Maybe your garden is a bonanza right now, or perhaps you went a little crazy at the farmer’s market this weekend. Regardless, if you’re stuck with the delicious dilemma of too much summer produce, shrubs can be the solution. No, not the type that grows, but the imbibing kind—sweetened drinking vinegar infused oftentimes—but not exclusively—with fruit. The fermented syrup makes quick work of all the over-ripe or bruised fruit (along with scraps like strawberry tops and rhubarb trimmings) that maybe collecting fruit flies on your counter. They’re also easy to make—just stir, wait, and strain—and the simple, three-ingredient list inspires endless variations. Once ready, the sharp and tangy infusions bring zing, color, and depth of flavor to cocktails and non-alcoholic beverage in a way that plain ol’ citrus cannot. For the price of a little effort and patience, you’ll be rewarded with a distinctive drink that captures the essence of the season and extends it for months to come. Talk about a win-win.
When pairing shrubs with cheese, look to classic fruit and curd combinations. Think crisp apple shrub with a nutty aged gouda or sharp cheddar; citrus to play off the tangy notes of fresh and aged goat cheeses; sweet strawberry paired with a creamy fresh ricotta or mascarpone for a delightful sweet bite; or a pear or celery zested up with ginger to stand up to a funky blue or brie. Double and triple creams are especially well matched with shrubs; the effervescent, puckering qualities help cut through the cheese’s fat, rich mouthfeel.
- 2 cups sugar (white sugar is the best for letting the fruit’s flavor shine, but brown sugar and even honey, maple syrup, or agave—although you’d have to experiment with the amount—can add complexity and depth of flavor.
- 2 cups vinegar (apple cider is the MVP here for its fruitiness and versatility, but play around with red and white wine vinegars, champagne vinegar, and rice wine vinegar. Balsamic packs a punch, so only add a splash, while distilled white is too astringent for shrub purposes.
- 1 pound seasonal fruit or vegetable (leave whole or slightly mash berries; chop stone fruit, rhubarb, watermelon, or tomatoes; grate apples and pears. Grate citrus zest and set aside before chopping whole fruit)
- Flavorings to taste (citrus zest; chopped fresh herbs; whole spices such as peppercorns, cardamom, star anise, or cinnamon stick; grated ginger or tamarind, dried edible flowers such as lavender, rose petals, or hibiscus)
- ►In a medium or large bowl (depending on how much fruit you have), rub citrus zest, dried flowers, or heartier herbs like rosemary or thyme into the sugar.
- ► Pour in the vinegar and stir until most of the sugar dissolves (it will continue to dissolve as it ferments).
- ►Add fruit, vegetables, and any flavorings you are using. Stir to combine. Transfer to an airtight container and seal. Refrigerate for two weeks before straining. Discard solids. Tightly sealed, shrubs will keep in the refrigerator for six to eight months.