November 9, 2019
Shrubs are vibrantly flavorful drinking blends that are made with fruit, vinegar, sugar, herbs, spices and other flavorings. They are very popular and featured on many cocktail menus. Their versatility makes them a perfect holiday mixer for alcoholic and non-alcoholic libations. They are also excellent seasoning options for zingy sauces, salad dressings and such.
Their history goes back a long way. The name was derived from the Arabic word "sharab" or "sharbah," both meaning drink. Between the 16th and 18th centuries sailors drank vinegar and fruit combinations to prevent scurvy. The vinegar preserved the fruit on long ocean voyages and the combination was more tasty than vinegar flying solo. In England they used vinegar in the citrus "off season" to preserve fruit. They were called shrubs, even at that time, and found their way to America with the early colonists.
The staff of the Hotel Villagio in Yountville, Calif. makes their own shrubs and is generously sharing a recipe. It was there that I became aware of the existence of shrubs, other than the garden variety. This lavender and lemon shrub was the one used in the lavender lemonade that I found so delicious when I was visiting the hotel. This blend is for a large quantity but you can cut the quantities as long as you maintain the proportions
I have included a recipe for basic fruit shrub syrup. It makes about 20 ounces. You can store it in the refrigerator for six months. The acid and sugar will preserve the syrup. The fruit will lose flavor over time but it is still tasty on ice cream or plain cake.
Would you prefer a drink that tastes like an alcohol mix but has none present? Seedlip is a blend of Jamaican allspice, berries, cardamom distillates, oak bark and citrus that is said to taste like gin. It is available online and in specialty stores. It was popular during the prohibition era for obvious reasons. The phrase "bee's knees" was prohibition-era slang for "the best." I am including a recipe for gin-free Bee's Knees cocktail made with seedlip spice 94. There are a variety of blends to try. Another adventure including herbs!
The versatility and flavor of shrubs makes them a perfect holiday mixer for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks alike. I hope their story will add a bit of historical insight, and definitely FUN to your holiday gathering. Please share your shrub recipes or stories with us at http://www.herbbasket.net.
Lavender and Lemon Shrub*
• 2 qts lemon (cleaned and cut into 1/8 slices) • 2 qts granulated sugar • 2 cups lavender (dried)
• 1 cup lavender (fresh, stem on) • 1 cup water • 1 cup apple cider vinegar • 1 cup rice vinegar
Mix all ingredients together, except the vinegars. Place in a plastic container covered at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain and push through a fine mesh strainer to separate all liquid. It should be slightly thick and have a syrup consistency. Start with two parts syrup to one part vinegar, whisk and taste. Should have a slight strong vinegar taste. If not, add more vinegar little by little. Refrigerate for 24 more hours and taste. The vinegar should mellow out. Store in refrigerator; shelf life 2 to 3 weeks. *Courtesy of Hotel Villagio.
Basic Fruit Shrub
• 1 cup berries or other fruit, washed and quartered or lightly crushed
• 1 cup sugar • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
Place berries or fruit in bowl. Cover with sugar and stir.
Cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator until juice exudes from fruit and starts to combine with sugar to form syrup. This may take only 5 or 6 hours, or it may need a couple of days. A longer maceration won't harm anything, so feel free to leave it in the fridge longer than it might need.
Strain syrup from fruit. Press lightly on the solids to express any remaining juice/syrup. Scrape the remaining sugar into syrup.
Add apple cider vinegar and whisk to combine.
Pour through a funnel into a clean bottle. Cap and shake vigorously and mark date on bottle. Store in refrigerator.
Check periodically. Some sugar may remain undissolved for up to a few days. Shake to combine. After about a week, acids in juice and vinegar should dissolve sugar entirely.
Non-Alcoholic Bee's Knees Cocktail
• 1 1/2 oz Seedlip Spice 94* • 3/4 oz lemon juice • 3/4 oz lavender honey syrup
Lavender Honey Syrup ingredients:
• 1 cup honey • 1 cup water • 2 tbsp lavender
Make syrup: In a small pan bring honey and water to a low boil, then add the lavender. Remove from heat. Let steep for 30 minutes, then strain.
Make shrub: Add all ingredients together and shake, then strain into a coupe or martini glass.
*Seedlip is the world's first nonalcoholic spirit. Produced in London, it tastes similar to gin and is available stateside at select Whole Foods Markets and boutique liquor shops.