Mulberry Strawberry Basil Shrub: Savor the Season

Mulberry Strawberry Basil Shrub: Savor the Season

I love a good beverage.

Coffee, tea, wine (obviously, if you read our hot mess of an eco-conscious wine review post), whatever. It's the ritual of sitting for a quiet or shared moment, slowing down, and savoring life. 

The ritual of savoring a beverage extends across cultures and history, from British High Tea to Ethiopian coffee ceremonies to American keg stands (just kidding on that last one), and excavations of the Skara Brae Neolithic settlement found 30-gallon pottery jars that had once contained an alcoholic beverage made from barley, oats, and nightshade. Count me out on the nightshade, y'all.

So, when my next Waste Not, Want Not challenge fell into my lap - or more accurately onto my car, leaving a bright purple mulberry stain - I wanted to think outside the jam jar. I tried dehydrating them to make tea, but the first batch got moldy and the second batch tasted like line-dried socks, at best. What's a girl to do with a literal bucket of foraged mulberries?! I did eat plenty of them raw, but these delightful little berries grow down here with little to no cultivating, and that makes them a much less impactful fruit than say, strawberries, which again made the Dirty Dozen list, are always housed in plastic packaging, and have nearly no shelf life. It would be a shame to let any local, sustainable berries go to waste. How do you savor the flavors of spring until well into summer?

The answer, as many a craft cocktail connoisseur will tell you is this: make a shrub.

What's a shrub? 

A shrub, or drinking vinegar, is a vinegar-based syrup made from ripe or overly ripe fruit and/or herbs and spices. It can contain alcohol but doesn't have to, and can be made using cold press or hot methods.

Shrubs were popular during colonial days as a way to carry fragile fruit flavors forward throughout the year, and were consumed with spirits, water, or carbonated water. They are also freaking delicious, easy to make, and absolutely addictive. I made three yesterday alone. Can't stop, won't stop.

The colonists knew what was up.

How do you make a shrub?

You can do a hot shrub, which is faster, or a cold shrub. You'll find two ways of making a hot shrub here and here, but having tried both methods, I can tell you the cold shrub is where it's at for me, personally. The result is totally worth the patience you'll need to invest.

Basically, you want a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar to vinegar, but there's some flexibility in this. You'll chop your fruit (or smash it like the Swedish Chef on The Muppets if you're me), dump it in a bowl, mix the sugar in, and wait anywhere from several hours to 48 hours. The sugar will extract the juices from your fruit into a syrup, and you'll get more if you mash any remaining juice out of the fruit. Pour the sugar-fruit mixture through a sieve, and add vinegar (or to taste).

The end result should be sweet, tart, fresh, AND ADDICTIVE. 

Because both sugar and vinegar are preservatives, this will last quite a while in the fridge. If you see any mold, toss it out, but otherwise, keep on savoring! The longer the shrub sits, the more its flavor will mellow and meld... but they're not lasting long enough in my household for that to happen!

NOTES: Some fruits (like melon) apparently are very difficult to make a shrub with. I have only played around with various berries, herbs, and spices so far, but stone fruits are another great choice. You'll also want to stay away from white distilled vinegar for flavor's sake. While most other blogs I read sang the praises of red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and balsamic, I'm particularly partial to champagne vinegar. Rice vinegar is next on my list to play with, though!

Mulberry Strawberry Basil Shrub

As always, if you're foraging your food make sure you do your research. Plants are not to be trifled with, and there are berries you shouldn't tangle with. Shrubs are a wonderful way to use up berries that are on their way to mush. 

Ingredients & Equipment

  • 2 cups mulberries, thoroughly washed
  • 1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 3 cups sugar (I used white sugar, but you can use brown)
  • 1/3 cup purple basil, roughly chopped (can use regular basil, mint, or desired herb)
  • 2 cups champagne vinegar (or to taste)
  • large and medium bowls
  • kitchen sieve (I use these all the time because they're easy to clean) or cheesecloth
  • decorative bottle
  • funnel
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Instructions for Mulberry Shrub

  1. Smash mulberries to release maximum juices. (I did this with my fingers, but I highly recommend using a large spoon or potato masher. I had purple zombie fingers for a full day after. Don't worry about the stem, you'll be straining it anyway.)

  2. Thoroughly toss fruit, basil, and sugar.

  3. Cover and let rest until fruit begins to yield syrup (I left mine in the fridge for one day, but others have left theirs out for up to two). 

  4. Pour fruit and sugar mixture through the sieve into medium bowl, straining away seeds and mashed fruit. (I've reserved most of this to mix with my plain Greek yogurt for breakfasts, and some is currently in the freezer to be added to smoothies or ice cream.)

  5. Whisk in vinegar of choice until sugar is dissolved. Taste and add more vinegar, if desired. Remember that vinegar may dissolve any remaining sugar over time.

  6. Pour through the funnel into the decorative bottle. Add a label, if desired. Clean up mulberry juice, if even remotely possible. Scrub purple fingers. 

  7. Store in refrigerator. Serve chilled with carbonated water, water, or alcohol of choice. Kick back and savor the season!

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The cold method tastes a lot less jammy and has a lot more complexity of the raw fruit, which is why it's my favorite. I'm a sucker for anything sweet and tart, I cannot get enough of acidic foods. The boyfriend and I have been relishing this recipe over ice with carbonated water, but there's a batch of strawberry-pineapple sage shrub mellowing in the fridge that might get some vodka and lemon added to it.

Either way, I love this way of preserving fruit on the verge of going bad, and I love having a fun, homemade non-alcoholic beverage on hand to offer friends. The fact that it's made with local strawberries that are in season and foraged berries is just icing on the cake.

I saved the sugary fruit mixture for mixing with my plain Greek yogurt... or mixing into ice cream, who are we kidding. 

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Finally, a loving reminder that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that:

  • 1/3 of all food produced globally is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed by people

  • 1/4 of what we waste is enough to end world hunger

  • 45% of fruits and vegetables are wasted each year

Let's think about food differently, and have some fun in the process. Cheers! 

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