“It is hot.”
Jeremy said the only thing that either of us could think of while standing under the searing July sun. ‘Yes’, I thought, ‘it is terribly hot.’ But the heat rendered my reservoirs of speaking energy dry and I just solemnly nodded my head in agreement. Hot it was. And we still had so much of the chicken coop to build. Luckily, the coop was being built underneath an existing awning in the backyard, so we didn’t have to be in the sun very much, but we did have to pry up a bunch of concrete landscaping tiles to give the chicken run a dirt floor. This required using a crowbar to pry up each one, loading it into a wheelbarrow, and unloading them into the front yard to repurpose them as raised flower beds. Most of the walkway to the front is nice and shaded against the house, but once you actually get into the area where the raised beds are going to be, there is no relief from the sun. It just bores into your back as you pick up each concrete block and start stacking them together. It was the combination of this heat coupled with the intense physical activity that made me crave shrubs like a madwoman.
If you’re unfamiliar with shrubs, Carey and I have a podcast episode up all about them that I highly recommend listening to, but I will also give you the just of it here. Back in the days before refrigeration, vinegar and sugar were used to help preserve the juices of fresh fruit. You’d basically just macerate together a bunch of fruit, sugar, and vinegar and let it sit for a few days, then strain out the pulp and save the liquid, which would usually keep for over a week. After refrigeration came around, shrubs nearly went extinct, but after the craft cocktail explosion that happened in the past decade, shrubs have made a huge comeback as a cocktail mixer. But they taste great on their own, too. As a lover of kombucha and all flavors both sweet and sour, I can say that sipping a cool shrub on a hot day is a particular kind of refreshing. And as I was stacking those tiles, it became the only thing I could think about.
Because of the heat wave, our cherry tree was especially heavy with fruit this summer. So, I decided to take advantage of its abundant crop, pushed my wobbly ladder right up against the fence, and leaned into the neighbor’s garden to reach the ripest branches that had of course grown away from our house (why, why does this always happen with fruit trees??) I was able to fill up a few colanders’ worth until a horse fly startled me by flying right into my eye, which I took as a sign to get off the ladder and stop hanging into my neighbors’ yards.
So, if you want to make your own shrub, there’s a couple ways to go about it. You can either use the hot method, which is faster, or the cold method, which is slower but retains more of the brightness and flavor of the fresh fruit, rather than the hot cooked version.
For the hot version, you bring equal parts sugar and water to a boil, add your desired fruits, lower the heat, and simmer until the fruit disintegrates slightly and gets very mushy, about 30 minutes. You then strain out the pulpy bits so you’re left with a smooth fruity syrup, then you add vinegar to taste (since we’re not using this as an actual preservation method, the amount of vinegar is totally up to your tastebuds, whereas for use as an actual preservative you’d need to be a bit more heavy-handed with the vinegar). Refrigerate, and voila! Shrubs.
For the cold version, which is my preferred method, you macerate fresh fruit with sugar and vinegar, either by crushing it with a potato masher in a bowl for several minutes, or by pulsing it in the blender until coarsely chopped. Then you cover it and refrigerate it in a bowl overnight. The next day, you strain out the liquids and discard the pulp, leaving you with a nice and smooth shrub.
There’s so much creative potential with shrubs, which is a large part of why I love them so much. You can vary the type of vinegar used, the kind of fruit, and you can also add fresh herbs and edible flowers to the mix to impart additional flavors. That’s basically what I’ve done here with the tarragon; if you’ve never had tarragon before, it has a slightly anise-like flavor that pairs really well with deep warm fruits like cherries, blackberries, and plums. I will say that a little goes a long way with the fresh herbs, though, since they’ll be infusing into the mixture overnight, so start with a tablespoon or two of the fresh herb and then adjust the next time around if you want it to be a bit more intense.
In the end, I also made a cocktail with the black cherry shrub that I’d made. I wanted it to be fruity and dark with a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel, so, I paired the shrub with golden rum, egg white, and creme de cassis. Creme de cassis is a French liqueur made from blackcurrant berries. It is incredibly rich and fruity without being cloyingly sweet, one of the few liqueurs to toe that line perfectly. I use it in baking to deliver an extra punch to berry fillings, but here it works as an excellent pop of flavor within the drink. All the ingredients are mixed together in a cocktail shaker along with crushed ice, and then strained out into a serving glass. The result is a smooth, silky cocktail with lightly herbal tones and a deep dark-fruited flavor. So, soooo good.
Well, I hope you’re enjoying the summer wherever you are. And if you need a refreshing and fruity way to cool down, I can’t recommend shrubs highly enough! They’ve certainly been a good friend to us in our coop-building endeavors…
Black Cherry Tarragon Shrub + The Silky Black Cocktail
Black Cherry Tarragon Shrub
- 2 lbs black cherries stemmed and pitted
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 2 tablespoons diced fresh tarragon
The Silky Black
- 4 ounces parts black cherry tarragon shrub
- 4 ounces parts golden rum
- 2 ounces creme de cassis blackcurrant liqueur
- 1 large egg white
- 1/2 cup crushed ice
- For the black cherry tarragon shrub, pulse the ingredients together in a blender a couple of times until the cherries are chopped and pulpy. Empty the mixture into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. Strain out the pulp and discard it, reserving the liquid. Distribute the liquid between clean mason jars. Screw on the caps and keep refrigerated until use. You can drink it as-is, or mixed with tonic water for a bit of carbonation, or mix it into cocktails.
- For the silky black, empty all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake aggressively for 1 to 2 minutes, then strain into two serving glasses. Serve immediately.