Tuesday 16 August 2016

Drinking Vinegar's or 'Shrubs'

I've come across drinking vinegars or 'shrubs' as they are known in a few places over the years, I think the first time was in Ducksoup in Soho, but I chose wine instead... They sparked my interest but I hadn't actually ever tried them, and added them to a long list of 'things to try out'.

I'm a fan of the sour, the pickle, anything sharp, whether it is in food or drinks, a sour beer or a sour cocktail, always gets my attention... I'll order food based on the presence of a caper sometimes, those little bursts of something sharp with a rich meat or a buttery sauce is the best balance in my mind. Fergus Henderson gives warning however; as much as you think you love the caper, don't overdo it - they should be discovered like a prize, the 'Ho! Ha! moment of surprise and delight' he calls it...

Making a shrub is similar to pickling, an old fashioned way of preserving fruit. Fruit mixed with vinegar then made into a syrup. I have seen it done the other way round where the fruit is macerated with sugar first, then mixed with vinegar, but I prefer the former. You have more control over the sweetness that way, and a more versatile product because the fruit vinegar is a delicious thing in its own right that can be used in salad dressings, braises and sauces, to name but a few...

The drink itself is great just with soda, a sharp drinking cordial. It seems odd to be drinking vinegar, but it's just a sharp kick the same as you would get from using citrus in a good punchy lemonade. It is also double great in a cocktail, I made a cherry shrub, elderflower cordial and gin fizz recently that was a summery gin delight!

Cherry was my first shrub experiment. I had a beautiful big box full and wasn't sure what to do with them all, I pickled some first off, these are really good with cheese or pates. Then set to making my first shrub. The good thing is that you can use fruit that's a bit on the turn too, so if something looks like it's a bit overripe or you're not going to use it up, just put it in a shrub...

Wash whatever fruit you are going to use. I stoned a load of big fat cherries, about half a big kilner jar full. Just tear them in half into a bowl, then mash them up either with your hands or a potato masher, crushing the flesh and getting all the juices moving. Add them to your jar and you want to add the same quantity of vinegar to fruit, roughly. I don't think you need to be super accurate with any of this. I used white wine vinegar this time round. Seal the jar and give it a good shake. Then leave for 1 to 2 weeks, giving it a shake every few days, you want the maximum amount of fruit flavour to come out as possible.

Then it is time to strain it and add sugar. You can strain it through a muslin cloth or through a sieve, it is fine if a bit of pulp stays in the mix, it's just down to preference. Then add sugar to taste. I have been adding about half as much sugar to liquid, some recipes say equal amounts, but I found this far too sweet, I want to taste the fruit, not just sugar. So if you have about a litre of fruit vinegar add about 500ml of caster sugar. You don't need any heat, just stir until it is dissolved. Then it is ready to use.

I have been using about 1 part shrub to 5 parts soda or water, or gin... But it is down to personal taste really. I would like to make some with some unpasteurised vinegar, this is a live fermentation and so full of probiotics and very good for you.

Since using the cherries I have also made a gooseberry shrub, with lovely fat gooseberries from the Ouseburn Farm. I also tried a Strawberry, Raspberry and Black Pepper one too, which is delicious with a warm spice from the pepper. Long before I started thinking about shrubs I also put some new pine shoots in to vinegar to flavour the vinegar, not thinking that it was the beginning of a drinking vinegar, I tried it recently and it'd delicious, but I'm aiming to leave the pine for at least 6 months as that was the original plan. Larger harder fruits or leaves can either be left much longer to break down, or there is a method of cooking them slightly first with spices, water and sugar, then adding vinegar. I'll give this method a go too and see which I prefer; regardless I'm a total drinking vinegar convert now, hope you feel the same...

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Happy cooking! Let me know if you make any of my recipes, send a picture, and let me know any of your own recipes and tips! Anna x