There must be something in the air this week. My escapades with my shiny new soda maker have continued. I remembered about shrub syrups, and proceeded to make a raspberry shrub out of simple ingredients around the house. The very next day, I arrived at work and there was a grapefruit shrub ready and waiting for me to make something delicious. I felt so privileged.
What's a shrub, you ask? It's a syrup that dates all the way back to the days of colonial America. Unlike your average sweet syrup, shrubs have an acidic kick, usually accomplished through the addition of vinegar. Back then, it was a way to preserve fruit flavor for months after fruit season had ended. These days, we make them because they taste good.
See Also: How to Make Homemade Ginger Beer Traditionally, fruit shrubs were cooked syrups. I'm not a fan of this method; the bright fruit flavors dull so easily when heat is applied. Thankfully, it's easy to make uncooked shrub syrup.
The most obvious ingredient you need for a fruit shrub is fruit. In spring and summer when fruit is plentiful, this syrup is a great way to use up anything in the fridge that's a little past its prime. Likewise, ask around at farmers' markets to see if they have any bruised fruit that isn't getting any love.
Since we're in prime citrus season, now is a good time to make a citrus shrub. While you can make a decent one by juicing citrus and combining it with sugar and vinegar, the end result is considerably better if you mix together the citrus zest and sugar. The sugar draws out the zest's essential oils, making an especially fragrant mixture called oleo saccharum.
The rest of the year, you can head to the freezer aisle of the grocery store. Frozen fruit is picked at its peak, and since it's going to be mashed into oblivion anyway, you don't need to worry about it not looking good when it thaws.
To start the shrub, mix together fruit and sugar, and let it macerate overnight. The sugar and fruit juices will combine, making a thick, delicious syrup.
While the fruit macerates, you have some time to consider the vinegar you want to use. White vinegar has a sharp flavor, so I tend to stay away from that. Apple cider vinegar is a bit more rounded. However, I prefer using wine vinegars, either red or white. They have a mellower flavor that I find pairs better with the fruit. Of course, a strawberry shrub made with balsamic vinegar is a natural.
Much of making a shrub is winging it with proportions, so the formula below is a basic one. Use less sugar for sweet fruit like mango and pineapple, and more sugar for tart fruits like strawberries and raspberries. Likewise, start with a reduced amount of vinegar, and add more to taste. There should be a tart kick, but not so much that it feels like you're drinking vinegar straight from the jar.
Rum Shrub 1-1/2 ounces rum (if you want to be Colonial about it, pick something dark and funky) 1/2 ounce fruit shrub syrup 3 ounces club soda
Build over ice in a tall glass. Stir gently to combine.
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Fruit Shrub Syrup 1 heaping cup fruit; lightly crushed if soft, chopped if firm 1 cup sugar (use 3/4 cup for sweeter fruits) 1 cup vinegar
Mix fruit and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand overnight in refrigerator. Add 3/4 cup of the vinegar, stirring well to combine. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing solids to extract as much syrup as possible. Taste for balance, adding more sugar or vinegar as necessary. The shrub can be used immediately, but improves with a a day or two in the refrigerator.
Variation: Citrus Shrub Citrus to make 1/2 cup juice 1 cup sugar Up to 1/2 cup vinegar Peel the zest from the citrus, leaving as much white pith as possible behind. Muddle zest and sugar together, and let stand overnight. Combine sugar mixture, juice, and half of vinegar. Stir well. Strain out and discard spent zest. Taste for balance, adding more sugar and vinegar as necessary.