After a persistent infection required me to be on antibiotics for 9 months this year, I started looking for foods to increase the good bacteria in my gut. Fermented foods are one way to do that. In my quest for easy & tasty recipes, I discovered shrubs, or sipping vinegars, made from fruit, vinegar, and sugar or honey. A variety of fruits or fruit juices and vinegars can be used and the recipe can be easily adapted to suit whatever you have on hand. Herbs and spices can be added to create different flavors, too. Most often I use raw apple cider vinegar that contains the “mother” but other vinegars can be used. I don’t use sugar in my cooking, so I use local honey in my shrubs. Either can be used as can maple syrup, coconut sugar, or raw sugar. Experiment with combinations of ingredients that you like.
This is my current favorite shrub flavor but the ratios are the same for any fruit or berries: 3 cups fruit, 1 cup sugar/honey, 1 cup vinegar. It’s easy to scale the recipe up or down depending on the quantity of fruit you have on hand. I often half the amount of honey I use in the shrub then sweeten it with stevia if necessary as I use it. Fruit juices can also be boiled down to create a syrup then vinegar and sugar/honey added. The cold method gives a richer, fresher flavor in my opinion, but boiling works best with juices like apple or grape. Currently I have a dozen bottles of shrubs in my refrigerator: strawberry balsamic, apricot cherry, blueberry white balsamic, raspberry lime, ginger lime, watermelon mint, nectarine, grape, apple cinnamon, thundercloud plum, & blackberry. All but the apricots, nectarines, limes, and ginger were locally sourced and picked either by my parents or myself. Shrubs age under refrigeration, improving the flavor and taking some of the bite out of the vinegar. I usually wait two about two months before using.
A few tablespoons of shrub syrup can be added to alcohol to make cocktails, to water or club soda to make flavorful and healthful drinks, or to olive oil and herbs or spices to make a vinaigrette for salad. Ginger lime and raspberry lime are my favorite shrubs to use in vinaigrettes.
Strawberry Balsamic Shrub
3 cups strawberries, hulled
1 cup mild flavored honey (clover, raspberry, wildflower)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Mash the strawberries and honey together with a fork or potato masher in a nonreactive bowl. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours but no more than 72 hours. The longer it sits, the more the fruit will ferment. Strain the fruit through a fine mesh sieve or chinois (also called a China cap) to separate the berries from the syrup. Add the vinegars to the syrup, stir well, and bottle the syrup in sterilized bottles or jars. Refrigerate. Shake the bottles or jars every few days. Use once the flavor suits your tastes. I usually wait two months before using it in drinks and less when using it in a vinaigrette.