How to make a shrub: A taste of summer in the winter
Many months ago, I went cherry picking at Lakeview Orchard in Lanesborough. I'm big into picking local fruit when it's ripe, freezing it, and baking or making pancakes with it for the next six months.
This year, in addition to the usual cakes and pies, I wanted to make something different, something that would last a really long time and remind me of the brief period of the year where it is comfortable to walk around the Berkshires in a T-shirt. That thing is a shrub: the mildly vinegary, old-timey Colonial American way to preserve summer flavor in a fermented fruit syrup. They were all the rage in the 19th century, then went out of style when refrigeration became commonplace.
Those of you who are fans of cocktail programs are already familiar with shrubs, which made a comeback a few years ago and have now been incorporated into drink menus far and wide. I recently saw a mango flavor for sale at the North Adams Stop & Shop. The not-so-sweet cocktail trend is notable, but it's also a great beginner fermentation project, low-risk due to the acidity of the vinegar, with a high payoff. You may recall that I used one as part of a chicken glaze for an earlier column.
If you have frozen fruit from this past summer, this is a perfect use for it. You can shrub anything, though — I have seen celery shrubs in cocktails and I've also seen them made with ginger. Berries and high-sugar fruit are best for this, since the sugars need to do their thing on your counter for a week. Then, in March, you can pour yourself a shrub and seltzer and get a little hit of summer, sweet and tangy.
How to make a shrub
(Makes about four cups of shrub.)
You're working with ratios here:
Two cups fruit
Two cups vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
The vinegar is going to impart some flavor on its own, which will temper with time, so be considerate when choosing one. Apple cider vinegar is mellow but less acidic; white vinegar is kind of cutting. I made a cherry shrub with balsamic and sherry vinegar, and mixed in a few peppercorns, as well.
First, toss fruit and sugar together in a bowl or large mason jar, and let sit on your counter for one hour. Then, mash the fruit up and cover tightly (using a jar is wonderful because you can just put on the lid; use plastic wrap if you have a bowl) for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, further crush your fruit, then add vinegar. Let sit, covered, in dark cabinet or out of direct sunlight for seven to nine days, stirring daily.
When seven to nine days have passed, strain mix through a sieve or cheesecloth, then enjoy your shrub! A tablespoon or two is great mixed with seltzer, but try it in a homemade salad dressing or in a cocktail (obviously), or as a marinade ingredient ... you get the idea. You can keep your shrub in the refrigerator and enjoy it for up to a year.
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