18th-Century Shrub

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This 4th of July, party like a colonial and add shrub to your celebration. A drink popular in 18th-century America, it’s bound to lend some historical authenticity to your merrymaking.

Shrub?Cocktail

Granted, the word doesn’t evoke a mouthwatering image, but there’s never been rhyme or reason in naming our cocktails. Consider today’s Slow Learner, Old Man and the Sea, or Sex on a Beach. Or, the oddly named flips and bounces of the 18th century. In any event, it’s thought this particular name derives from the Arabic word meaning ‘drink.’

A blend of fruit, sugar, and vinegar, the shrub was a colonial favorite. They took pride in concocting their own unique ‘receipts’ (recipes), and as such, there is no ‘one’ way to make it.

Vinegar?

Yes, it includes a ‘drinking vinegar.’ Colonial housewives preserved fruit with sugar. Left long enough, fruit ferments, and the fermented liquid turns to vinegar. Our ancestors were prone to frugality—tossing the flavored vinegar wasn’t an option. They found uses for the liquid, both in cooking and as a drinking vinegar.

Shrub syrup

When mixed with sugar, the drinking vinegar transforms into a yummy sweet-tart flavored shrub syrup.

Tait Farms sells bottled fruit shrubs as does Shrub & Co. (These were just two sources that turned up in an internet search–no doubt there are more.)

Mix the syrup with soda water for a refreshing summer cooler, or spike it with your spirit of choice for a refreshing summer cocktail. Rum from the West Indies was a favorite mixer back in the old days. Still is.

If you’re ambitious, try making your own shrub syrup. Start with the drinking vinegar. Prepardnesspro.com offers advice on creating vinegar from scratch. Once it’s ready, add 2 cups of fruit to 1 pint of vinegar. Sweeten to taste with 1 1/2 to 2 cups of sugar.

If you’re not ambitious, just add vinegar to sugared fruit. Huffington Post recently published a few recipes online, courtesy of Sweet Paul Magazine.

1700s Blown Glass Mug (U.S.) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston William H. Fenn III Glass Collection

1700s Blown Glass Mug (U.S.) MFA, Boston (William H. Fenn III Glass Collection)

Or, even easier, try a local tavern that keeps up with the trends. Shrubs are back in vogue!

Oh — to really get in the swing of things — drink your shrub from a vessel resembling 18th-century glassware. The unique blown glass mug shown at left is from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I don’t doubt that it contained a shrub or two in its time. What a treasure!

              


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