What is a shrub? Old English shrub recipe to relive travel memories
What is a shrub? It is a flexible, creative infusion of fruit, herbs, or even vegetables mixed with sugar and vinegar that can be added to alcohol or soda water. But you can do so much more with it once you know how to make a shrub. A perfect shrub recipe and drink for history and travel buffs.
I can’t say I have stumbled across “shrubs” on any of our travels in England. But when I first saw a shrub recipe, I had to wonder, as you might, what is a shrub?
A shrub is a slightly mulled infusion of your choice of fruit, vegetables, or herbs with sugar and vinegar. Not too sweet and a bit of a subtle pucker from the vinegar, just the sweet-tart I love to add to all sorts of drinks. It’s a taste I guarantee you will love as well once you learn how to make a shrub.
Its origins per historical websites date back to 16th and 17th century England where vinegar was used to preserve fruit. American colonists decided the concept of a mulled fruit infusion was a great one for making refreshing drinks in this new, often hot and humid American climate. Once refrigeration became widespread, it wasn’t necessary to preserve fruit with vinegar, so the wonderful concept of shrubs fell out of style.
The name “shrub” allegedly stems per the Oxford Dictionary from the early 18th century Arabic word of “šariba,” meaning “to drink.”
How to make a shrub to relive travel memories
Leave it to today’s mixologists to reinvigorate the idea – and cooks globally to take them a step further. How to make a shrub? I have tried shrubs with cantaloupe, watermelon, cranberries, lemon, and lime, with either regular vinegar or apple cider vinegar, or with a blend. I have sometimes added a few herbs in the infusion, sometimes not. This old English shrub is a marvelous way to use up aging fruit while you are reliving memories of travel around the world.
Back in old English days, it was most popular to mix the syrup that resulted from the mulled infusion with seltzer or regular water for a refreshing soft drink. You could even make a warm drink with a shrub. But keep an open mind: If a shrub is good enough to be soft, why not make it hard too?
The best way to make a shrub
First things first is making your shrub: I’ll offer a solid recipe for one style I have liked, but then you get to be creative with others. The amount of sugar you add will often depend on the sweetness of the fruit, while the type or quantity of vinegar you add may be influenced simply by your own love of pucker power, or not. To start, think mostly 1:1 for sugar and vinegar but start slowly with each and see what you think, taking little tastes even prior to the short mull period.
Be forewarned to start: I’m a big “to taste” gal when it comes to cooking and creating so both the shrub – and my favorite drink made with it – have a big dollop of “to taste.”
I will admit that so far I adore my cranberry shrub the best of all I’ve made. In fact, when I add it to a drink, I invariably do a little happy dance after my first sip.
Get ready for your shrub happy dance
You will find a lot of complicated recipes, but shrubs like simplicity.
How to make a traveler’s dream cranberry shrub:
- Roast 1 pound of cranberries on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You will hear them popping in the oven!
- Pour the roasted cranberries into a quart mason jar. (Feel free to assist those that did not pop with a little squish with the back of a wooden spoon.)
- Add 1 cup sugar, to taste.
The mixture will be pretty grainy. Give it a good stir to try to mix the sugar granules with the cranberry juices. Stash the bottle, covered, in a cool dark place for about 5 hours to overnight. Now comes the shrubby part:
- Add 1 cup apple cider vinegar, to taste.
- Optional: ingredient: sprigs of fresh herbs, like sage, rosemary, or mint.
Cover and shake to dissolve the sugar. Stir and squish it about a bit.
If you are adding herbs, add a few leaves at this point to soak in the fruit mixture.
Let the infusion stand in a cool dark place for a day or two.
Strain out the berries and any herb leaves.
Voila, you now have a shrub syrup, ready to use for your next beverage.
Store it in the mason jar in your fridge. The vinegar allows it to keep a pretty long time – if you don’t drink it all first.
Mixing your cranberry shrub for a refreshing drink
Of course, you can now simply add 1-2 ounces to some sparkling water and enjoy over ice.
But for those of us who enjoy a little alcohol, you will be surprised at the depth of flavor a little shrub adds to your drink.
I am a whiskey girl. You can have your gin and your vodka. You can have your sweet rum drinks. From the time I was 21, I did whiskey, and I don’t want to get into a debate about Kentucky vs. Scotch vs bourbon vs. whatever. If it’s golden and rich and maybe a little smokey, I’m in. Sure, you can probably try your cranberry shrub with different alcohols, but whiskey in my opinion has the backbone to hold its own next to the sweet-tart shrub.
Mixing a Cranberry Shrub Whiskey Cooler
This is the easy part and, remember, “to taste” rules when making your whiskey cooler. You will need a super cool rocks glass, especially if you want to enjoy travel memories while you are sipping. Maybe it’s time for a set etched with a map of your favorite city, like the ones from Well Told Barware etched with a map of Berlin – one of our favorite cities (the glass is pictured above).
- Drop several ice cubes into a rocks glass, to taste.
- Measure 1-2 ounces of whiskey into the glass.
- Add 1-2 ounces of shrub syrup, to taste.
- Splash a dash, or more, of seltzer over the top, also to taste.
- Top with a few infused cranberry berries.
- Stir and sip!
Get ready for your own personal happy dance now that you know what a shrub is and how to make a shrub. And get ready to experiment with more fruits and other ingredients, perhaps recreating special tastes from your travels.
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You may also find other recipes from our travels fun to try: How to cook the best Moroccan couscous, thanks Riad Laaroussa, or The Art of Pi: Making pizza at Carriage House Cooking School, or Charbroiled Oysters Recipe from the Louisiana Oyster Trail.
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