Before the era of refrigerators, people relied on chemicals (like salt and vinegar) to keep perishables from spoiling. In addition to preserving their fruit with sugar and vinegar, colonial Americans added cold water to the mix to make a tangy summer refresher.
They called the drink “shrub,” from sharāb, the Arabic word for “drink.” The Middle Eastern connection was not without reason: Iran may be the birthplace of the shrub. Medieval texts describe a beverage known as sekanjabin, which mixed sugar, vinegar, and fresh mint with water.
To prepare a shrub, one simply bottles or jars the ingredients, then allows time for the mixture to mingle before drinking. This process extended a fruit’s life from days to weeks. Shrubs offered an easy, affordable way to continue enjoying one’s harvest way past its prime. But with the introduction of other methods of preservation (temperature control, in particular), shrubs fell out of favor.
In 2011, shrubs made a comeback as cocktail enhancers. Bartenders whipped up shrubs in-house, turning to the simple, natural syrup for tang and fruitiness when concocting a drink. Adding shrubs to spirits and sparkling beverages gives them a zesty pop, and splashing a little in your water will turn any old hydration routine into a colonial-era hit in three seconds flat.
Need to Know
Make your own shrub syrup by mashing equal parts fruit and sugar in a bowl and leaving the mixture in the fridge overnight. Strain out the solids, then combine the fruity, sugary liquid with equal parts vinegar and return to the fridge. Before serving, shake to make sure all the sugar’s dissolved. Add your homemade shrub to seltzers, cocktails, or even tea.