Bitter sweet


Anna Hedworth, aka The Grazer, tries her hand at drinking vinegars, or shrubs, and is pleasantly converted

I’ve come across drinking vinegars, or ‘shrubs’, in a few places over the years, I think the first time at Ducksoup in Soho, where I chose wine instead, but it sparked my interest and I added it to a long list of things to try.

I’m a fan of the sour, the pickle, anything sharp in food or drinks, and a sour beer or a sour cocktail always gets my attention.

Making a shrub is similar to pickling; a method of preserving fruit with vinegar then made into a syrup. I’ve seen it done the other way around, where the fruit is macerated with sugar first and then mixed with vinegar, but I prefer the former. You have more control over the sweetness that way and it’s more versatile because the fruit vinegar is delicious in its own right and also good for salad dressings, braises and sauces.

It seems odd to be drinking vinegar, but it’s just a sharp kick – the same as you get from the citrus in a really punchy lemonade. It’s also great in a cocktail; I made a cherry shrub, elderflower cordial and gin fizz recently and it was a delight.

Cherry was my first shrub experiment. I had a box full and wasn’t sure what to do with them, so I pickled some first. Then I set to making my first shrub. You can use fruit that’s a bit on the turn and I stoned a load of fat cherries, about half a big kilner jar full, then tore them in half into a bowl and mashed them up – use hands or a potato masher – to crush the flesh and get the juices moving.

Then you put them in the jar and add roughly the same quantity of vinegar to fruit. I used white wine vinegar, sealed the jar and gave it a good shake then left it 1-2 weeks, giving it a shake every few days to bring the flavour out.

Then you strain it through muslin or a sieve and add sugar to taste – about half as much sugar to liquid. So for 1 litre of fruit vinegar add about 500ml of caster sugar and stir until it’s dissolved – then it’s ready to use.

I’ve been using about 1 part shrub to 5 parts soda, water, or gin. Now I want to make some with unpasteurised vinegar, which is full of probiotics and very good for you.

Since using the cherries I’ve also made a gooseberry shrub with fat berries from Ouseburn Farm and I tried a strawberry, raspberry and black pepper one, which was delicious with the warm spice from the pepper.

Long before I started thinking about shrubs I also put some new pine shoots into vinegar to flavour it, not thinking that it was the beginning of a drinking vinegar. But I tried it recently and it’s delicious.

I’m aiming to leave the pine for at least 6 months, while larger, harder fruits or leaves can be left much longer to break down. There is also a method of cooking them slightly first with spices, water and sugar, then adding the vinegar, so I might give that a go next time.

Regardless, I’m a total drinking vinegar convert now, and I hope you feel the same.

More from The Grazer at and eat her food at The Cookhouse, Ouse Street, Newcastle, NE1 2PF

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