What is a shrub? While there is a gardening element to this blog, I'm not referring to the decorative bush lining many Southern California lawns. I'm referring to the fruited vinegar drink, a tart and refreshing beverage that I find myself craving.
There has been a growing trend of shrubs popping up on menus in LA, along with drinking vinegars and other tangy, sour and bright beverages. I fully support this trend and usually order a shrub whenever I find one.
Shrubs are not a new beverage. Some scholars believe that a version of shrubs have existed since Biblical and Roman times, particularly in parts of the world with hot climates. However it became an American standard in the early 19th century, finding fans amongst farmers who drank it in the heat of summer, members of the temperance movement who recommended it as an alternative to alcohol, and college students who liked to mix it with alcohol (an early form of a cocktail).
There are two ways to make a shrub. One involves cooking it on a stovetop that is ready in about 30 minutes, and one involves a natural fermentation process that involves very little work, but does need to ferment for a few days. I list both options below, but personally I prefer the slow fermentation method (if I have the time) as it has more depth of flavor and retains more beneficial properties of the fruit. The stovetop option is a good alternative if you're not ready to start fermenting in your kitchen, if you want to insure there is no alcohol content in your beverage (the fermentation process can produce a small amount of alcohol), or if you're short on time.
Spiced Apple Shrub - Two Ways
3 organic apples, cored and roughly chopped
1 cup raw cane sugar (coconut and beet sugar work as well)
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 large knob ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cups Bragg's raw apple cider vinegar (this is the amount I use, but is really to your taste)
Combine all ingredients, excluding the vinegar, in a saucepan over low heat. Stir continuously until the sugar has turned to a syrup. Remove from the heat before the sugar begins to burn. Cover and let steep for 15-30 minutes. Strain the solids from the syrup. Combine the syrup and vinegar in a glass decanter or other container.
Combine all ingredients, excluding the vinegar, in a fermenting crock. Mix well to ensure the sugar is covering all the fruit. Allow to sit, covered, for 2-3 days. Strain the solids from the syrup. Combine the syrup and vinegar in a glass decanter or other container.
Remember that this is a concentrate and is too generally too potent to drink by itself (for most palettes). To serve, mix the shrub with still water, sparkling water or an alcohol of your choice (I like it with sparkling white wine!) and enjoy.