Every weekend during the summer, I buy too much fruit for me and Skip to consume before it turns to mush. I can freeze it, yes, but I’m notorious for putting things on a cookie sheet and placing it in the freezer–then, forgetting about it completely until I need the cookie sheet usually months later, though I did have a recent success of actually transferring frozen fruit to a container. There’s also the fruit that I don’t think will freeze all that well, like currants. Admittedly, I haven’t tried it but they seem way too delicate compared to blackberries, strawberries, or even raspberries. Well, in an attempt to quickly use up fruit in a way that didn’t involve baking (or heat of any kind), I discovered shrubs a few years ago–a crazy concoction of vinegar, sugar, and fruit that’s a complex blend of sweet and sour. Now, I have a shrub of some sort in my refrigerator at all times!
Shrubs are concentrated blends of sugar, fruit, and acid, typically mixed with plain or carbonated water for a tart, refreshing beverage. It’s a wonderful thing on a really hot day! They were used in England in the 17th and 18th century for medicinal purposes and comprised of brandy or rum, sugar, and citrus rinds. They also became a popular way to preserve fruit in Colonial America, comprising basically fruit, sugar, acid, and alcohol. Another version of shrubs is a drinking vinegar made of fruit, sugar, and vinegar without alcohol added to the syrup. They’ve gained in popularity in recent years–Seattle has a couple small batch commercial shrub makers like The Shrubbery who make some wonderful shrubs with seasonal fruit and buy the zested blood oranges Skip uses at Letterpress Distilling to make his seasonal blood orange liqueur.
If you want to try making shrubs at home, there are a couple of different methods. One method, and how I make all of mine, involves combining the fruit and sugar and letting it sit in the fridge for a few days, stirring a few times to break up the fruit and help the sugar dissolve, then combining with vinegar. Alternatively, you can cook the fruit and sugar to make a thick syrup before mixing with the vinegar. I recommend checking out “Shrubs An Old-Fashioned Drink For Modern Times” by Michael Dietsch to learn all about shrubs and their history, as well as recipe ideas.
For the red currants, I opted to use an oleo sacchrum–basically, oil sugar–with finely grated orange zest and sugar with the currants to give a strong citrus note to the shrub. I used it after only a few minutes, leaving the fine zest in when mixing the sugar with the fruit. A more typical version is made with large strips of citrus peel mixed in with the sugar; after a few hours, the oils seep out of the peel and the sugar mostly dissolves, leaving a citrusy syrup. After removing and discarding the peel, you have a flavor-packed sugar that you can use in drinks, alcoholic or non, by replacing the simple syrup (if called for in the recipe) with the oleo sacchrum.
I can say that this shrub has certainly been a hit; I’m making more this week because we went through just about all of it in less than a week! I’ve made a few cocktails with it–posting soon–but mostly, we’ve been drinking it with sparkling water.
Red Currant & Orange Shrub
Zest of one large orange, preferably organic
1 1/4 C Red Currants
1 C Granulated Sugar
2 C Champagne vinegar*
- Add the zest to the sugar, rub the sugar with zest between your fingers. The sugar should turn slightly orange/yellow in color and have a nice citrus smell. Let it sit for about 5 minutes.
- Mix the orange sugar with the currants and use a muddler or the back of a large spoon to break up the currants. Add 1/4 C vinegar and stir.
- Cover and place in the fridge for up to 3 days, stirring daily to ensure that the sugar is dissolving.
- Strain the sugar-fruit mixture in a fine-mesh sieve; use a muddler or the back of spoon to press as much of the liquid out of the mixture. Scrape the underside of the sieve to get all the delicious, seed-free juice off the sieve. You’ll have a bunch of seeds and some pulp left–just toss that in the compost bin. You will also end up with a nice amount of fruit pulp in your shrub.
- Add the vinegar, stir, and transfer to a bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up to a year.
– Feel free to adjust the vinegar to your own preference. Start with 3/4 C, stir, taste, and add 1/4 C vinegar at time, mixing well and tasting before adding more. I like my shrubs on the vinegary side, so, I tend to add more vinegar.
– Adjust the sugar based on the sweetness of the fruit and your own preference.
– White wine vinegar would work well with the red currants, too, or a nice apple cider vinegar.
– For a shrub soda, I like to use 2 oz. shrub to 6 oz. sparkling water–but, adjust the shrub to water ratio to your own preference.