by Linda Lee Graham

This 4th of July, party like a colonial.

Drink shrub!


It’s a blend of fruit, sugar, and vinegar, and it was a colonial favorite.

It’s thought the word derives from the Arabic word meaning “drink.” Granted, the name doesn’t evoke a mouthwatering image, but there’s rarely any rhyme or reason to naming our drinks. Consider today’s Moscow Mule, Mohito, or Sex on a Beach. Two hundred years ago it was flips, bounces, and shrubs.

People took pride in concocting their own unique ‘receipts’ (recipes), and as such, there is no one way to make it.

What’s in it?

  1. Shrub Syrup
  2. Your choice of mixers

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

Rum from the West Indies was a favorite mixer back in those days

The Syrup

Colonial housewives preserved fruit with sugar. Left long enough, sugared fruit will ferment. The fermented liquid is a flavored vinegar. Frugality being the more of the day, tossing the flavored vinegar wasn’t an option. Waste not, want not. Culinary uses were devised. One was the shrub syrup.

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

Two sources of bottled shrub syrup are Tait Farms and Shrub & Co. But if you’re ambitious, you can try making your own.

Start with the drinking vinegar. Prepardnesspro.com offers advice on creating drinking 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.

The Drink

Try mixing the shrub syrup with soda water for a refreshing summer cooler, or spike it for a refreshing summer cocktail. Rum from the West Indies was a favorite mixer back in those days. Still is.

Now, find a mug and enjoy. Probably without cubed ice. To really get in the swing of things drink your shrub from 18th-century replica glassware or pewter-ware. The unique blown glass mug shown below is from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. What a treasure!

Bush Hill

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

Finally, keep in mind your easiest option–find a local tavern that keeps up with the trends. Shrubs are back in vogue!

A coming-of-age novel, Voices Beckon is set in 1780s Philadelphia, immediately after the Revolution. In addition to having a strong romance thread, the book captures the conflicts and tension in the new United States from the time of the Articles of Confederation to the writing and ratification of the Constitution.

“Davey, ye must participate. This is an opportunity that will not come twice.”

“I doubt that. The country will likely have Independence Day parades for the next twenty years.”

“Not like this, not like the one celebrating the first year of our new Constitution.”

Voices Beckon

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