A raspberry shrub
…No garden required
I am a terrible gardener. Plants cower in fear in my presence. I used to have a fantasy of growing the food I eat each summer from a backyard plot filled with squash, tomatoes, and luscious berries. My attempts have resulted in bug bites, frustration, and dirty fingernails, but very little actual produce. Luckily for me, many people know how to plant in ways that result in actual delicious, beautiful food. I have for years been especially taken with the fruits and veggies at local farmers markets during the summertime. Because there is such abundance at these markets, my lack of gardening skills seems fairly insignificant. This year, though, I found success with a raspberry shrub, and I didn’t even have to get my hands dirty.
I especially love berries this time of year. They are beautiful to look at, tasty to eat and nutritious to boot. I eat a lot (and I mean a lot) of berries fresh, but when they are at their peak, they also tend to be temptingly inexpensive, so I usually buy more than I can reasonably consume, even with some help from family and friends. Cobblers and crisps are wonderful and easy ways to use fruit in the summer, as are jams and jellies (I make them and stow them in the freezer for a taste of summer in the dead of winter).
This summer, I stumbled on another novel use for berries – a refreshing drink called a “shrub.” Berries are mixed with sugar to form a syrup, which is then combined with vinegar and left to mellow in the fridge to be used as a base mixed with club soda or water. Apparently, this drink has been around for more than a century and “back in the day” was frequently served during the summer for its thirst-quenching properties. I grabbed some beautiful berries and a bottle of fancy vinegar that had been gifted to me for my first attempt. I found the results to be delightful and pleasantly bracing.
Full disclosure: some of my taste testers were not as thrilled with the result. One taster commented that the drink was reminiscent of carbonated salad dressing. I contend that this judgement is a matter of expectation – most people quite enjoy lemon juice mixed with a judicious amount of sugar and water each summer, so a tasty vinegar treated in the same way is quite similar. Still, if the vinegar is too much of a stretch, a lemon-juice substitution for the vinegar would result in a delicious homemade raspberry lemonade.
I used raspberries, but any berry would work, and a mixture of fresh berries would be particularly scrumptious. As for the vinegar, almost anything other than plain white vinegar will work – I used red wine vinegar, but apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or even balsamic vinegar would suffice. You will start with enough sugar to help the berries break down and get syrupy, but it is likely you will need to add more sugar to balance the flavors of your base. You can simply stir sugar in when you mix your drinks (like you would for iced tea). If you want to be fancy, make a simple syrup by boiling equal parts sugar and water until the sugar is fully dissolved, let it cool, and then add syrup to your liking.
I like to mix this fairly strong – about three parts water to one part syrup. I find the tang of the vinegar and the sweetness of the berries to be particularly refreshing on a hot day. The base lasts for months in the refrigerator, so whip up a batch now and enjoy the sweetness of the season, long after summer is gone.
Raspberry Shrub Recipe
- 12 ounces raspberries
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- Club soda
Mash berries with a fork then combine with the sugar, stirring so the berries and sugar are well combined. Place in a covered container (a Mason jar works well) and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours, shaking occasionally to re–combine. Strain berries through a sieve and discard the pulp. Add berry syrup and vinegar to a clean jar and store in the refrigerator for a week to allow the mixture to mellow. Combine syrup, ice, club soda (or water); add sugar to taste. For a strong taste, mix one part syrup with three parts water or club soda; for a milder flavor, use two tablespoons per eight ounces of club soda.
Article and photos by Lisa Crockett