Shrubs — Not Just the Foliage in Your Front Yard

My journey to shrubs started a few years ago when I, mostly, stopped drinking alcohol. I still celebrate joyous events with Champagne and have a glass of whiskey on the hardest day of each month, but otherwise I abstain. I stopped for two main reasons: (1) one of my favorite things to drink, red wine, made some of my health issues worse; and (2) my alcohol usage was creeping up and I did not like where that was headed. I have read that alcoholism is progressive disease and this was true for me. A glass of red wine, beer or whiskey can be very delicious with the right food (or no food), and the complex taste can add depth and comfort to a complex day. I searched for replacements and mostly settled on water — plain water, mineral water (water from a spring that contain minerals), sparkling water (carbonated water) and flavored waters (infused with herbs or fruit juice). I won’t quibble about water as a replacement although the downside is that social situations are not as much fun if you are the only person drinking water. I’ve tried non-alcoholic wine and beer but the taste was not for me. I decided to stick with water but I was still looking for something else, something to replace alcohol, if such a thing existed. Which led me to shrubs. Not the ones in my front lawn (which always seem to need trimming) but the kind that you make using fruit (similar to wine) and add to beverages (for me, sparking water).

Shrubs date back to the 15th and 16th centuries in England and were used for medicinal purposes and to preserve fruit. The method of preserving fruit with sugar and vinegar came to America during the colonial days. A shrub is a sugary/acidic syrup comprised of three main things, typically in equal parts, fruit, vinegar and sugar (and many recipes include herbs). I am judicious about the amount of vinegar that I add because too much and the shrub will be too acidic. For me, vinegar is not always an equal part. Shrubs have a sweet/sour/fruity/herbaceous taste and can be added to many beverages including cocktails. I typically add one part shrub to three or four parts sparking water (which I make with my SodaStream). Each shrub is unique in its taste, I haven’t made the same one twice even using the same recipe, and they are a staple in my refrigerator.

There are two main ways of making shrubs, one in which you add the fruit and sugar, leave in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 days, remove the fruit and add the vinegar; and the other method is to cook all of the ingredients on the stove. I prefer the 3 – 4 days in the refrigerator method. You can use almost any kind of fruit (a great way to use less than perfect fruit) and most types of vinegar. I prefer using apple cider vinegar (vinegar made from apple cider or mashed apples), red wine vinegar (vinegar made from fermented red wine) and white wine vinegar (vinegar made from fermented white wine). I do not recommend using white vinegar because the taste is too strong. I mainly use white sugar but I plan to try it with other types of sugar. This summer I made several shrubs including: strawberry and basil; peach and mint; and grape and lavender. This last one was my favorite because I used the grapes from the grape vine in my backyard that my husband planted and lavender from my garden.

Pixie’s Grape + Lavender Shrub:

  1. Taste the fruit to determine its sweetness.
  2. Pack 1 cup of grapes (seeds and skins included), 1 cup of white sugar and a handful of freshly picked lavender leaves into a jar and place in a cool spot in the refrigerator.
  3. Each day, press on the fruit, lavender and sugar in the jar.
  4. After 3 – 4 days, remove from the refrigerator and strain the syrup. Press on the grape skins, seeds and lavender leaves to extract the most amount of syrup.
  5. Add apple cider vinegar slowly to the syrup, stopping to taste. If you add too much vinegar the shrub will be too acidic. Find the right balance of sweetness and sourness for you.
  6. Place the shrub in a container (I use a clear glass cruet) and leave in refrigerator of up to 1 week. Typically, my shrubs don’t last that long.
  7. Enjoy!

Pixie Miller, October 2019

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