Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When is a Shrub, not a Bush?...when it's a tasty 18th century strawberry concoction

Strawberries Picked by Author and her Mother, by KLWood (2014)
Here in coastal North Carolina, May is prime strawberry-picking time and my ninety-year-old mother never misses the chance to pick some herself. She is visiting with us this week so it was the perfect excuse (who really needs an excuse, anyway!) to grab some buckets and head for a pick-your-own strawberry farm. Past fields of beautiful white and purple blooming clary sage and the sunshine gold of rape fields, we headed for Triple B Farms, about seventeen miles north of
Clary Sage, by KLWood (2014)
Edenton. Rape, from which canola oil is derived, and clary sage, which is used in the cosmetics and perfume industries, are relatively new cash crops for this part of North Carolina, filling some of the fields used to raise tobacco in a bygone era. Tobacco still grows here but, oh, what a lovely substitute are these flowering newcomers!

Rape Flowers, by KLWood (2014)
While preparing our strawberry shortcakes, I wondered how our 18th century ancestors used these luscious, ruby berries. I ran across an intriguing process, popular in the 1700s, that produced something called a "shrub," (from the Arabic word, sharab, meaning "to drink,") also known as a "drinking vinegar." Without modern refrigeration, vinegar was often used as a means of preserving foods and this concoction took full advantage of the tangy sweet and sour marriage of vinegar and berries. My research also informed me that shrubs have recently regained popularity and used as an ingredient in making trendy cocktails. 18th century shrubs were made in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. So, for your drinking pleasure, I happily present you with a recipe for an 18th century Strawberry Shrub adapted from a recipe by Ellen Jackson at

Strawberry Shrub, photo from:

Strawberry Shrub

3 to 4 cups fresh strawberries, washed, stemmed, and cut in 1-inch chunks if necessary
2 to 2½ cups sugar
2 cups vinegar (white wine vinegar)
Aromatics (for herbs, several sprigs or a modest handful of leaves; for spice, 1 to 2 tablespoons, depending on strength/flavor)

Combine the fruit and sugar in a wide-mouth glass jar. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to apply gentle yet firm pressure, enough to break up the fruit. Cover the jar with a lid or plastic wrap and let it sit in a cool, dark place for at least 5 or 6 hours, or up to 24 hours.
After 24 hours, add the vinegar and aromatics, stir until the sugar has dissolved, and return, covered, to a cool, dark spot (or the refrigerator) for a week or slightly longer, until the flavor is fully realized.
After a week, or when the flavor is to your liking, press and strain the contents of the jar through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve, pressing lightly to release all of the liquid from the fruit. Store in a clean container in the refrigerator for another week, or until the flavor of the vinegar mellows and fades into the background.
The shrub will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Serve it with sparkling or still water, over ice, or create your own cocktail by mixing the shrub with a spirit of your choice.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 
The Author and her Mother Picking Strawberries, by WFAhearn (2014)


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