A spoonful of sour cherry shrub stirred into a glass of bubbly water turns it into a fantastic fruity drink. Preserve summer's cherry harvest and make up some of this zippy cordial for year-round drinking delight. Add herbs or spirits for deliciously sip-worthy mocktails and cocktails. (Skip to recipe.)
Our cherry trees are on strike this year. I'm calling the Sour Cherry Labour Union. What's up with this? We treat them well. They get benefits. I sing to them (that could be a problem). We pay them a decent wage.
Okay, so maybe their treatment was a bit lacking this year: Mother Nature was pretty stingy with her sunshine quota, their benefits were porcupine love a couple years ago, I kinda neglected them in the singing department, and their wage was an over-payment of rain and cool, crappy weather.
I've been making fruit shrubs for years, and I'm glad we've got enough cherries on the trees to get at least a few batches made this year, too. A fruit shrub is an old-fashioned way to make a cordial; it's a concentrated fruit syrup that you dilute with water to make a delightful beverage.
The word shrub stems from the Arabic word 'sharbah', meaning 'a drink', and what a refreshing and unusual drink it is. It was historically also known as 'drinking vinegar'. You might be saying YUCK! but don't run away too fast. The vinegar doesn't come out and bite you (nothing like a jar of pickles, if that's what you're thinking) - it just adds a piquant tang which really brings the fruit flavours forward, and acts as a natural preservative.
The cherries get soaked in vinegar to extract the flavours, then sugar is added. The resulting syrup-like shrub keeps for ages in the fridge, and you can process/can it to preserve it for several years. There is also a fresh fruit version, which is not cooked, but I prefer the cooked method I've shown you here, as the shrub keeps for much longer. It enables me to preserve the summer bounty of fruit to use (or gift) all year long.
I've added a bit of water to my version of shrub in order to soften the tang of the vinegar, and I've also used less sugar than is typically used. The ratios below are what I've settled on, after tweaking amounts over the years, to make a cherry shrub that has just the right amount of 'POW!" factor. It's loaded with fresh and tangy cherry flavour, just sweet enough, and makes the most refreshing cherry drink when poured into either still or sparkling water. We enjoy it all year long. There's nothing like a refreshing glass of cherry shrub in the depths of winter to remind us that summer will be here again before we know it.
All you need to do is pop the clean cherries into jars (no need to pit them), cover them with the vinegar solution, and leave them to soak. I love this because I don't have to deal with my cherries right in the busy middle of harvest season - I can leave them for a few weeks and turn them into delicious cherry shrub later when I have a some moments of spare time.
You can fancy up a glass of cherry shrub with all sorts of delicious add-ins (scroll to the bottom of the recipe for ideas) or add a shot of your favourite alcohol to make a wicked Cherry Shrub Cocktail.
And that's not all!
Other uses for Cherry Shrub (besides beverages)
~ Toss diced sweet potatoes with melted butter, salt and pepper. Add a big drizzle of shrub, toss again, and arrange in a single layer in baking pan. Bake 400°F/180°C until tender and roasted, stirring in between.
~ Use as a base for vinaigrettes and salad dressings. Combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper (usually 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar) and a a couple tablespoons of cherry shrub. Or stir some cherry shrub into mayonnaise to make a dressing or dip.
~ Use the shrub as a dressing for fruit salads. Just drizzle over top of cut fruit and toss.
~ Use cherry shrub as a glaze for meats when barbecuing or roasting. It makes a great glaze for baked ham, barbecued salmon, or meatballs. Just brush on a layer of the shrub periodically throughout the roasting/barbecuing time.
~ Put chicken legs or thighs in a parchment paper-lined pan. Sprinkle liberally with chili powder, turning to sprinkle both sides, then drizzle liberally with cherry shrub syrup. Bake 1-1¼ hours at 350°F, basting occasionally.
~ Cut peaches in half, arrange cut side up in baking dish. Put a chunk of butter in the indentation in each half. Drizzle liberally with cherry shrub. Bake at 350°F/180°C until tender (about 30 minutes), basting occasionally with the pan juices. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
You might also like these other Evans cherry recipes:
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: Cherry Shrub will keep for up to six months in the fridge in a sealed container. If you process/can the shrub in jars, it will keep for three to four years or longer.
*I usually use white vinegar in making my cherry shrub - it provides a clear, bright cherry flavour. You can vary it by using red wine vinegar for a more mellow, smooth cherry flavour.
- 1 packed quart/litre (4 to 5 cups) Evans sour cherries
- 1 cup (240ml) white vinegar (or red wine vinegar* see Notes above)
- ⅓ cup (80ml) water
- sugar (1½ to 2 cups/300-400gms)
Fill a clean, quart-sized mason jar with sour cherries, pressing them down lightly as you go - not enough to burst the cherries, but just enough to compress them a bit and fit in as many cherries as you can.
Stir together a 3:1 vinegar-water solution; for one quart jar of cherries you will need about 1 cup of vinegar + ⅓ cup of water [240ml vinegar + 80ml water]. (For making a large batch with multiple quarts of cherries at a time; use 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water, as in ¾ cup vinegar plus ¼ cup water to make up each cupful of solution). Pour this vinegar solution over the cherries to just cover them. Screw on the lid of the jar. Set the cherries aside to marinate for 1 week at room temperature. Put them in the fridge it you can't get to them and need to keep them for up to several weeks longer.
Drain the vinegar juice off the cherries and reserve. Put the cherries into a pot and mash lightly with a potato masher to crush them. Set a colander into a large bowl. Line the colander with a net jelly bag or a clean tea towel or large square of muslin. Dump the crushed cherries into it. Lay a wooden spoon across the top of the bag or towel, and gather up two diagonal corners and tie them into a knot over the spoon handle. Repeat with the remaining two diagonal corners. Slide the bowl and colander in between two pots of equal height or set it on the floor between two chairs set about a foot apart. Lift up the wooden spoon and set the two ends of the spoon onto the rims of the pots or the seats of the chairs so the bag drips into the bowl underneath. Remove the colander, just leaving the bowl to catch the dripping juice. (See the photos in this post for an illustration.)
Leave the juice to drip for 4 to 8 hours, or until it seems to have stopped dripping. You can even leave it to drip overnight. With clean hands, gently squeeze the bag to get out the last bit of juice - if it gets cloudy from sediment coming out, stop squeezing. Discard the cherries and pits. Add the reserved juice from draining the cherries to the juice you've got from dripping the cherries.
Measure the juice, and for each cup of cherry juice add ¾ cup of sugar. Examples:
- 1 cup juice + ¾ cup sugar (240ml juice + 150gms sugar)
- 2 cups juice + 1½ cups sugar (480ml juice + 300gms sugar)
- 3 cups juice + 2¼ cups sugar (720ml juice + 450gms sugar)
- 4 cups juice + 3 cups sugar (960ml juice + 600gms sugar)
If you have amounts that fall in between full cups of juice, just estimate the amount of sugar to add. It doesn't have to be exact.
Place the juice and sugar into a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and cook at a low boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes to slightly thicken the syrup.
- Allow the syrup to cool and pour into jars to keep refrigerated for up to six months.
2. Or can the shrub for longer storage and for gifting: pour the boiling syrup into hot, sterilized canning jars, top with hot, sterilized snap lids and seal finger tight, then leave undisturbed for the jars to seal. You can also process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes for extra insurance. The jars of sour cherry shrub will keep for several years at room temperature once properly sealed.
To use the cherry shrub: I like to transfer it to a clean, re-purposed squeeze bottle (like an empty syrup or condiment bottle) and keep it in the fridge, so it's easy to squirt some shrub into individual drinks whenever the fancy strikes.
To serve: add several ice cubes to a glass, fill almost to the top with sparkling water, club soda, or plain water, and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of sour cherry shrub, to taste. Stir and enjoy.
Optional: Add a sprig of basil, rosemary or thyme, slices of lemon, lime or orange, or a maraschino cherry. A grind of black pepper adds an interesting depth of flavour.
To make it an alcoholic Sour Cherry Cocktail: add a shot of vodka or gin. You can add a dash of bitters of your choice for added flavour complexity.
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