Shrubs are refreshing summer beverages that have been around since colonial times. Fresh fruit, sugar and vinegar combine for a bracing sweet and tart flavor that can be added to sparkling water or used in cocktails. They are simple to make and endless in the possible combinations of fruit, herbs, spices and vinegars.
Discard any bruised or rotten fruit, rinse and dry the rest, and place it in a large nonreactive bowl. Press the fruit with the back of a spoon until every piece is bruised. Add the sugar, stir to coat, cover tightly, and set aside in a dark, cool spot (not refrigerated) until the mixture is syrupy and the fruit broken down, about 1 to 2 days.
Add the vinegar, whisk to combine, add spices or herbs (if using), cover tightly, and set aside to rest. The mixture is ready when it tastes intensely of the fruit and spices and the sugar-vinegar flavor is slightly mellow, anywhere from 7 to 10 days.
When you are satisfied with the flavor, press and strain the shrub through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth to release the liquid. Discard any remaining fruit and seasonings. Pour shrub into a clean bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid, cover, and store refrigerated for 4 to 6 months (some people claim it keeps indefinitely).
Before using, shake to incorporate any sugar that may have settled at the bottom of the jar. Mix it with sparkling or still water, over ice or with your favorite cocktail.
If you're wondering what flavor combinations to start out with, take some inspiration from the winter 2012 Chef's Pantry class at Bastyr University, where each student concocted a tasty shrub using different combinations of the following macerated fruits, vinegars and herbs:
Fruits: Pineapple, cranberry-Cara Cara orange, pomegranate-Meyer lemon, Meyer lemon, mango
Vinegars: Champagne, balsamic, red wine, white wine, rice, apple cider, sherry
Herbs: Ginger, basil, parsley, mint, thyme, rosemary
Bastyr faculty Patrice Savery, BA, AAS Culinary Arts, MA, tried all of the shrubs and notes that each was delicious and unique. Some combinations to consider: Mango-Balsamic Vinegar-Basil and Pineapple-Rice Wine Vinegar-Star Anise.