A great way to reduce waste & add a sustainable practice at home is to utilise the shrub. It’s an easy method of getting the most out of seasonal fruit & veg. Not to mention they give you an enormous amount of fantastic flavours.
So, what is a shrub I hear you ask! It’s basically a combination of fruit and/or veg with sugar & vinegar which can be used as a non-alcoholic ingredient in cocktails & cookery. The vinegar aspect can often put people off but believe me it adds depth of flavour when used in the correct amounts. It also has amazing health benefits, give it a google honestly.
Shrubs have been around for thousands of years, the ancient Israelites used to create vinegar-based drinks from their produce to last through the winter months. The Victorians used fruit vinegars the same way we use cordials today. It was a lifesaver for the British Navy who created lime shrubs to battle the onslaught of scurvy that ravaged them during the 18th century.
Although the shrub was lost for many years, it is now present on many restaurant & craft cocktail bar menus; the increased importance of sustainability within venues has paved the way for shrubs as they and are a perfect way to use up left over fruit & veg. The list of flavoured shrubs you can create is endless, it’s all about playing around to find your perfect flavour (my fridge is constantly full of these experiments!).
First of all, think how and what you want to get from your shrub:
Is it to be used simply as a cordial?
Am I going to add it to a cocktail with my favourite gin?
Do I want it to add a sharp tang to a sweet desert?
The best way to start is to pick a fruit you know you like & give it a go! Then it’s just a case of experimenting with other fruit, veg & herbs.
I love rhubarb & live in the rhubarb triangle so it seemed only fitting to start you off with a recipe close to my heart. It works incredibly well with Gin, Vodka & Tequila for a more earthy kick. You can use it like a cordial to add to soda or better yet champagne or prosecco. It can even be thickened and drizzled over vanilla ice cream.
500g Caster Sugar
250ml Apple Cider Vinegar
Wash your rhubarb and chop it into small chunks – the smaller the better, we want to have as much surface area as we can to extract the most flavour. Separate your chopped rhubarb into two 500g piles.
You will need two containers or bowls at this point. Add 500g of rhubarb to each container and to one add 500g of sugar and the other add 250g apple cider vinegar (Mark them Sugar & Vinegar). What we are doing is extracting the rhubarbs essential oils from two different sources creating an intense flavour.
Take your two containers, put them in fridge for 24hrs & every now and then give them a shake. This is known as agitation; it helps the process along by forcing the two ingredients to interact with each other.
After 24hrs drain the liquid from the vinegar container & combine it with the contents of the sugar container. The sugar will naturally draw out the essential oils and juices from the fruit and turn itself into a liquid.
Leave for a further 24hrs, remembering to shake every now and then. Keep the rhubarb from the vinegar container to one side (we will use this later).
Now we take the sugar container give it a last shake and stir. Then drain it through a sieve.
There you have it – Ready to drink & will last ages if kept in the fridge!
Your left-over rhubarb (told you we would use it later), combine the two leftovers and make something delicious with it. My suggestion would be to keep in the fridge and combine with yoghurt, but of course you could simply add it to your muesli in the morning.
Now you have your rhubarb shrub I thought it would be nice to give you a little bespoke cocktail to test it out.
25ml Gin (Lemon, cardamom & thyme Studio Gin works very well)
25ml Rhubarb Shrub
1 Egg white / 3 tbsp Aquafaba
1 Basil Leaf
Combine all ingredients apart from the basil leaf into a cocktail tin (a jar with a lid will suffice). Fill with ice and add other side of the tin.
Shake hard for 20 seconds. This will chill and dilute your cocktail to the perfection.
Separate the tins, drain the cocktail from one tin to the other and discard the ice.
Shake again without the ice. This will create the lovely foam.
Strain through a sieve into a chilled glass and garnish with a basil leaf.