Let’s get right to it, a fruit shrub is basically an equal mixture of fresh fruit, sugar and vinegar. Yes vinegar. But shrubs are better than you might think (actually quite tasty) and were a very popular way to preserve fruit in the days before refrigeration. And rather than tasting of vinegar, shrubs are sweet and very tangy. The vinegar acts as a flavor enhancer, somewhat like salt on savory foods- you don’t know it’s there, but everything tastes better. A cool trick, and one that works with most summer fruits. And if you like cocktails or home-made soda, you should know about shrubs. But first a little “back story”…
Last week Carolyn and I traveled to wine country and then, ironically, started drinking cocktails. Happily both Napa and Sonoma have a number of restaurants and bars that feature world-class drinks, as well as excellent wine lists. One of the best places we visited was Bar Terra, an extension of the very well-regarded Terra in St. Helena. Bar Terra features a less formal and more “bar-driven” menu of smaller plates, wine and hand-crafted cocktails in a very welcoming atmosphere. The food and service were very good, but we did go for the drinks, and Bar Terra did not disappoint.
The best cocktail we had at Bar Terra (and our entire trip) was a creation that is a riff on the Last Word, that just happens to have apricot shrub. If you are unfamiliar with the Last Word it is a roughly equal combination of gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse. It sounds like a train wreck, but the Last Word is real alchemy, all the flavors blend into a well-balanced, refreshing cocktail. And the recipe invites mixologist to play around. We often ask good bartenders to make a Last Word variant, and the team at Bar Terra struck gold. Their version of the Last Word included dry gin, apricot shrub, maraschino liqueur and yellow Chartreuse (and maybe a touch of lemon juice). The drink was an absolute winner with the apricot shrub supplying both sweetness and tang, the gin and Chartreuse herbal notes and the maraschino liqueur some nutty flavors. And if you didn’t know a shrub has vinegar, you would never place the flavor, you would just notice a lovely, palate-pleasing “zing”. You can’t wait for another sip. We didn’t get a name for the cocktail, but we have an adapted recipe below, and in honor of Bar Terra we will call it the Last Apricot On Earth.
We’ve known about fruit shrubs for some time, as they are popular in cocktail circles, but the cocktail at Bar Terra finally motivated us to make shrubs at home. And as we are near the end of apricot season, and there are Blenheim apricots available, we chose to make a “cold shrub” of the apricots before they were gone. Making the shrub is very easy. Simply mash and then macerate equal parts fruit and sugar, let a syrup form for a few days in the fridge and then strain and add an equal part of cider vinegar and mix. You can try the shrub immediately and it will be tasty, but it will “mature” and the flavors develop more with a few days / weeks. And it is not a vinegar, more like a preserved syrup. If you want a full breakdown on fruit shrubs Michael Dietsch of Serious Eats has a good article here.
So once you have a shrub, what do you do with it? Well, as we noted, they are good in cocktails, but they also make for very refreshing sodas (recipe below). Again, the vinegar comes across simply as a light acidic tang that stimulates the appetite. If you are serving rich summer food like barbecue or burgers, a shrub soda will be a big, big hit. And since you can make shrubs from almost all berries and stone fruits, just pick your favorite summer fruits and get started.
Notes Before You Start:
- This is a “cold shrub”. There are other methods discussed here.
- As you are making syrup, the fruit does not need to look good. Fruit that is just past its prime, or just looks bad will work here (and will possibly save you some money).
- If you have some undissolved sugar at the end of the process, it will eventually dissolve in the vinegar as the shrub ages.
What You Get: A tasty way to preserve summer fruit and a good cocktail and soda ingredient.
What You Need: No special equipment required.
How Long? Only about 10-20 minutes of active time, but up to two days of waiting for the fruit to macerate in the sugar. You can start this any time.
(Makes about 2 and 1/2 cups)
- 1 cup apricots, pitted
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- In a medium bowl, mash the apricots and then add the sugar. Stir to combine. Cover and place in the fridge for at least 12 hours and, preferably, two days. A syrup will form.
- Strain the syrup from the fruit. Mash the fruit in the strainer to extract as much syrup as possible. Add the vinegar to the syrup and whisk to combine.
- Bottle the shrub and serve. Store in the fridge and keep tasting, the flavors will mellow and meld over time.
Apricot Shrub Soda:
- 1 oz. apricot shrub
- 4-5 oz. club soda or sparking water
- 1/4 oz. lemon juice (optional)
- Combine the shrub and club soda and gently mix. Taste. If sweet, add a dash of lemon juice to balance flavors. Add ice and serve.
The Last Apricot On Earth:
(Adapted from Bar Terra)
- 1 oz. dry gin
- 3/4 oz. yellow Chartreuse
- 1/2 oz. apricot shrub
- 1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
- 1/4 oz. lemon juice (optional, shrubs vary in sweetness)
- Combine all ingredients, except lemon juice, in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and then taste for sweetness, if too sweet add a dash of lemon juice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Serve.
- Simple Garden Recipes: Maraschino Cherries And Sweet Refrigerator Pickles (putneyfarm.com)
- 22 Ways To Use Summer Fruit in Cocktails (drinks.seriouseats.com)
- Bonus Cocktail: The Aviation (putneyfarm.com)
- Rhubarb Shrub (Drink/ Cordial) Recipe (wellpreserved.ca)
- Weekly Cocktail #14: The May Daisy (putneyfarm.com)