Early summer brings sweet cherries, and once you've eaten your fill fresh, make this cherry shrub. It's at delicious summer fruit recipe, both complex and vibrant, sweet and tart thanks to the inclusion of robust red wine vinegar, fresh thyme, and black pepper. It's also easy to make.
What is it?
A shrub is a drink made with equal parts vinegar and sugar to which fruit, herbs, and spices are often added. The fruit and herbs macerate in the vinegar for a few weeks, giving the shrub its flavor.
Then, you'll strain the infused vinegar and mix it with sugar which produces a strong, sweet-tart concentrate. To serve shrubs, mix a few spoonfuls of the concentrate into a jar and top with mineral water.
What's in it?
To make this cherry shrub, you'll need equal parts cabernet port vinegar (or another dark red wine vinegar) and sugar. The rich flavor of whole, unrefined can sugar such as panela or jaggery works well in this recipe, since it has a rich flavor and mineral-like undertones that work well with the cabernet port vinegar.
To the vinegar, you'll add sweet cherries, thyme, and black pepper. While thyme and black pepper are often used in savory applications, they work well with many fruits, too - especially sweet cherries, figs, and red grapes. The combination works beautifully with the tannic richness of the red wine vinegar.
Cabernet Port Vinegar
This recipe uses Cabernet Port Vinegar from Acid League - it has the robust flavor of red wine vinegar with notes of chocolate, cherry, and dried fruit. It's also an unfiltered, raw vinegar for a boost of nutrition.
Tips for making shrubs
Shrubs are easy to make, requiring patience above all else. You'll mash the fruit and herbs together in the vinegar, and then simply wait while the ingredients slowly release their flavor over time. After about 2 weeks, you need only to strain the vinegar and then mix it with sugar to form the shrub which will then keep for months in a dark cupboard.
- Mash the fruit and herbs just enough to break them up, not obliterate them. You're looking to just break the cell walls of the fruit and herbs enough so that they release their juices (and flavor) without completely losing their structure.
- Use a nonmetal lid or line a metal lid with wax paper. Vinegar is acidic and will corrode a metal lid when left to sit for an extended period of time. Using a nonreactive metal, such as wood, glass, or plastic, works well. You can also line the lip of the jar with wax paper to prevent corrosion when using a metal lid.
- Shake the jar daily, if you can manage it. Agitating the jar by shaking helps to distribute the cherries, thyme, and black pepper in this recipe more efficiently, so that the flavor improves - it also prevents a mother of vinegar from forming. If you can't shake the jar daily, try every few days.
- Mix the sugar in last. You might be tempted to add all the ingredients to the jar at once, but wait until after straining the herbs and fruit to add the sugar. If you add the sugar too early, you risk causing excessive fermentation and off-flavors.
Cherry Shrub Recipe
- Quart-sized Jar
- Fine-mesh Strainer
Muddle the fruit and herbs.
- Spoon the cherries, thyme, and black pepper into a quart-sized jar and mash them together with a wooden spoon or muddler until the cherries begin to soften without losing their form.
Infusing the vinegar.
- Pour the vinegar over the fruit and herbs, and then seal the jar with a nonmetal lid. Shake the jar daily, and let the vinegar sit in a dark cupboard for 2 weeks.
Straining and sweetening.
- After 2 weeks, strain the infused vinegar into a clean through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids. Stir in the sugar, and allow it to dissolve.
Serving and storing.
- Store the shrub syrup at room temperature for up to 8 weeks or in the fridge for up to 6 months. To serve the shrub, fill a glass with ice and then pour up to two tablespoons of the syrup into the jar, filling the remaining space with mineral water.
Try a different vinegar. Shrubs need only an equal part vinegar and sweetener, and you can use any vinegar you prefer. Red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar all work well.
Swap honey for the sugar. Honey's a touch sweeter than sugar, so you may want to use slightly less - about ¾ cup honey for every 1 cup of sugar.
Try it with different fruit. You can make a shrub with just about any fruit. While this one calls for sweet cherries, you can also use sour cherries or if cherries aren't in season, try blackberries or figs, too.
Try different herbs. Thyme and black pepper work well in combination with cherries and the cabernet port vinegar in this shrub recipe; however, you might find you like other combinations, too - star anise and clove or even vanilla and mint.
Yes. It calls for 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of vinegar; however, remember that this is a concentrated syrup and you'll be consuming a very small quantity - typically one or two tablespoons at a time, so it amounts to less than you think.
No. One of the hallmarks of a shrub is its sweetness which is achieved by using equal parts sugar and vinegar. If you prefer a sugar-free version, simply make an infused vinegar instead.
Yes. A drinking vinegar made with honey, vinegar, herbs and fruit is called an oxymel and it comes from the Greek roots (oxy = vinegar and mel=honey). Use slightly less honey than sugar, since honey is a little sweeter than sugar.
To use the cherry shrub syrup, spoon two tablespoons (or as much as suits you) into a tumbler filled with ice and then top it with still or sparkling water for a refreshing drink.
You can also use it as a base for marinades and vinaigrettes, or drizzled over roasted vegetables or meat as you like it.
Stored at room temperature, the shrub syrup will last about 8 weeks. If you store it in the fridge, it'll last about 6 months.