The kind of shrub I’m talking about is not found growing in the garden, although some of its ingredients might be! The name “shrub” is derived from a variant of the Arabic “Mashrub” (to drink). The early English version of the shrub arose from the medicinal cordials of the 15th century, and the drink from Iran (then Persia) called Sekaniabin. The drink gained popularity among smugglers in the 1680s who were trying to avoid paying import taxes for goods obtained from mainland Europe. Very often they would sink barrels of spirits off-shore to be retrieved later, and the addition of fruit flavors aided in masking the taste of alcohol spoiled sea water. All along the south and south-west coasts of England there were smugglers’ hideouts; many public houses and inns attest to this with names such as The Smugglers Inn, The Smugglers Arms, etc. There are also many networks of tunnels from the beaches to the towns that were used as defenses and smugglers alike!
The shrub is related to punch, however punches were usually served immediately after mixing the ingredients, whereas shrubs tended to have a higher concentration of flavor and sugar and could be stored for later use. The shrub itself was a common ingredient in punches, either on its own or as a simple mix with brandy or rum. Served during the Christmas season mixed with raisins, honey, lemon, sherry, and other spirits. The shrub was very popular in most inns and public houses in the 17th and 18th centuries, and although it fell out of fashion by the late 1800s, it is now coming back into favor!!
Fruit preserves made with vinegar were themselves called shrubs. By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit—traditionally berries—which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight up to several days; afterwards, the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup. The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with either water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails. Shrubs eventually fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration. The serving of vinegar-based shrub drinks became popular again in 2011 and 2012 in American restaurants and bars as well as London. The acidity of the shrub makes it well suited as an apéritif or used as an alternative to bitters in cocktails. Unlike cocktails acidulated with citrus, vinegar-based drinks will remain clear when shaken.
This would be a wonderful way to use up excess fruit from your orchards or farmers’ markets, and even fruit that is past its prime can be used. Many people suggest that berries make the best shrubs, but lemons, peaches, pears, and figs can also be used. Fruit thawed from frozen can also be used. There are loads of recipes on Epicurious.com, and I have just ordered a recipe book so I can make some Fig Shrub with these:
How to make a Fruit Shrub Syrup
2 cups fruit, cleaned, peeled, seeded, and chopped if necessary
2 cups vinegar (any kind will do as long as it is at least 5% acidic – experiment for taste!)
1 ½ – 2 cups sugar
*Sterilize quart sized canning jar and lid.
*Add fruit to hot jar.
*Add vinegar, after first heating it to “almost” boiling, or at least 190 deg. F. leaving 1//4” headspace in jar. Wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth, and cap tightly.
*Let cool completely, then store in a cool, dark place at least 24 hours, up to 4 weeks until the desired flavor is reached.
*Strain the fruit from the vinegar through a damp cheesecloth or coffee filter. Do this at least once, and repeat until the vinegar shows no cloudiness. Discard the fruit or save it for another purpose.
*Place the fruit-infused vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into a clean, sterilized container (original mason jar or other bottled.)
*Store the shrub syrup in the refrigerator. Tightly sealed, it can last for up to 6 months. Taste before using to make sure the flavor is still good. Discard immediately if it is moldy or fermenting.
To serve: mix 1 tablespoon shrub syrup into a glass of still or sparkling water. Taste and add more syrup if desired. Shrub syrups may also be used as cocktail mixers, in salad dressings, and more.
This above recipe was developed by Emily Ho based on historical recipes and the “Flavored Vinegars” chapter of So Easy to Preserve (Cooperative Extension, The University of Georgia, 2006.)
Sources of other information from Wikipedia, snippets from websites, and remembering what I knew as a child!!!