Several summers ago I stayed on my friend Lynda’s farm in the Methow Valley. As expected in eastern Washington, the long summer days saw temperatures climbing and without air conditioning (we were on a farm, after all) we suffered through the stifling heat by moving slowly and wearing sun hats. In the evenings, we would sit on the porch and sip yuzu vinegar with a splash of sparkling water and a glass full of ice. It was Lynda’s trick for keeping cool and while the first sip was bracing, the second was nothing short of refreshing. An addiction was born.
Trendy bartenders across the country are turning to similar drinking vinegars, or shrubs, to add that special splash of flavor in their cocktails. Shrubs are not a new creation, and were used in colonial America as a way to preserve quick-spoiling fruit. Lacking proper refrigeration, fruit turned quickly. Adding vinegar to the fruit solved the crisis and was a means of preservation, as vinegar is high in acid and prevents mold and bacteria from forming.
At home, there are no limitations to what can be combined and preserved safely, so shrubs are a great way to experiment with preserving. Be sure to choose a high acid percentage (5%) in the vinegar you use, which assures stability. I prefer softer and sweeter vinegars: apple cider or champagne work well with many fruits and vegetables.
As an added bonus, shrubs are alcohol-free, and thus are a festive option for anyone who does not drink alcohol. You can add a spoonful to make juice more complex, or go straight for the sparkling water and make a brightly colored fizzy drink.
Strawberry Vinegar Fizz
Makes about 1 cup | start to finish: 2 hours
This drinking vinegar screams spring and smells like strawberries fresh from the field. The acid from the vinegar and sweetness from the strawberries wakes up the palate without being offensive. You must be careful to strain all of the fruit pulp out of your final vinegar, lest you have unsightly bits floating in your beverage. Try this with sparkling water or amp it up by topping off a few spoonfuls with champagne. It can also be used as salad vinaigrette–perfect tossed with toasted almonds and spinach leaves.
3 cups hulled and chopped strawberries (about 1 1/2 pounds whole berries)
2/3 cup champagne vinegar
Combine chopped strawberries and sugar and stir to combine. Let macerate for at least one hour, or let sit overnight, stirring occasionally and making sure all the sugar dissolves. Using a blender, blend the strawberries along with the macerating juices into a smooth puree, about 4 minutes. Do this by starting on the “chop” speed and working up to “puree”. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds and pulp. Do this several times until the puree is very smooth and does not contain any flesh from the fruit. Stir in champagne vinegar and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator, where it will keep for several months.
To serve, fill glasses with ice and add one or two tablespoons of strawberry vinegar. Pour seltzer over, filling the glass and stir to combine. This drink makes an excellent adult beverage, too. Add one ounce of gin per glass (Aviation or Bainbridge Organic gins are exceptional) or top off the shrub with champagne instead of sparkling water.
washed jars | store in fridge
Red Beet & Rose Drinking Vinegar
Makes about 4 cups | start to finish: 1 hours
I developed this recipe based solely on the principle that beets are vibrantly colored and saturate anything they come in contact with. Additionally, the flavor of beets is quite earthy and subtle—appealing without being overwhelming. The addition of rose geranium leaves creates a floral note and softens the vinegar perfectly. Rose geranium is becoming more and more popular at plant sales. Keep your eyes peeled this year and pick up a start so you’ll always have access to the flavor. Or feel free to add a few drops of rose geranium essential oil to your vinegar. A word of caution, however; a little goes a long way so start small and build flavor to your taste.
6 medium beets, diced yielding about 2 cups
4 cups apple cider vinegar
5 – 10 large rose geranium leaves
1 1/2 cups sugar
In a medium sauce pan, heat beets, vinegar and rose geranium leaves over medium-high heat. Bring to a gentle boil and cook another ten minutes. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
When the beets are cool, strain them and the rose geranium leaves from the vinegar and pour into a glass jar and cover. (You can reserve the beets for a salad.) Place the drinking vinegar in the fridge, where it will keep for several months.
To serve, add approximately two tablespoons of vinegar to a glass and filled with ice. Fill with seltzer water or champagne and garnish with a sprig or petal of rose geranium.
washed jars | store in fridge