Strawberry vinegar shrub.

Between two trips to Blooms & Berries in Cincinnati’s Loveland suburb, I figure I’ve picked close to 10 pounds of strawberries this season. I just can’t get enough.

Here’s the thing about eating seasonally in the Midwest: The fruits and veggies you crave have a pretty short window of availability, mostly. Asparagus? That’s about 5 weeks and — BOOM! — done. Sweet peas, even less. Arugula and lettuce? They bolt at the first blast of summer heat (which hit, unusually, in early June this year). Strawberries were around for about a month; when I went to pick on the farm’s last day, it was an hour-long treasure hunt to find enough sweet berries to fill my basket.

Because these flavors are so fleeting, we eat as much of them as we can, prepared in as many ways as we can, for as long as we can. And then we’ve had our fill and we’re ready to move on. (News flash: The Peach Truck from Georgia makes its annual stops in Cincinnati this week, so I’ll have a half-bushel of peaches to gorge on.) Mario Batali calls this ‘scorpacciata’ — you can see his interpretation of this Italian ideal of eating here.

I made ice cream and pie … and another pie. I topped my favorite overnight oatmeal in a jar recipe with smashed strawberries that had gone a little soft. I’ve sought ways to preserve summer strawberries in different ways. I experimented with pickled strawberries. I made freezer jam (with the classic Ball Canning recipe). And I made strawberry shrub.

What’s a shrub? It’s showing up on all kinds of craft cocktail menus, as a sort of next-generation housemade mixer. A shrub is an infusion of fruit, vinegar and sugar, and it’s a long-held way of preserving fruit for storage. This strawberry shrub recipe is adapted from Culinate; it’s very simple to make.

In this shrub recipe, I used a combination of red wine vinegar for a deep flavor and rose color and apple cider vinegar for tartness. With any food I intend to keep for awhile, I err on the side of caution and sterilize my storage containers. I did not add herbs to this, because I wanted just a pure strawberry flavor, but that would be a tasty option.

Fruit shrubs are delicious mixed with sparkling water or club soda — a refreshing take on the flavored waters that are so popular now. And, of course, they’re great in cocktails. Strawberry shrub pairs beautifully with gin; you could make a big pitcher of the ‘Another Shrubbery’ cocktail recipe here for a party. You can make shrub with all kinds of fruit; I plan to make a raspberry version in later summer, and I think blueberry shrub would be lovely, too.

While strawberries are still around, give this strawberry shrub recipe a try!

basic strawberry shrub recipe

makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups ripe fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and cut into chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vinegar (I used 1/2 cup red wine vinegar and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar)
1 large sprig thyme, mint or basil (optional)

Wash a quart Mason jar and lid, then sterilize them by pouring boiling water over them; let them sit for 10 minutes, then empty and cool.

Add the strawberries and sugar, and use a wooden spoon to mash the berries to create a chunky mixture. Top the jar with the lid and let it sit on the counter overnight. After 24 hours, add the vinegar and herbs, if using. Cover and gently shake the jar until the sugar has dissolved. Stash the jar in the refrigerator for 1 week. Strain the mixture through a sieve, pressing on the solids with a wooden spoon to extract all the liquid and flavor. If you'd like a clear shrub, strain it again through a coffee filter (this will take several hours). Wash and re-sterilize your jar and lid; transfer the shrub to the jar and refrigerate up to 6 months.

Another Shrubbery cocktail

makes 1 drink

2 ounces gin
1 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 ounce strawberry shrub
3 dashes orange bitters
Club soda

In a highball glass with ice, stir together the ingredients. Top with club soda, and add a mint or basil sprig for garnish, if desired.

 

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