would sit on the counter for a few days and ma:erate the vinegar breaking down the berries extracting the flavors.  Afterwards it would be strained and bottled.  Personally I am not that patient so there what I do:

Combine berries and sugar in a space pan over medium heat stirring constantly for about 10 minutes.  The berries will break down and the sugar melt.  Add the vinegar and stir together.  Remove from heat and let sit on the counter for the night.  Next day strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth bottle and enjoy.  You may want to strain it after bottling just cause.

The Berries:  Raspberry is a favorite as well as strawberry.  Blueberries, and blackberries are great.  So is peach apricot or a combination of any of the above. 

The Sugar:  I have only used cane sugar so far, but I am curious about tribunado

The Vinegar:  After you choose your berries, think about what vinegar would match and enhance the flavors of the berry.  Your vinegar options are only limited to what you can find, but I will say that Balsamic is already extremely sweet and doesn’t lend well to this recipe.  One of my favorite combos is Chokecherry and Apple Cider Vinegar.

The other cool thing you can do is toss in a little spice into you mix.  Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg or allspice would add some zing to your shrub.

To use your shrub in a drink,. simply combine 1/2 -3/4 oz of Shrub with 8 oz carbonated water, Lemon-lime, soda, lemonade, or ginger ale over ice and garnish with a little bit of fruit (either citrus or the berry you made you shrub from).  Next booze it up with you choice of spirits.  Shrubs work with ALL distillates!  Again you are limited only by imagination.

Last winter I did a lovely little drink using a shrub for New Mexico Magazine called The Farolito

  • 2 oz anejo tequila
  • 1/2 oz lillet rouge
  • 1/2 oz chokecherry shrub
  • 3 sage leaves
  • 5 drops Bitter End Mexican Mole Bitters

Muddle sage with shrub, add all other ingredients, and shake with ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with sage leaf and cherry.

Here’s to the a fantastic summer full of good friends, great food, good times, and great drinks!


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