With summer whispering in my ear, I’ve begun happily putting the screens back on the windows, pulling out the barbecue and digging out my flip-flops. We spent this past long weekend in the sunny Methow Valley, and even though we came back to rain I still have warm days on my mind. And warm days call for something refreshing to sip, such as a shrub.
Shrubs date back to the Colonial days in America, when vinegar was used as a way of preserving berries and other fruit. The fruit-and-vinegar syrup was mixed with seltzer and became a popular drink. I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, and colonial wisdom such as this is near and dear to my heart. Discovering this traditional beverage sent me into the kitchen, excited to try my hand at it.
Making shrub syrup is quite simple and, since I chose to make a cold processed one it does not involve any cooking. Fruit is mixed with sugar and left to macerate for a couple of days, and then the resulting juice is mixed with vinegar. Dark red cherries are spilling over in the markets now, and I began thinking about how good their sweet, juicy flavor would be in a shrub.
Remembering to don an apron (messy business, this cherry-pitting), I gently mashed pitted cherries with coconut sugar and then muddled some fresh mint for an herbal note. After a couple of days in the fridge, I drained the juice and stirred in some cider vinegar. Since cherries and balsamic pair so well, I added a touch of that, too, and was pleased.
I loaded up a tray with jars, ice, a bottle of seltzer and my cherry mint shrub to mix drinks outside. A splash of shrub syrup, topped off with bubbly seltzer, was pure refreshment. The first sip was a bit bracing from the vinegar flavor, but then I settled into the tangy, fruity, unique flavor that is a shrub. As my ice cubes gently clinked and melted, I sank back and savored cherries in a whole new way ... and began listening for more summer whispers.
Cherry Mint Shrub
Makes 1 cup of syrup
3 cups fresh red cherries, halved and pitted
1/4 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Seltzer and ice for serving
Place the cherries, mint and coconut sugar in a bowl and gently mash (I used a pastry cutter). Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to macerate for 2 days.
Place a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl and pour the cherry mixture through. Press to release as much juice as possible. Save the solids to stir into yogurt if desired.
Add the cider and balsamic vinegar and stir until well combined. Pour a splash (or two, depending on taste) into a glass, top with seltzer and ice and serve. Store any unused shrub syrup in the fridge.