Vinegar flavored drinks have a long history and can be found in cultures spanning the globe, from China to Britain. But it was in America, where summers can be sweltering, that the drink truly came into its own. Shrubs, fruit- or vegetable-based drinks, could be found in places ranging from the rolling countryside of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to the blistering sun-swept prairies of the central states.The word “shrub” is derived from the Arabic sharbah, which means “a drink.” Nineteenth-century Americans frequently pointed to the Bible, citing passages that indicated that the ancient Israelites had used vinegar-based drinks to cool off. Ruth, for example, was credited with sharing a vinegar-based drink while working in the fields of Boaz.
In America, shrubs were drunk not only in the fields but also in taverns, private homes, and simply out in the streets. In early nineteenth-century Cambridge, Massachusetts, the drink was wildly popular with the students at Harvard probably because they followed in the tradition of college students everywhere by mixing alcohol into their drink. After drinking shrubs with rum, students often staggered back to the university through the streets of Cambridge and Boston, happily intoxicated.
The growing nineteenth-century temperance movement saw non-alcoholic shrubs, typically made with vinegar, water, and molasses, as an excellent alternative to alcoholic drinks which, as one temperance writer solemnly noted “are particularly injurious in hot countries.”
Today, shrub drinks have begun to make a comeback and it is drunk in ways that would seem very familiar to our ancestors. Its use as a base for a cocktail would, for example, undoubtedly please early nineteenth-century Harvard students although it would alarm those who saw non-alcoholic shrubs as a wonderful method of promoting temperance. But whether you add it to alcohol or not, enjoying a vinegar-based drink on a hot summer day is still as refreshing as it was in the eighteenth century.
This recipe is so simple that there’s not even measuring amounts listed-
- Add equal parts of sugar and water to a saucepan, and heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Add just enough berries or fruit to coat with the sugar sauce and simmer until the fruit’s juice blends well into the syrup.
- Let that mixture cool. Strain out the solids.
- Add the balsamic vinegar of your choice to the syrup, bottle it all up, and store in the fridge.
- Mix with seltzer water or club soda for a refreshing drink.
- Add alcohol like rum, vodka, gin to make things more interesting.
- Serve over ice and ENJOY!