Shrubs have become one of my summertime favorites – and I’m not talking plants. I’m hooked on drinking shrubs, concentrates made from fruit, vinegar and sugar diluted with seltzer. Shrubs were considered tonics centuries ago, with herbs and ginger adding flavor and potential health benefits. Today they’re again gaining ground, replacing canned soda and sparkling water on a hot afternoon or in an evening cocktail.
Shrubs contain a healthy dose of vinegar, so I included two versions in my cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling: Strawberry-Balsamic Shrub and Roasted Raspberry-Thyme Shrub. Those berry-based recipes just hint at the flavor options. The pairing of rhubarb and rosemary that works so well in homemade sorbet makes a lip-smacking shrub. As summer rolls on, my top combinations include raspberry-mint, gooseberry-lavender, watermelon-basil, blackberry-apple and pear-ginger. Even some vegetable juices work in shrubs, like cucumber or beet with a touch of dill.
Most shrubs need minimal effort: Just let raw fruit sit in sugar for a day so that it macerates, with the sugar drawing the juices from the fruit. Heating fruit helps it macerate more quickly but replaces the fresh flavor with a cooked or roasted one.
Once strained, the juice retains much of the fruit’s flavor and bright color, but you can still use the cut fruit that’s left behind. It works especially well in fruit leather, because dehydrating intensifies the remaining flavor and the denser puree dries faster. Chopped rhubarb tastes best when cooked, so I fold the solids left from making Strawberry-Rhubarb Shrub into muffins or combine them with raw fruit in pie to limit its juiciness.
Makes about 3 cups
8 ounces rhubarb, sliced (about 1-1/2 cups)
8 ounces strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 sprig fresh basil or mint, or to taste
Seltzer for serving
In a half-gallon jar or large bowl, stir together the rhubarb, strawberries and sugar. Cover the container with a lid or tea towel and let it macerate in the refrigerator for a day.
Set a fine-mesh colander over a large measuring cup or bowl with a pour spout. Pour in the fruit mixture, in stages if needed, to strain the juice, and then pour the vinegar over the fruit to rinse any undissolved sugar into the syrup. Squeeze or press the fruit as needed to remove as much liquid as possible before setting the solids aside for another use.
Pour the concentrate into a clean quart jar or bottle. Add the basil or mint, seal with a nonreactive lid and shake well to combine. Refrigerate for at least a day and ideally a week before using; remove the basil or mint sprig if the herb flavor becomes strong. The shrub will keep refrigerated for up to a year. To serve, combine 1 ounce of concentrate with 4 ounces of seltzer, or more to taste; add 2 ounces of gin or white rum for a cocktail.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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