The fruit smoothie is certainly a fine thirst quencher, but have you ever met the shrub? Also known as sipping vinegar, the shrub is a colonial-era sweet-and-sour syrup made from fruit, sugar and vinegar and believed to have been brought to the United States by British settlers. When mixed with sparkling water, its tangy disposition works like magic to slough off heat-induced fatigue and wet the old whistle.
In what is considered the first cookbook published in America, the 1742 edition of "The Compleat Housewife" by British writer Eliza Smith includes a recipe for shrub.
In his 1861 novel "Elsie Venner: A Romance of Destiny," the 19th century writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., references the shrub:
“'…but I do feel thirsty’ said the poor lady, ‘and I do think a glass of srub would do my throat good; it’s dreadful dry. Mr. Peckham, would you be so polite as to pass me a glass of srub?'”
But the shrub and its relatives, which include sorbet and sherbet, are part of a long lineage of thirst quenchers, starting with sharbat, a cold beverage with Persian origins.
The process is simple: Heat vinegar and sugar and pour over fruit to steep and macerate. Within 24 hours, the fruit infuses the vinegar and transforming it into a deeply pigmented elixir.
You can make shrubs with all kinds of fruit, but because strawberries are part of the rose family, they impart floral notes which I find irresistible. Plus, they’re the fruit of the moment, and time is of the essence.
With the magic syrup, you can make soda with sparkling water, or a most delightful cocktail with bourbon (Shrub Manhattan, anyone?) or spirits of your choosing.
Strawberry Shrub Syrup
Makes about 2 ½ cups
- 2 cups (1 pint) strawberries
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Optional: Any or all of the following spices: ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves or cardamom, 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Note: Why heat the jar? Glass jars are temperature sensitive; adding hot liquid to a warm jar minimizes the shock and potential cracking.
Heat a quart jar by filling it with hot water. Wash the strawberries and remove the green tops (aka hulls). Note: If making strawberry water, reserve the hulls and store in the refrigerator for up to one day. (Details below.)
Slice the strawberries. Remove the water from the jar and replace with the strawberries. Lightly mash with the end of a wooden spoon or a cocktail muddler.
Place the cider vinegar and sugar (and spices, if using) in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring just to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Carefully pour over the fruit, cover and place in the refrigerate for at least 24 hours, and up to three days if you like.
Using a fine mesh sieve propped on top of a bowl or a large liquid measuring cup, strain the mixture, pressing on the fruit to exact as much liquid as possible. Discard the fruit and pour the resulting syrup into a jar. Keep in the refrigerator for a few months.
Strawberry Shrub Soda
Pour 3 tablespoons shrub syrup into a 12-ounce glass. Add ice cubes and 4 to 6 ounces sparkling water or club soda. Stir and enjoy.
For the boozy version: Substitute 2 to 4 ounces spirits and a splash of water for the sparkling water.
Another beverage to try: For the reserved strawberry hulls, place in a pint jar and fill with cold water. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Strain through a fine sieve. The water has a pale pink hue and has a delicate rose-strawberry flavor.