How To Make a Shrub Syrup

by Meg Cotner on July 19, 2011

bottled shrub

Lately, I’ve been on a preservation kick. So far, I’ve made jam/preserves, simple syrup, vinegar pickles, and now… shrubs. Actually, just one at this point.

Yes, shrubs. It sounds like a plant, but it’s a fruit syrup that basically consists of fruit, sugar, and vinegar in a 1:1:1 ratio. It’s another way to preserve seasonal fruit, hooray! And it’s easy to make.

My main reference in learning how to do this is this great article on Serious Eats, Cocktail 101: How to Make Shrub Syrups. Apparently the shrub was popular in Colonial America. They’d mix the shrub syrup with water, making for a refreshing summer drink. It pretty much got forgotten after refrigeration and products of the industrial food system became more and more popular in this country.

The shrub has been sort of  ”rediscovered” here in the 21st century – I actually first heard about the shrub at The Queens Kickshaw after our food swap. Ben, one of the owners, was experimenting with them. I tasted a few he had put together and they sure were vinegary and tasty, but I like the tang of vinegar, so it was all good with me. It wasn’t until I was poking around online that I came across the Serious Eats article that talked about making shrubs in more depth.

So, we got a lot of plums in last week’s CSA share, and by the beginning of this week, they were really starting to ripen. I wanted to do something with them to extend their life – I didn’t have enough for jam really, so the shrub was a perfect solution. I had a cup of raw apple cider vinegar in the fridge, too, and some organic sugar on the shelf. Everything I needed!

I decided to make my shrub with the cold-process method. This way, the raw vinegar would get to stay raw. There is a way to make a shrub by cooking the fruit, too, which is preferred by some people. With the cold-process method, the brightness of the fruit will shine through and be a strong match for the vinegar.

quartered yellow plums

Yellow plums, washed, depitted, and quartered

I started by washing, pitting, and quartering enough yellow plums to make a cup of fruit. I then combined that with a cup of organic sugar. I stirred it together, put it in a glass bowl, covered it in foil, and set it in the refrigerator.

plums with organic sugar

Plums mixed with organic sugar

I let the fruit macerate for 24 hours. At the end of the 24 hours, I was looking for fruit sitting in syrup created by its juices and the sugar, which is what I found.

plums after 24 hours of macerating

Plums after 24 hours of macerating

Really ripe fruit would probably take less time to exude its juices and make a syrup, but even then you can leave the fruit in the fridge for a day. Even two or three days, it will be ok.

I then drained the fruit over a large stainless steel bowl, pressing the plums a little to get the last bits of juice out.

plum shrub - draining fruit

Draining the fruit

There was a bunch of sugar sitting on the bottom of the glass bowl, so I scraped that out and into the syrup.

plum syrup

Plum syrup

I then added a cup of raw cider vinegar to that, whisked it, then poured it into a bottle and capped it. Finally, I vigorously shook the bottle, attempting to dissolve some of the remaining sugar.

plum syrup with raw vinegar added

Plum syrup with raw vinegar added

I’ll likely have to shake the bottle more times to get the sugar to dissolve. The acids in the juice and vinegar will dissolve it all eventually.

I tasted it – it was tangy! And fruity. Reminded me of kombucha when it’s got a big tang. The shrub will mellow, though, and I’ll likely notice a substantial change in that direction after a week.

All in all, this is very exciting. I can see myself making shrubs all summer long. I expect the syrup would be great mixed with sparkling water, or make into this suggested cocktail from Serious Eats:

Pair a small amount of shrub (about half an ounce) with 2 ounces of vermouth or sherry. Top that with some seltzer or club soda.

It also might be good in wheat beer (just a splash) or with some gin.

Shrubs should last quite a while – at least a year in the fridge. Some believe you can keep it on the shelf instead, but I like my syruped drinks cold, so I’m just going to store mine in the refrigerator.

As far as the science behind the drink goes, here’s a great explanation from mixologist Neyah White:

When a shrub ages, it is like an ecosystem. The ambient yeast (yeast on the fruit itself and yeast from the air) turns the sugar into alcohol, and the acetobacter (the bacteria in unpasteurized vinegar) turns the alcohol into more vinegar. Eventually this will stabilize and not turn the whole shrub into fruit vinegar since the bacteria-induced pH change will stall out the yeast’s fermentation process (and thus the bacteria’s acetic acid-producing pathway).

Very cool. I like it when people talk about ecosystems in food.

So there you have it – shrubs!

This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

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