“Lemon shrub, ma’am?” A wilting slave, gleaming with sweat, offered me yet another tray, and I took a glass. I was dripping with perspiration, my legs aching and my throat dried with talking. At this point, I didn’t care what was in the glass, provided it was wet. I changed my opinion instantly upon tasting it; it was lemon juice and barley water, and while it was wet, I was much more inclined to pour it down the neck of my gown than to drink it. I edged unobtrusively toward a laburnum bush, intending to pour the drink into it, but was forestalled by the appearance of Neil Forbes, who stepped out from behind it.
Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Chapter 54 – Flora MacDonald’s Barbecue)
That’s hardly a glowing recommendation from Claire, so I don’t blame you if you’re a wee bit skeptical about my recipe choice for today. But before you judge me too harshly, you should know that shrubs are making a comeback – they’ve undergone a bit of a facelift in culinary/cocktail circles as of late, and you’ll now find them on summertime hipster bar menus everywhere, in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic forms. Shrubs have their roots in the Middle East — the word comes from the Arabic “sharab,” meaning a drink — and the early varieties used nuts, spices and rose petals for flavor. On the other hand, Colonial America-era shrubs, like the one Claire sampled, were more utilitarian, meant simply to preserve fruits for later in the year, when fresh pickings were slim/non-existent. Modern mixologists are back to experimenting with more flavourful shrubs that are much more acceptable to today’s discerning palates. This Strawberry-White Balsamic is a delicious example of a new-age shrub. Sweet, slightly tart and utterly refreshing. I hope you’re inspired to start one of your own.
: A colourful, fruity, sweet-and-sour syrup that will leave you feeling refreshed on a hot summer day. Yield: About 3 Cups
- Strawberries, hulled and chopped – 2 Cups
- Sugar – 1 to 1½ Cups
- White Balsamic Vinegar – 2 Cups
- Peppercorns – 6 (optional)
Combine strawberries and sugar in a large jar. When sugar has dissolved, stir in vinegar and optional peppercorns. Cover with lid and refrigerate for 5 days, stirring once/day. Taste. If too vinegary, add more sugar (up to 1 cup), stir to dissolve and return to fridge for 2 more days. Strain through fine mesh strainer, pressing on fruit to extract juice. Store in a covered jar in the fridge for up to 6 months. Discard the fruit, or freeze it for later. Stir into water or soda and serve over ice. Experimental cocktails with vodka or gin are also encouraged… Notes:
- My batch was made with 1 cup of sugar and inexpensive vinegar. My Englishman (who has a sweet tooth) would have preferred 1½ cups of sugar, but I enjoy the slight tartness of my lower-sugar shrub. He adds a bit of simple syrup to his, once it’s mixed with soda.
- The peppercorns add a very subtle note. A few basil leaves could be interesting as well.
- My balsamic-soaked strawberries went into the freezer after straining. I’ll be making a batch of Balsamic-Strawberry Ice Cream very soon.)
- This shrub also makes a very tasty salad dressing. Mix 1 tble shrub with 3 tble olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
- (I also made a Blueberry-White-Wine-Vinegar Shrub with lemon zest, but it’s sharp vinegary taste didn’t go down well, no matter how much sugar I added. Life in the OK kitchen is about experiments…some of them work splendidly, others are only fit to water that laburnum bush.)