When is a Shrub not a Shrub? When it is a, well, ………… Shrub!

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:

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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!!!

“The Gardens at Texas A&M”

On June 15th, 2018, The Gardens at Texas A&M celebrated the completion of its first phase: the Leach Teaching Gardens.  These seven acres will serve as an outdoor classroom where faculty and staff can teach students and the public about food production, landscape beauty, and the natural environment.  “The Gardens” as a whole is meant to be a peaceful sanctuary on campus, a place where everyone at Texas A&M and in our community can relax, enjoy nature, and learn.

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Future phases will create a Children’s Garden, Great Lawn, Rose Garden, and showcase gardens typical of the various ethnic groups who settled in the Brazos Valley.  The area runs along White Creek, and the public can now enjoy this quiet and peaceful place to observe birds, butterflies and other wildlife.   This is a Texas Garden Clubs Contributing Project, and members of A&M Garden Club are planning a children’s educational program on November 3rd using a National Garden Clubs “Plant America” grant awarded for this purpose!

 

 

 

Milkweeds for Monarchs

A&M Garden Club has been supporting and promoting the National Garden Clubs’ initiative/project to plant butterfly gardens, register butterfly gardens (under the Million Pollinator Project), and help schools and individuals to established Monarch Way Stations.

We held a Milkweed event last week at Lick Creek Park in College Station, TX, which was a great success.   There were people lining up around the building to get in!!!  Several varieties were offered, including:

Asclepias curassivica (“tropical milkweed”),                         A. asperula, (“Antelope Horns”)
                                      See the source image

                            A. viridis, (“Green Antelope Horns” or “Spider milkweed”)

See the source image

A. tuberosa, (“Butterfly weed”)                                             A. incarnata, (“swamp milkweed”)
See the source imageSee the source image

and Gomphocarpus (Asclepias) physocarpus (Balloon Milkweed) – see Featured image at top of this post, plant growing in the wild three thousand miles from land on one of the Azores islands in the middle of the Atlantic!!!  It is shown in the middle of the photo – look for the “balloons”!!  I took this photo four years ago, and it took me almost that long to find where I had filed it!!!!

All of the above have slightly different cultural requirements.  The original plan was to purchase plants from a wholesaler and sell them as a fundraiser, but the availability of mature plants was very limited, and those that were available were priced out of our budget.  Hence the starting of many, many seeds!  They are not all “native” to Texas; however, they have widely and successfully naturalized!  Do your research before you buy!!   Which is your favorite?

This seeding project started about 3 years ago, with several members taking some home to start.  The Chairman of the “Butterfly Committee” did a wonderful job of coordinating, sowing and nurturing all these hundreds of plants;   students from one of the Entomology classes at TAMU helped repot, and hours of love and care went into these tiny plants.  We had some two-year old plants, but most were one year seedlings.  One of them even had a tiny baby caterpillar on it;  photos of the “event” were taken before the doors were opened!

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Sweet & Savory Dandelion Rosemary Shortbread

Have you ever been disappointed not to find dandelions growing in your lawn?  Once you have tried this shortbread recipe, you will be when you can’t find any!  Don’t be tempted to use the “Texas Dandelion” the recipe is much more delicious with Taraxacum officinale, the real thing!  This is not a recipe original to me – there are many versions on the internet.
Dandelion.FlowerIngredients:
2 cups brown or white rice flour
1 cup organic, unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
1 cup Swiss Cheese (if you use sharper, hard cheese, go easy on the salt)
1/4 cup dandelion petals & greens, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
Black pepper to taste
Sea salt to sprinkle on top (see note above about cheese)

In a large bowl beat butter with sugar and honey until light and fluffy.  Add in dandelion petals and chopped leaves.  Be sure to remove the green sepals – mix in until just combined.
Stir the rice flower into the butter mix in 2 additions.  After the first, stir in the cheese, rosemary and black pepper.  Then add the remainder of flour to make a smooth dough.
Roll the dough in waxed paper to form a firm cylinder.  Cover and refrigerate until firm – about 1 hour.

While chilling, preheat oven to 325F.

Slice the cylinder of dough into 1 inch thick rounds using a sharp knife and place on baking sheet a good 2 inches apart.  Sprinkle with a little sea salt, if using.
Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan after 10, until just golden.  Beware of burning during the last few minutes.
Cool completely on baking sheet – they will be very delicate until they are cool and you don’t want them to break up!

Note: if you cut the rounds thinner, it is even more important to watch that they don’t burn.  Enjoy!!!

Working in the Community

A&M Garden Club has a long tradition of working in the community, in parks, public spaces, libraries and wherever we can make a difference.  We especially like working with students, and this past Saturday was A&M University’s annual “Make a Difference Day”.  We partner with the Horticulture Department, who this year sent us 17 students to help with tidying, trimming and planting in the area’s oldest public park, Richard Carter Park.  Pizza and cookies for lunch is always a  popular draw!!!

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Richard Carter Park has been a project of A&M Garden Club for several years now, with the assistance and blessing of the Parks & Rec. Department which provides mulch, water, grass maintenance, etc.  And last Fall the City designated a “no mow” zone, where we sowed wildflower seeds. We have tried to keep the plantings in sync with the historical period and try to plant mostly natives which are attractive and beneficial to pollinators of all types.

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Spring is bustin’ out all over!

After all the unusually cold weather we have experienced this year, the past couple of days have done a 360 and we have had to start the ceiling fans (and some say those two dreaded words “air conditioner”!)  Of course this has triggered a burst of bloom in the garden and even the asparagus is starting to appear!  Here are a few pictures of what is happening in my garden, and a couple from the park where I walk my dog.

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Everyone is complaining about allergies right now – the strong winds are stirring all the pollen up and causing distress!  Here is one of the culprits – Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) with its millions of little “flowers”.

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Lastly, for no reason other than it is beautiful, a photo of various brambles, vines, and berries.

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Winter recovery

We almost had a White Christmas this year, which would have been a miracle for this part of Texas!  The weatherman said it might snow a little on the night of Thursday, December 7,  but it wouldn’t stick, it would be gone as soon as it touched the ground.   So everyone went out in the dark to take photos of snow!

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Next morning there was snow everywhere – the roads were clear, but the grass and the plants were still white.  No ice on the pond though.
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Snow like this is a good insulator for plants, as can be a coating of ice.  The real damage to plants comes when the air is dry, the wind is blowing, and the temperature is frigid.  The moisture and life is sucked out of the plants through the leaves and stems, and many plants will die back to the ground.  If we are lucky, they will sprout back from the roots in the spring.

As a general rule, don’t cut your seemingly “dead” shrubs back too soon.  By doing so, you can expose the tender tissue of the lower stems to another freeze, should one happen, and they won’t have a chance of survival.  Best to wait until after all danger of frost is past, even though you might have a brown and dead looking landscape.  This pear tree survived an ice storm (in 2014)  and produced a huge crop of pears that summer.Garden.Ice.1

This day, January 2, 2018, we are experiencing our second day of temperatures in the low-to-mid twenties (Fahrenheit),  with only a couple of hours in forty-eight above freezing.  Flowering shrubs such as Duranta, Mexican Turks Cap and Esperanza are looking beyond help, and we still have two more days of the same in the forecast.  They should not be pruned at this time.  The black and slimy leaves of Cannas, however, can be cut down to the ground – you can’t kill a Canna!!

And through snow and ice, the spring flowering bulbs are poking through and some are even blooming!  No matter how hard the winter, spring always follows!