Shrub Making 101: Or, How To Make Any Shrub
Some days I love and some days I loathe the Carrot Shrub recipe I've created. But I'lll never stop infusing my own drinking vinegars.
This month on ingredient we’re focusing on carrots: we’ve all got them in the fridge, but how often do we use them to make something where carrot is king rather than simply using them as the base for something else?
You can already find the recipe for my Sri Lankan-inspired Carrot Salad here, and I promise the final instalment of our carrot-based adventures will be with you soon! Do upgrade your subscription to unlock every recipe in the ingredient archive, and of course to help funding the free part of what I post here! No creative likes asking for money, but without it ingredient can’t function.
Back when I lived in London and I did the sort of lifestyle journalism that called for knowing what sort of products will be in stores come Christmas time, every July I joined the rest of the glossy press in being crammed into a series of basements to be shown off to by brands whilst Christmas music played, and mince pies were carried around on trays. Thankfully, this was usually accompanied with free-flowing prosecco because at least the public relations people who put these events together realised that Mulled Wine in the middle of a heatwave would be beyond the pale.
A lot of the time these events were useful: I knew which special edition ingredients would be around in time for me to create recipes with (how else did I know about the special striped chocolate fingers I used as the band around my Pinterest-famous Chocolate, Cherry & Cognac New Years Cake back in 2017?) and it was a great way to connect with the people who looked after the brands I was genuinely a fan of and featured in my content all the time without any inducement to do so.
And, to be honest, there was always lots of great swag which I think must have been most people’s reasons for going to these showcases. I’ve never been as popular as the time I slipped off to attend Cadbury’s ‘Christmas In July’ during my lunch break and returned to the office with every single product in their festive range, including all of the big selection tins. The stash lasted us well into the new year.
I feel like I’ve gone slightly off topic. The reason I’m explaining the phenomenon that is ‘Christmas In July’ is because it was at one of these around the time people started to realise you don’t have to have alcohol in a drink for it to taste great that in one of these nondescript basements I was handed my first shrub to try. And as Christmas / Hanukkah / Diwali / *Insert Festive Holiday Here* is coming up I thought it was about time I shared my love for these wonderful vinegar based drinks.
What is a shrub?
Put simply, a shrub is an infusion made for mixing that balances vinegar, sugar and the fruit or vegetable, and or herbs and spices the flavour of which you’re intending to capture. Lots of basic recipes stick to a 1:1:1 ratio, but I think this needs to be - like the type of vinegar you’re pairing with whatever you’re shrubbing - tailored to suit the shrub you’re making and what it is intended for.
Sparkling water, tonic water and sparkling wine are all great for topping up the shrub. Whatever you use, you want it to be bubbly!
Depending on what you’re making your shrub from, you can either choose a cold version where you’re essentially macerating something in sugar for a few days to draw out the juices (a good example of this is the Pineapple Shrub recipe on my blog) or you can use a hot method to make your shrub, where whatever you’re shrubbing is simmered then infused in a homemade sugar syrup before vinegar is added - see the Blackberry & Bay Shrub I shared with paid subscribers back in 2021 (and which I’ve now unlocked for all to enjoy!)
Once you’ve grasped these basic methods, you can make a shrub out of practically anything, and even start playing around with hybrid methods, like the one I used to make the Tomato Shrub I’ve currently got on the go in the fridge from Food52 community member fiveandspice.
Was a carrot really the best thing to try and shrub, Rachel?
In retrospect, probably not, but the idea did not just come to me out of the blue just because it is carrot month here on ingredient.
In food writer Ed Smith’s excellent The Borough Market Cookbook (worth buying for the Parsnip, Pear & Pork Tray Bake on pg 213, honestly one of the best recipes I’ve ever followed) he’s got a Golden Beetroot, Carrot and Ginger Drinking Vinegar on pg 199 which is essentially a shrub with a lovely earthy flavour I’ve recently become quite partial to. Yes, I think his 6 day method could be cut down on a little, but it was how the carrot shines out from every glass alongside the beetroot - which I honestly thought would drown it out - that made me think trying to make a carrot shrub, amped up with a little ginger as in Ed’s recipe was a good idea.
Honestly, I still don’t know if I like this carrot shrub I’ve created or not. It is well balanced, and has a good flavour of carrot and ginger. First thing in the morning it is quite invigorating with some sparkling water in place of a glass of orange juice (and probably not too bad for me either made with the so far excellent live ACV Willy’s sent me to try), but when I made the mistake of pouring and mixing one later in the day, I found it too sweet, without enough of carrot’s freshness, and absolutely not what I was going for.
But Substack is not about sticking to food writing’s tired old rules of perfection, so I decided to share the recipe anyway to get all of your thoughts on it - free for everyone to read - and instead talking through the method of developing your own shrubs (they’re a great thing to make from a glut) following the recipe for paid subscribers.
Sometimes in my job recipes just come out like this: you can’t decide how you’d change them, and you honestly can’t decide if something has worked or not. Or if you even like it. But in situations like this it would be a mistake not to realise that the methodology and the process of producing the recipe still has value.
Carrot & Ginger Shrub
Makes: approx. 300ml, Preparation time: 15 minutes (plus cooling time), Cooking time: 20 minutes
2 large carrots (approx. 190g)
10g fresh ginger
100g caster sugar
90ml raw apple cider vinegar
Peel the carrots and grate them on the largest hole of your box grater, and slice the ginger into coins - no need to bother peeling it.
Place the water and sugar in a medium saucepan over a high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, and bring the syrup to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, and add the carrot and ginger, using the back of your spoon to make sure everything is submerged. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat allowing everything in the pan to cool completely.
Strain the mixture through a piece of muslin cloth into a measuring jug. Once it has finished draining, pick it up and squeeze the remainder of the pleasantly orange sugar syrup out of the package. I’m sorry about how slightly sticky your hands will become doing this!
Mix in the apple cider vinegar, and pour the mixture into a sterilised glass bottle. This should keep in the fridge for about a month, but I’ve usually finished my shrubs before they go bad!
How to make a shrub out of practically any fruit or vegetable
What you will need: