A farmers plea: Enough rain already. Seriously. The storms can pass Blooming Glen by. Our plants are waterlogged and stressed, the farmers are muddy and stressed, our stressed seedlings want to get planted but the fields are too muddy to plow and make beds. Nothing has been planted for two and a half weeks now. Come on sunshine, shine on Blooming Glen Farm (for at least two weeks, please, because that’s what we need to dry out these fields!!)
Despite all the rain, the strawberries seem to be holding out for a fourth week of picking. Here at the farm I have discovered a new, refreshing way to enjoy, and preserve, the fleeting strawberry season. The best thing about this method is that you don’t need the most pristine fruit- which is perfect for rained on berries! It’s a beverage called a Strawberry Shrub.
Shrubs were popular in Colonial times, as a way to preserve fruit before refrigeration was possible. Vinegar based drinks were long ago used by farmers as a way to quench their thirst during hay season (and perhaps to soothe the nerves with a little rum added during rainy stretches!). Last summer I discovered and fell in love with the vinegar-based drink, the switchel, even more so after seeing its mention in Little House on the Prairie.
After hearing about shrubs (the drink, not the plant), I’ve been wanting to try making it myself. A shrub is a concentrated syrup made from fruit, vinegar and sugar that is traditionally mixed with water to create a drink that is both sweet and tart.
Looking online, there seems to be two methods: cold-brew and stove-top. The cold-brew method, which in contrast to a stove-top method, supposedly keeps the fruit flavor pure and bright. Well, I decided to try both and see for myself. The cold-brew technique most definitely kept the integrity of the strawberry flavor better and the end result was a gorgeous strawberry red! So that’s the recipe you’ll find below.
Take one part sugar to one part strawberries. (This could be 1 cup fruit to 1 cup sugar, if you like). Cover the quartered fruit with sugar, stir to combine and stash in your fridge for a 5-6 hours, up to a few days. Your fruit should be surrounded by a thick juicy syrup.
Strain the syrup from the solids (press onto the fruit to get any extra juice out), scraping any excess sugar out of the bowl and into the syrup. *That leftover fruit will be really sweet, but a great icecream or pound cake topper!
Add 1 cup apple cider vinegar to the syrup (or equal parts depending on how much fruit and sugar you started with). I like to use Bragg’s raw organic apple cider vinegar, which has a lot of reported health benefits. A little internet surfing also turned up a few balsamic vinegar based strawberry shrubs, so feel free to experiment.
Whisk to combine the vinegar and syrup. Put in a jar and shake well. Refrigerate. Check and shake it periodically. After about a week the acids in the juice and vinegar will dissolve all the sugar. My guess is that the shrub will keep for months in your fridge, if you can resist it for that long!
Now how to use a shrub? To make a delicious drink, take 1-2 tablespoons of the shrub mixture and place it in a glass. Pour in tonic or sparkling water. (I was happy with 2 tablespoons shrub to a pint jar glass of seltzer). Add spirits if desired. The resulting drink will be a pale pink in color. Enjoy!
Photos and text by Tricia Borneman, Blooming Glen farmer and co-owner.