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Shrub a Dub Dub…(Shrub Sodas or Shrub Salad Dressing)

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Consider this post more of a commentary on my new favorite foodie discovery as opposed to an actual recipe.  In other words, this is not a recipe for how to make shrub, rather it’s ideas on how to use shrub and an argument for why you should stock some shrub in your pantry this summer (whether you make it or buy it, find some immediately and start experimenting).

The making of shrubs is steeped in old English and American colonial history.  In a time when people couldn’t afford to waste quality produce, they preserved fresh berries, and stone and citrus fruits in vinegar.  Once the fruit flavor had infused into the vinegar, sugar was added to form a syrup….this was known as a shrub.  The “shrub” (from an old Arabic word meaning syrup) was in turn used to flavor water or cocktails…it became particularly popular mixed with rum during the Colonial Era.  During the Prohibition Era of the 1920s shrubs were used to make non-alcoholic (and certainly still plenty of alcoholic) beverages by flavoring soda waters and tonics.  Shrubs fell out of popularity with the development of refrigeration and soda pop in the mid 20th Century.  Thanks to the craft cocktail boom that has emerged in the last five years or so, shrub syrups are making a come back.  Culinary renegades and mixologists are carefully pairing certain fruits with specific quality vinegars and fresh herbs and spices to create delicious fresh, tangy, seasonal shrubs which in turn create phenomenally unique handcrafted cocktails.

IMG_2848A few weeks ago I attended a “Food Swap” sponsored by my friend Tricia Keels of No Chefs Allowed.  It was her first attempt at organizing a Swap.  It was great fun!  I took a few mason jars of my Tomatillo Salsa Verde and Maple Vanilla Granola with Macadamia Nuts and Dried Cherries.  Whatever the number of goods you brought equalled the number of goods with which you left.  Once the swapping started, I quickly moved around bartering Salsa and Granola for the goods that I desired most. I ended up with preserved lemons, pickled watermelon rind, homemade beef spice rub, blackberry butter, and two delicious shrubs (Strawberry Balsamic and Raspberry Orange).  My brain set into over drive thinking about putting all of these new goods to use.  My immediate desire was to use these fruity flavored vinegars in cooking but the more I read about them, the more I wanted to reserve what I had left of them for beverages. Tricia had recently made a kumquat shrub and was telling me how much even her kids loved shrub sodas.  I couldn’t resist using some of the Strawberry Balsamic Shrub to make a dressing for a Spinach Salad (recipe notes below) and adding a little to a pork tenderloin marinade, but I reserved most of the shrubs to experiment with making drinks…..and boy am I glad that I did.  A shrub soda is deliciously refreshing, sweet but not too sweet with that bit of tangy fresh vinegar, much more pleasing than you would imagine.  I played around with the mixers.  I tried good quality soda water, seltzer water and even some quality ginger ale….all were tasty.  Mix in a shot of vodka, tequilla or rum (I’m thinking a pineapple shrub and soda with a shot of coconut rum is in my future) for a refreshing, hip, summer cocktail.

I am now inspired to make my own shrub, I just have to figure out what flavor profile I want to make for my first batch.  The answer lies in determining which would taste best sitting poolside in the heat of summer….Raspberry Lemon Thyme, Watermelon Basil or Mint?  I’ve been reading up on how to make them and here are the two articles that I’ve been most impressed with: The Kitchn’s How to Make a Fruit Shrub Syrup and Reclaiming Provincial’s Three Delicious Shrubs.  Below I have listed recipes for a simple Shrub Vinaigrette and a simple Shrub Soda (if you can get your hands on some shrub…I think Whole Foods might have a Blackberry Lavender Shrub or if you end up making your own batch).  Hopefully, I will soon have a tried and true recipe for the shrub itself to post on The Common Plate.  Until then, I hope I’ve given you a new product to consider in your summer 2014 eating and drinking repetoire.

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Shrub Soda

1 oz shrub (whatever kind you make or can get your hands on, I used Strawberry Balsamic and Raspberry Orange)

5 oz soda water (good quality)

1 oz. gingerale (optional if you want a bit more sweetness, again good quality)

1-1.5 oz liquor (vodka, rum, tequilla…)

Directions:  Fill glass with ice.  Pour one oz of shrub over ice.  Add 5 oz soda water (or adjust to include a bit of Gingerale or a shot of liquor).  Add more shrub to taste.

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Spinach Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Shrub Vinaigrette (Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side)

1 8 oz bag spinach leaves

1 cup strawberries, sliced

3-4 oz. feta cheese, chunked or crumbled

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Dressing:

2 Tbsp Strawberry Balsamic Shrub

5 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp finely chopped shallot

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Spread almonds on baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake at 350 degrees for 2 minutes watching the entire time so as not to burn.  Whisk dressing ingredients together.  Assemble salad and add dressing just before serving.

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Shrubs compliments of Annie Williams. Contact me directly at thecommonplate@gmail.com if you’d like her contact information.