Christmas Shrubs: Sweet Fermented Drinking Vinegars

Recipe by Dr Sarah Lantz

Shrubs origins (we’re talking about drinks, not bushes!) go all the way back to colonial days. ‘Shrubbing’ was a popular way to preserve and enjoy the fleeting bounty of summer prior to the invention of refrigeration, and according to Tim Oakley’s ‘Shrub: A History’, it was around that same time that shrubs began to be used for cocktails, to mask the flavour of second-grade gin and rum smuggled from mainland Europe into England.

The building blocks of a good Shrub include miscreated seasonal fruits, some vegetables, herbs and spices, a touch of sugar and vinegar, pressed by hand, done primarily without heat and fermented for a good part of a year (from days to weeks and even months). Time is the element that allows the ferment to develop a concentrated depth of flavour that’s both tart and sweet, a taste that can curl your toes and activate your salivary glands, serving to stimulate the appetite while quenching the thirst.

These days Shrubs add a concentrated depth, complexity and flavour to dishes, mocktails and cocktails. They are also a great way for using up excess fruit or herbs from your garden. Particularly good are those overripe and squishy summer stone fruits, bruised apricots and cherries, smashed berries, squishy strawberries and matured enzyme-rich papaya – ingredients that are far too potent and precious to simply rot away in landfill. One person’s trash is another’s treasure! In fact, we would be bold enough to suggest that you ask around at your local farmer’s market and find a vendor that will sell you their seconds – the fruit that might ordinarily wind up back at the farm in a compost pile. These are perfect for Shrub-making and will also certainly be good for your wallet.

As for the fermentation aspect of the beverage, when a Shrub ages, it’s like developing a complex ecosystem. The ambient yeast (existing naturally on the fruit flesh and skin and wild yeast from the air) turns the sugar into alcohol, and the acetobacter bacteria turns the alcohol into more vinegar. This is when the fermentation process turns bubbly. At some point, the bacteria-induced pH level will stabilise and the fermentation will slow and stall the yeast’s fermentation process. At this point, the Shrub is ready.

When the first truly hot days of summer stop you in your tracks, this is the perfect time of the year for preparing a good summer Shrub, and if you allow it to ferment over the next few weeks, it will be perfect and ready for Christmas. Here is our basic Shrub recipe and our favourite Shrub flavours for the festive season:

BASIC SHRUB RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups of fruits, vegetable, herbs or spices
  • 1 cup sugar (cane, coconut, rapadura etc.)
  • 1 cup vinegar (we like apple cider vinegar or kombucha vinegar which gives a syrup that is rich, fruity and had the deepest fruit flavour, or a good red wine vinegar or balsamic can be a treat too when paired well to seasonal produce)

PREPARATION

  1. Mix fruit, unpeeled but pitted and macerated or crushed – plums, apricots, peaches, mangoes, cherries or any other summer fruit and herb combinations – and sugar, in a bowl.
  2. Stir the mixture well then add the vinegar.
  3. Pour into a jar with a good lid to begin the fermentation process. Set aside for a week or two, or even more (I have been known to leave a Shrub to mature for up to 12 months).
  4. When all the fermentation bubbles have finished, you know your Shrub is ready to bottle or store in a cool place.
  5. Strain out the solids*, taste, then refrigerate the juice. The Shrub can be enjoyed immediately or stored. It will keep for months in the fridge but can also be stored for several weeks at room temperature. The longer the Shrub is stored, the stronger the flavour will become.
  6. To serve the Shrub, mix with sparking water. Start with 1-part Shrub to 6-parts sparkling water and adjust to taste.

*Note: Assess the state of the strained fruit before simply throwing away. It may be good enough to make into a jam or be used in baking.

We also consume our Shrubs with kombucha, water or coconut kefir or iced teas.

Drizzle as a soaking syrup for cakes or trifles or whisk together with oil and vinegar for a sweet and tangy salad dressing.

Shrubs are also excellent additions to sauces, marinades, and add depth and complexity to a sneaky cocktail.

OUR FAVOURITE SHRUB SUGGESTIONS

  • MANGO – reminiscent of a time when the schools shut and the sun hurts, the quintessential taste of an Australian summer. Sweet and tangy. Simply macerated ripe mangoes, sugar and apple cider vinegar.
  • CHERRY & MINT – 2 cups crushed sweet cherries, 1/4 cup mint leaves and 1/2 cup sugar. This is a good one to use red wine vinegar or the fullness of balsamic vinegar. It gives this Shrub a moody hue.
  • STRAWBERRY AND BASIL – 2 cups crushed strawberries, 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves and 1/2 cup sugar. This is great paired with a good red wine vinegar.
  • PEACH – one-part sugar, one-part apple cider vinegar, and two-parts macerated, ripe peaches (white or yellow, or both). The final brew produces a soft peach fragrance, and the flavour has all the bright, faintly buttery fruit undertones you’d expect, not to mention the pleasant sourness of vinegar. 
  • PLUM AND MULLING SPICES – Plum Shrub screams, “the festive season is coming!” Sweet, sticky and fragrant, and you can make it from multiple plum varieties (a rainbow of colours) and combine with festive flavours of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and star anise.

By:
Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD)
Buchi Brew Co. & Sacred Women’s Way

Learn more about Sarah here.

Images: Shutterstock

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