Fruit, sugar and vinegar sound like a recipe for a yuck-face emoji, but 300 years of history suggest otherwise. This combination, called a shrub after the Arabic word sharab, refreshed American colonists in the 18th century. Cookbook author Lydia Maria Child, who also wrote the Thanksgiving poem that begins, “Over the river and through the wood…” included a raspberry shrub in her 1829 Frugal Housewife cookbook.
Many of the early recipes, including Child’s, contained alcohol. As the temperance movement grew in the 19th century, sanctimonious people began substituting vinegar for alcohol. The end of Prohibition in the 1920s meant the end of shrubs – at least temporarily. Now they have made a comeback among mixologists always in search of something interesting. Michael Dietsch’s thoroughly researched book, Shrubs, gives much more detail about the history and the comeback. This slightly adapted recipe for a shrub and a margarita-inspired drink comes from Sarah Schneider of Merge, a bar in Buffalo, NY, and was published in the summer issue of Edible Western NY. It’s a new recipe for an old tradition. The flavors sound improbable but balance beautifully. Huzzah – we’re back to the future!
Blueberry Shrub and El Chapo in New York Cocktail
For the shrub:
Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups shrub mix
2 cups blueberries
Zest of 3 oranges
1 cup sugar [I used granulated sugar; original recipe suggests raw turbinado sugar but says any sweetener will work]
Approximately 3/4 cup light balsamic vinegar [I used regular balsamic because that’s what I had]
- In a bowl, crush or muddle the blueberries, then pour in the sugar and stir until the berries are coated and the sugar is evenly dispersed. Cover and let sit overnight in a cool, dark room to ferment.
- 24 hours later, pour the mixture through a sieve, straining the syrup from the fruit solids and squeezing out as much liquid as possible [I used the back of a wooden spoon for this]. Use the leftover solids in pies or crumbles, or eat them with yogurt and granola.
- Measure the syrup. Add 1 part of vinegar to 2 parts syrup. Stir and let sit for a few hours before pouring into a sterilized Mason jar or bottle.
- Cover and refrigerate or store in a cellar for an additional week; add to cocktails or mix the shrub with soda water. You can keep the refrigerated shrub longer than one week but discard if it changes color.
For the cocktail:
Makes 1 drink
1 1/2 ounces tequila or [mezcal for a smoked blueberry flavor]
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice [about 1 small lime]
1/2 ounce shrub mixture
2 sprigs fresh mint
- Slap two pieces of mint between your palms to release the natural oils. Add to a cocktail shaker.
- Add the tequila, lime and shrub to the shaker. Fill with fresh ice.
- Shake until the shaker gets frosty.
- Pour into a rocks glass. Add salt to the rim of the glass, or just sprinkle in a little sea salt.
- Add a splash of soda if desired.