Inspired by yesterday's recipe for Bourbon-infused honey, my friend Daniel Scarnecchia wrote up this entry today about the Shrub. Curious? Yeah. I am. What the fuck is a Shrub?A recent article in The Atlantic noted the collapse of soda versus coffee consumption over the last decade. New York City has banned the sale of oversized soft-drinks and sugary beverages have been targeted as the cause of a host of ailments, particularly childhood obesity. While it is true that American’s consume far too much sugar and that soft drinks make it insidiously easy to do so, a cold, carbonated, and sweetened drink is still quite refreshing.
The shrub is a beverage made from vinegar, fruit, and sugar that developed in the colonial-era United States. With its roots in food preservation, it largely disappeared following widespread consumer refrigeration in the early 20th century. However, in the last year it has developed a small but devoted following on the craft cocktail scene. While the acidity of the shrub make it an excellent addition to cocktails, it also makes for a tasty soft-drink alternative which is both is far healthier than soda, and easy and cheap to make.
So what do I need? The basic ingredients are a fruit of your choice, white sugar, and vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is usually a good starting point, although balsamic and white balsamic work very well too (n.b. white distilled vinegar is a cleaning supply and not to be used in cooking.) You will also need cheese cloth or a fine wire mesh strainer and a mason jar and while not strictly necessary, a wide mouth canning funnel will certainly make your life easier and keep your counters cleaner. Below is the recipe and directions for an Apple-Ginger Shrub, with which I have had success. The basic template will be the same for any fruit: 1 part fruit, 1 part sugar, 1 part vinegar.
Apple-Ginger Shrub (yields: ~1 pint)
¾ cup apples, chopped
¼ cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of apple-cider vinegar.After chopping the fruit, place it in a bowl and cover it with the sugar. Cover the bowl and let sit for 24 hours. This process is called maceration and the sugar will draw the liquid and flavor out of the fruit. After 24 hours, drain the resulting syrup into your mason jar through the cheese cloth or strainer. As the syrup is thick, this process might take some time, as you want to allow as much as possible to make it through. Discard or set the fruit aside.
Add to the syrup 1 cup of vinegar and mix well. Seal the jar and let sit on a counter top for approximately 2-3 days. With this particular recipe adding a cinnamon stick or a small number of cloves to the mix (for just a day or two) will aid in developing a more complex flavor. This is purely optional, and the reader should feel free to play around with different spices.
After 2-3 days the shrub will be ready to use. The fruit and sugar will have balance out the acidic bite of the vinegar, while developing a flavor that is sweet, but not too sweet.
Two tablespoons of your shrub to 10-12 ounces of club soda will yield a delicious carbonated soft-drink, which will weigh in at about 55 calories and only about ⅓ of the carbohydrates that a 12 ounce Coke or Pepsi would yield.
A couple of notes for the reader: your first reaction upon smelling this mixture may be to question why you’re drinking easter egg dye. Vinegar is something we’re unaccustomed to drinking, so I urge you taste it regardless of the intensity of the vinegar smell. You will not be disappointed.
Vinegar contains acetobacter and most fresh fruit carries a variety of wild yeasts. They are perfectly safe to consume, but ultimately will limit the shelf life of the shrub as the yeast turns the sugar into alcohol and the acetobacter turns the alcohol into vinegar. How long that is, I do not know. I have a pair of shrubs that have been out on my counter for several months and are still quite drinkable, although they’re developing more of a bite as they age. Refrigeration will retard this process but not halt it entirely. If you really want to, you can probably sulfate it, but I’m not recommending that.