Delighting your guests with a special seasonal aperitif created personally by you has never been easier. Start experimenting now so you have your secret ingredient perfected as the Holiday party season rolls around. We’re talking about shrubs made with a syrup base that has your personal touch. No special equipment or kitchen talent required.
Steeping seasonal berries and fruit in vinegar as a preservative got its start in England in the 17thcentury. Of course it made its way to the American colonies where it was very popular in the 19thcentury. Berries and other fruits were mixed with sugar or honey and cider vinegar and left to macerate for several days producing concentrated sweet and sour syrup. Mixed with cool water, or soda or perhaps some alcohol, it became a refreshing drink before the days of refrigeration.
The name “shrub” probably goes back to the 17th century as well. It comes from the Arabic word “sharab” meaning “to drink”. Originally it was “shurb” but somewhere along the way, someone moved one letter and it turned into shrub.
With the advent of refrigeration, shrub making pretty much vanished from a homemaker’s repertoire of culinary talents. But the growing movement of back to basics has seen revived interest in shrubs, starting about three years ago. Shrubs, either neat or mixed with spirits or sparkling wine, are once again popular aperitifs.
Usually considered a refreshing summer drink and a way to preserve abundant berries and stone fruit, concocting a shrub for fall is an interesting twist on seasonal entertaining. Once you have the syrup, it is so simple to pour stunning, creative drinks for friends at tailgate parties, Thanksgiving affairs and Christmas and Holiday celebrations.
The berries may be gone but pears and apples are in season. Grapefruit and other citrus are always around. Blood oranges and cranberries will be available soon although frozen cranberries work well. The basic recipe is one cup each of fruit, sugar and vinegar. There are two methods – cooked and uncooked. The latter preserves the fresh fruit flavor better (and there’s one less pan to wash). A strawberry shrub would require a cup of chopped strawberries mixed with a cup of sugar; leave in the fridge for a few days; strain off the juice, pressing the strawberries to get it all; mix with a cup of vinegar; put in a clean container and let it mature for a week or so in the refrigerator. That’s it.
There are numerous sites with recipes and recommendations for types of vinegars and sugars to use, flavoring additions such as herbs and peppers, and cocktail ideas. Start now making small quantities of “drinking vinegar” as a shrub is sometimes called, and create your signature drink recipe for easy, breezy entertaining in the weeks ahead.