“Are you saying Ni to that old woman?”
Roger the Shrubber: Oh, what sad times are these when passing ruffians can say Ni at will to old ladies. There is a pestilence upon this land, nothing is sacred. Even those who arrange and design shrubberies are under considerable economic stress in this period in history.Many of my Esteemed Readers will recognize the above scene, lifted from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But this is not going to be a disquisition on Matters Pythonesque, but rather, Matters Drinky. That’s how I roll.
King Arthur: Did you say shrubberies?
Roger the Shrubber: Yes, shrubberies are my trade. I am a shrubber. My name is Roger the Shrubber. I arrange, design, and sell shrubberies.
Roger may have been familiar with shrubs of the herbaceous kind - after all, it was his stock in trade - but there is another kind of shrub: a fruit-based syrup fortified with vinegar. It was, way back in the day, a popular method of preserving short-lived summer fruits and converting them into something eminently drinkable.
The shrub is a real Old-School concoction, long out of favor. I first came upon the term while reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, which are set in the era of the Napoleonic Wars - prime time for the shrub. The book Lobscouse & Spotted Dog (Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian) contains a recipe for a brandy-laced raspberry shrub, but none of my more recent cocktail compendia even mention the term, much less provide examples. What with the Cocktail-Nerd Renaissance, however, shrubs appear to be making a comeback. This is all to the good, because it’s always nice to rediscover Tasty Things.
To make a shrub, all you do is macerate crushed fruit with an equal amount of sugar - anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days will do the trick. Then you add in an amount of wine or cider vinegar equal to the amount of sugar you had used. Strain out the solids, stick it in a bottle, and you have your shrub. Some recipes call for boiling the fruit with the sugar - it’s quicker, but you lose some of the bright flavor notes of the fruit when you cook it. (Apricots may be an exception - they taste really good when cooked, in my not-so-humble opinion.)
Having recently snagged a package of raspberries at the local Costco (“Our stuff looks cheap because you have to buy it by the metric buttload”), I figured I would give this shrub business a try, using this basic recipe (specifics here). Just call me Elisson the Shrubber.
Raspberries macerating in sugar. After this sits for a day or two, I’ll strain out the solids and add vinegar. Presto: Shrub!
I can’t wait to mix this up with something. Seltzer? Gin? Rum? The possibilities are endless.
Raspberry shrub. Just add booze. Or whatever.
Now, if I can just stop saying “Ni!” to old women, I’ll really be in good shape.
Update: Now I’ve got a blueberry shrub in the fridge, sitting alongside the raspberry shrub. I wonder if they’ll get busy in the dead of night and start throwing off tasty little shrublets.
Be more friendly to the old women. And perhaps use some of your shrub. Show them a nice glassful and say "Ni-hi".
Ni-hi. That only works with short old women.
I'll have to try and make some shrub myself.
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