I started hearing about/reading about shrubs a couple-few years ago. These are a pre-canning, pre-refrigeration way of “putting up” excess fruits (and some vegetables) from the farm or garden, mostly by way of mashing, adding sugar, letting things sit a bit then straining the fruit out, adding vinegar and–voilà–you now have a fairly shelf-stable, ready-to-use, absolutely delicious drink base.
(FWIW, canning as a method of preservation only started in the early 1800s, and I’m figuring they had quite a few mishaps in the early days of that new food-storage method.)
When I first read about shrubs, I was excited as they sounded very much “up my alley,” yet I also felt a bit deflated as the cost of fruit now is so much higher-than-when-I-was-a-bit-younger, and the sugar content and actual taste of so much fruit nowadays is on the meh-to-no-thanks scale for me. (I mostly eat fruit that is seasonal and locally available … and often from my mother’s yard.)
But then I was at Frank’s Produce & Greenhouse in Elkridge, Maryland, (support them if you’re local) a couple weeks ago; it was “seconds boxes” of peaches season, and I availed myself of one: $15 for a big box of peaches. I took the box home and started cutting up the peaches (most of which were only minimally bruised at best), then sugared them and added some citric acid to “sweat” them and bring out more of their flavor. I did that with the first half of the box, but after I’d gotten half way through the deal-with-them-soon peach-seconds, I started thinking I had a lot of peaches to process in short order, so I did what I do in many cases when I feel overwhelmed by the fresh produce quantity I have on hand (I can demonstrate a bit of binge-shopping tendencies when it comes to buying fresh, in-season produce … my eyes! they get so big), and I pureed the heck out of the rest of the peaches in the box.
Now I had a mash, a slurry of peaches … and suddenly I remembered–shrubs! I can make a shrub. And so I did. They were so good, I made more. I made plum shrubs and watermelon shrubs. And nectarine shrubs. (Tip: do not put your shrubs with apple cider vinegar in a Hydro Flask or metal-walled thermos. Blech. Metal. Vinegar. Blech. And I say that from experience!)
This morning I took my shrub-making up another notch. Holy smokes, did I ever!
I’d visited my mom yesterday and she’d plied me with many small, orange, Sun Gold, cherry tomatoes. (She wanted to give me two, three times more, but I politely declined.) By this morning, some of the tiny tomatoes were already going bad, and I knew I needed to do something with them–and soon–because I wasn’t in the mood to eat all of them. (Try ’em if you get a chance. They’re the only cherry tomato varietal I really like, but still … I kinda have to be in the mood to eat tomatoes of any kind.)
I also had a couple dozen Juliet tomatoes, which had a longer on-the-counter lifespan than the Sun Golds but also carried with them the burden of eating them. And I’d salted two large zucchinis (also gifts from my mom yesterday) and needed to do something with them. (If you don’t know this trick/tip yet, cutting and salting zucchini, then squeezing the water out of them about 30 minutes later “cooks” the zucchini, kinda like lemon and lime juice does with fish and ceviche; makes them ready-to-eat and -use without cooking … and I find they’re a much more pleasant texture when salted.)
So, I plopped all the cherry tomatoes into my Vitamix, added the salted zucchini, and threw in part of a jalapeño, some chile de arbol hot pepper, and a bit of garlic and onion, then I googled “tomato shrub, DIY” and got the recommendation to add cumin and coriander seeds. Cinnamon, too. I pureed all that, added in a bunch of sugar and — kazam! Dang! Flavorful.
Really, really flavorful.
Now, I’ll let the shrub mix sit for a few days, then I’ll add the ACV (apple cider vinegar).
The shrub recipes all call for removing the vegetable and fruit pulp. I probably won’t. After a several-years’-long spate of frequent juicing jaunts a couple decades ago (replete with a well-loved Champion Juicer in my kitchen), I started seeing juicing and pitching produce pulp as all rather wasteful, so I’ll probably be consuming the shrub pulp. I’m also not “putting up” these shrubs for winter storage in a root cellar or anything. They’ll be in my fridge and at-the-ready for a refreshing drink whenever I please.
Shrubs are super easy to make! Recipes abound, but they’re kind of hard to mess up. Play around. Have some fun! Make some shrubs if the idea delights you.
update (better than hoped for)
They are amazing! So flavorful, especially after allowing the flavors to marry for several days. I even went all wild and mixed some peach batches with some of the V-8/Bloody Mary/tomato-veg shrubs I made. And I added some pickle juice from a finished jar of pickles to several of the batches too. Oh my! So good!