I love a good shrub. The chemical transformation in just hours of the mixture of fruit, perhaps some herbs, sugar, and vinegar creates a unique libation as part of a cocktail, blended with soda water, or used as an ingredient to make a dressing or sauce. You can pour shrubs over ice cream, too.
I first came across shrubs just over a couple of years ago when I met and wrote about the owners of The Gingered Pear. They create astounding shrubs and syrups--so wonderful that it really hadn't occurred to me to try my hand at it at home. Then I got some gorgeous berries from Specialty Produce and that little balloon thought appeared over my head. What if... So I did some research.
What I learned is that there are essentially two methods of making a shrub, both easy and requiring few ingredients. One is via heat and a fairly quick process. The other is a cold method that sits for several hours or even a day or two as the ingredients macerate.
Essentially what you'll want is your fruit, sugar, and vinegar--red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are good choices. You want something that has some substance but won't overtake the fruit flavors. Balsamic is a good choice, too, but know that it will vie with the fruit in terms of flavors. It's actually what I used for my shrub along with the apple cider vinegar.
Another cool thing about shrubs has to do with the fruit. Since the fruit will be turned into a liquid, you don't need to buy the most flawless, perfect fruit. If you have peaches or plums or berries that are a little past their prime, they're great candidates for a shrub.
Okay, so what do you do? The quick way is to combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and stir the mixture over heat until the sugar dissolves. Then add your fruit. Stir as it simmers and the juice melds with the sugar mixture, becoming syrupy. Let it cool, strain the solids, and add your vinegar. That's it.
Now some people feel that the way to extract more complexity and brightness is to go with the cold method. There's no heat to dull the fruit flavors. This, too, is quite easy. And, it's what I did.
In a bowl I mashed the berries a little to extract some of the juice and allow the sugar to penetrate more easily--sort of a head start. Then I added the sugar, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it.
The next morning, I pulled the bowl out of the fridge and could see the juices and syrup already forming.
At this point you strain the liquid from the fruit. If you have a fine mesh strainer or chinois, that's the perfect tool for this. Press down on the fruit to get every last drop.
Then you'll whisk in your vinegar.
Pour it into a pretty bottle using a funnel and you're good to go.
Your shrub will be wonderfully tart and sweet, a combination that will mellow with time when stored in the fridge. I like to keep it simple and enjoy it combined with sparkling water on a hot late afternoon.
I've got a recipe for you that I adapted from Serious Eats that outlines the process perfectly.
Cold Processed Berry Shrub
Yield: 20 to 24 ounces of shrub syrup
1 cup of berries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1. Place berries in a bowl and gently mash them to release some juice.
2. Add sugar and mix together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least six hours or overnight until the fruit releases liquids into a syrup. There's no hurry here.
3. Place the mixture into a fine mesh strainer or chinois over a bowl or measuring cup and carefully press on the fruit and sugar mixture to extract as much syrup as possible. If there's some sugar remaining in the original bowl scrape that in, too.
4. Whisk the vinegar into the syrup.
5. Using a funnel, pour your shrub into a bottle. Seal and keep refrigerated.