A couple of Christmas's ago, my mom introduced the cranberry shrub as her "signature cocktail" for that year (and endured a bit of mocking for using that term at home). While I certainly enjoy the occasional cocktail, I'm really more of a beer kind of girl. Give me a hoppy IPA any day over something sweet or liquor-flavored. But Mom was right about this one. The shrub has a unique appeal. Its sweetness is tempered by the tanginess of vinegar, resulting in a remarkably delicious sweet-tart combo.
I also enjoy this drink's practical history: in Colonial times before refrigeration, people cooked fruit down with vinegar and sugar to preserve it. You can basically make a shrub out of any kind of fruit. In addition to the initial cranberry version, which was amazing, I've had good success with rhubarb and just recently experimented with a slightly savory cucumber (you can find that recipe here). My favorite so far is the grape shrub.
This came about as a matter of necessity: there are two arbors covered in Concord grapevines in my backyard. These grapes have been plagued by what I'm fairly sure is black rot since I moved in (and probably long before that), which makes the fruit rot on the vine before it ripens, and apparently is quite common in humid climates. I pruned the vines as heavily as I could this Spring after researching and consulting a friend who used to work in a vineyard in Oregon, and I was hoping a heavy pruning would stop the rot. It did not. The leaves are still browning, and the grapes are again shriveling on the vine. (Interestingly, I may not have pruned them enough; all the rotten stuff seems to be coming from the old growth. My friend also tells me I really need to spray them with copper, so perhaps more on that next year.) Nonetheless, in spite of the rot, I still got a decent sized crop last year and am hoping for the same again this year. Here's last Sunday's haul (plus some beautiful little yellow tomatoes):
I've seen a lot of different recipes for shrubs online, but I haven't found one that's exactly to my liking. So, my mom and I made up our own simple formula, which relies on a 2-1 ratio of sorts. I had four cups of grapes this time, so here's what I put in a large pot to boil:
4 cups of fruit
2 cups of vinegar
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
(Some people suggest not using white vinegar, but it's worked fine for me.) Bring that mixture to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat down to low and cook it for about 10 minutes. Then strain out the fruit and pour the liquid into bell jars.
Technically you can probably store these outside the fridge, but mine has plenty of room, so I keep them in there.
To drink, mix with seltzer and your alcohol of choice--I've had good luck with vodka, gin, and whiskey. And if you don't happen to have a bunch of fruit growing in your own yard, keep your eyes out for shrubs on the menu of your local bar. They're popping up everywhere and are often presented sans alcohol--I had a delicious peach version (though I added whiskey) when we went to Husk in Charleston, SC this summer. And a few months from now it will be pretty sweet to still have a taste of summer in your drink...