If there's one thing that can bring us out of mourning the end of elderflower season, it's the appearance of elderberries. These juicy, tangy, slightly sweet and Vitamin C-packed berries make delicious jellies, wines, and syrups – and, we recently learned, shrubs. Ever had a shrub? Ever since Elizabeth posted about shrubs a couple years ago (followed by another look at shrubs with Evan Kleiman), we've been curious about these old-fashioned, fruit-infused vinegar drinks. Yes, vinegar! If the thought of sipping vinegar makes you grimace, know that in shrub form, the acidity mellows quite a bit as the vinegar is mixed with sugar and diluted into fizzy water or even cocktails.
It took us awhile to finally get around to making a shrub of our own but now that we've started, it will be hard to stop! This elderberry version is addictively good and stunning in color and flavor. While there is a sour note, it's also sweet, fruity, and delightfully complex. If you don't have access to elderberries, give this recipe a try with other berries (raspberries are most traditional) or even stone fruits.
A note on the vinegar: We tried this recipe with three different kinds, all of which made a delicious shrub. Apple cider vinegar was our favorite; the syrup was rich, fruity, and had the deepest elderberry flavor. A version with red wine vinegar tasted sweetest, while one with champagne vinegar had a grape-y note. Of course, the exact flavor would also depend on factors like vinegar brand and age. In the future we might also experiment with white and Balsamic vinegars.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups syrup
1 cup elderberries
1 cup vinegar
About 1 1/2 cups sugar
Soda water to serve
Wash and dry the elderberries, place them in a pint-size jar or non-reactive bowl, and lightly crush using a fork or potato masher. Add vinegar and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, occasionally shaking the jar or stirring the contents of the bowl.
Give the mixture a good shake or stir and then strain using a fine-mesh strainer and/or cheesecloth. Discard the solids.
Measure the liquid. For every cup of liquid, use 1 cup of sugar. Combine liquid and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 5 minutes and remove from heat.
Let cool, bottle, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks (possibly much longer).
To serve, mix with sparking water. Start with 1 part shrub to 6 parts sparkling water and adjust to taste. The syrup may also be mixed with still water or used in cocktails.
Related: Strawberry and Balsamic Basil Soda
(Images: Emily Ho)