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Shrubs For Dummies

Last week I took a shrub-making class, lead by Jennifer Colliau of Small Hand Foods and Aaron Gregory of 15 Romolo.

Jar of shrub before vinegar_tn
(Blueberry-Raspberry-Thyme Shrub Ready for Vinegar)

 The class was co-hosted by CUESA,  Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, who puts on the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, farm tours, and educational events and Urban Kitchen, a group that hosts affordable, single-purpose classes and workshops themed around the DIY Slow Food concept. 

Jen and aaron shrub class_tn
(Jennifer Colliau and Aaron Gregory)

Here is what I learned: 

The word shrub comes from a Persian word for a syrup with citrus and fruit in it, which is  also the base of the word sherbet. Originally, shrubs did not have vinegar in them, but as they spread around the world they began to incorporate it. Why? Because Persia had citrus fruit and other countries did not. Citrus provides the acidity that helps preserve these syrups, and so does vinegar, which can be made from non-citrus fruits. So vinegar was a citrus substitute. 

That explains why we see some recipes for shrub syrups with and some without vinegar. Blueberries, for example, need the extra acid; pineapple does not. I had always wondered about that. Mystery solved. 

Aaron gregory shrub class_tn

Furthermore there is a separate type of shrub related to the switchel. According to Colliau, the switchel dates back to Roman times. It was water mixed with vinegar and perhaps sugar that was used to hydrate the slaves. Wikipedia seems to pick up the trail of the switchel as it enters nascent America, where it was used similarly for hydration rather than as a preservative syrup. 

Fruit for shrubs_tn

Making Shrubs, Fast and Easy

They made it incredibly easy for us to make our own shrubs in this class. They put out a bunch of berries, stone fruits, herbs, and spices. We filled mason jars with our selection of them. Then we poured hot vinegar to fill the jars. 

Scooping vinegar2_tn

Done. Next we wait a week, giving the jar a little shake each day. Then we add sugar and stick it in the fridge -ready to drink! 

I made a blueberry-raspberry-thyme shrub and a strawberry-pepper-coriander shrub. I CAN'T WAIT TO DRINK THEM!

Shurbs in jars_tn

Vinegar tip: Colliau says don't use distilled white vinegar, use wine/champagne or fruit vinegars. Be wary of apple cider vinegar as the flavor can be overpowering. 

Thanks for a great seminar guys. To San Franciscans: check out the activities calendar for more booze and food event with both CUESA and Urban Kitchen


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How much syrup do you actually get out of one of those quart jars? Looks like a lot of fruit but maybe not a ton of liquid...

Camper English

I can tell you on Thursday- that's when I dump the fruit and add the sugar.

Jacob S

Over the last few weeks, I've been making shrubs using a no-heat method and a basic 1:1:1 weight proportion of fruit:sugar:vinegar. I've noticed (and it is obvious that this would be the case in hindsight) that some fruits are able to dissolve more sugar -- berries more so than cherries. You mentioned that certain fruits take more or less sugar, from which I inferred you had seen a lot of recipes for these shrubs. Could you point us to a source of more recipes and writings on shrubs?
By the way, the cherry shrub, after the week of steeping in vinegar, tastes amazing and has a great noyaux odor.

Camper English

For these ones I am adding the sugar after the fruit/berries are removed.

Recipes: Here is one-

And here is another

I don't know if you'll find a collection all together - they're scattered about the internet.

Colonel Tiki

Don't forget to look for "drinking vinegars," as they are also sometimes called. A close friend has had a local business making them for years:


The strawberry pepper shrub is a real nice call. Can't wait to hear your feelings of the final product. Any thoughts as to how you may employ these bad boys?

Camper English

The strawberry peppercorn was particularly delicious- a subtle peppery finish.

To use them, you can just dilute with soda water. You can also just serve mixed with dry vermouth or fino sherry. And in cocktails, think of it as the acid/citrus agent in the drink.

Camper English

Oh and out of the 1 liter jars (4 cups) I got 2 cups of shrub liquid, to which I added 1.5 cups sugar. I forget what the total volume was after adding sugar but let's guess 2.5 cups.

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