If you've been caught up in the pickling craze, preserving your vegetables and god knows what else, why not try preserving something to help you get yourself nicely pickled? I'm referring, of course, to shrubs — ripe fruit steeped in vinegar and then often added for a kick to cocktails.
Shrubs are now a mainstay of the mixology movement, but the idea behind them is nothing new to many ancient cultures. The word shrub comes from the Arabic "sharab" meaning drink, which also serves as the root of sherbet and syrup. Posca, a Roman beverage, counts as an early shrub. That was simply made by diluting acetified wine with water.
"In America," the spirits historian Wayne Curtis once told the New York Times, "You can trace vinegar drinks back to the 18th century... The berries and fruits came and went so quickly, that people used vinegar as an acid to preserve them.” Before refrigeration, this natural method worked just fine. And as mixers, they were a natural. “You threw in some rum or whiskey, and that has a nice effect as well,” said Curtis.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, shrubs aren't just on cocktail lists, they're a category unto themselves. The new lunch spot from Belinda Leong, B. On The Go, serves a shrub daily — alcohol not included. And an entire business in Berkeley, Shrub and Co., has devoted itself to creating top-quality shrubs with local ingredients.
The New York Times Cooking also has a top quality shrub recipe, which we've got right here. It wont
Mix fruit and sugar in a glass or other nonplastic bowl, breaking apart or mashing the fruit to bring out its juices. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Stir the mixture well, add vinegar and chill. The shrub can be strained and used at this point, but it will take on more of the characteristics of the fruit if it sits for a few days. When ready to use, stir well to make sure sugar is dissolved, then strain using a fine sieve, pressing the solids to get all of the juice. Pour the mixture into a clean Mason jar or funnel into a glass bottle with a stopper or cork. To prepare a drink, add 1 part shrub to 2 or 3 parts seltzer or ginger beer and serve over ice.
For a CHERRY AND MINT SHRUB
Mix 2 cups crushed sweet cherries, 1/4 cup mint leaves and 1/2 cup sugar. Refrigerate overnight, stirring once or twice. Strain and mix with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. Particularly good with tonic.
Previously: Learning To Drink Vol. 21: The Sazerac