Shrubs: Why I hoard apple cores in the freezer
I still remember my first sip of that strange drink called shrub. It was refreshing, perfectly fruity, sweet, but not cloying; it had a little bit of a bite.
“What IS this?” I asked the bartender. This is when he explained that a shrub was a “drinking vinegar.”
“Drinking vinegar” doesn’t sound appealing, which is perhaps why the intriguing name of “shrub” finds itself on so many menus. Ultimately, it’s a fruit syrup made with vinegar that you mix with things like seltzer water and spirits to achieve what I think is one of the highest forms of the cocktail.
Back at that restaurant, they told me that they made their shrubs in house. I was very impressed and assumed it was something far beyond my home kitchen and my patience.
Fortunately, I was quite wrong. Making shrubs is easy! And, it’s an excellent way to use bits of fruit and herbs that you might otherwise throw away. Once I discovered this, I started collecting.
Apple cores and mushy blueberries and stone fruit pits with clingy bits of fruit still attached went into a designated container in the freezer. As soon as I had a decent amount—let’s say at least three cups worth—I got to work making my first shrub.
Making a shrub requires fruit, water, sugar and vinegar, along with heat and/or plenty of time to simmer. Fascinatingly, there doesn’t seem to be much agreement on the interwebs about exactly how to make a shrub.
Serious Eats say to cover the fruit with sugar and leave in the fridge for a while. The Kitchn suggests pouring hot vinegar over the fruit, letting it sit and then warming the concoction again much later to add the sugar. Food52 gives options for different hot and cold approaches. Their cold approach, which involved leaving a bowl of fruit covered in sugar on the counter for a long time, weirded me out, but the hot one inspired the recipe I use today.
So, here’s how I do it:
Fruit scrap shrub
Fruit scraps, say three cups to as much as a full gallon-sized plastic bag. I save odds and ends of fruits in the freezer. Think stone fruit pits with some fruity flesh still attached,* apple cores,* blueberries that dried out or turned a little mushy before you could get to them. Intense flavor agents like ginger and bits of herbs are great things to toss in as well. NOTE: Most shrub recipes call for using the whole fruit, not the scraps—I’d rather eat the fruit fresh and save the scraps for shrub, but if you do want to use the whole fruit, keep in mind that the resulting fruity mush is said to be great on ice cream.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar. Or another vinegar that’s less harsh that straight up white vinegar. Apple cider vinegar works well.
1. Mix water and sugar in a saucepan.
2. Heat to dissolve sugar entirely.
3. Add fruit, and simmer for as long as you feel like it. Your home will smell delicious while this is happening. The goal is just to wait for the fruit to look like it’s worn out and has given all the flavor it has to give. At this point you should also see that the color of the syrup is something approximating the color of the fruit. I like to simmer for at least an hour, though less would probably be fine.
4. Add vinegar, simmer for ten minutes and then remove from heat.
5. Filter out the fruit and pour the shrub into a jar. Once it’s chilled, mix it with seltzer water and the spirit of your choice for an amazing, refreshing cocktail!
6. I tend to make apple shrubs because apple cores are such a natural for a project like this. Here’s my go-to apple shrub cocktail, which is pictured at the top of this post:
Apple Rye Cocktail
1 part apple shrub
4 parts seltzer water : (you may want more or less seltzer depending on the strength of your shrub).
2 splashes of whiskey: (or more to taste). I use Bulleit Rye.
A dash of ground cloves on top
Combine ingredients and adjust to taste!
*Yes, stone fruit pits and apple seeds do contain some nasty stuff that you don't want to eat. However, that's buried deep within the pits and seeds—you've got to break or chew them to get exposed, and then eat a ton of them to be exposed to any significant risk. Elizabeth Andress, project director at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, notes that a 150-pound man would need to aggressively chew 200 apple seeds or 20 cores to be exposed to a dangerous amount of naturally occurring amygdalin, which turns to cyanide in our digestive tracts. Just swallowing the seeds whole would further minimize the effect because the seed coat keeps the amygdalin encased. And even if you do chew or swallow a broken seed or two when eating an apple, your body is capable of detoxifying small doses of cyanide.
SOURCES: Elizabeth Andress, PhD. Professor, Foods and Nutrition and Extension Food Safety Specialist. College of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia. Project Director, National Center for Home Food Preservation.