Wild strawberries, wood strawberries (fraise des bois), or rather the cultivated alpine strawberries – those tiny strawberries that grow on quick ground covering plants – are spread beneath my fruit trees. Although the fruits are small, they are plentiful for most of the summer and are very fragrant. I often use them to make liqueurs. But, since I still have plenty of fragolo, an Italian strawberry digestivo, left from previous years, I thought to try something else – a shrub.
Shrubs, old-fashioned acidic fruit syrups, are said to be derived from 15th century medicinal cordials and British 17th century methods of fruit preservation in vinegar. And, just to liven up the story, there are brandy smugglers and American colonials (not necessarily together) thrown into the colourful history of shrubs. I’m sure there is some exaggeration, if not outright fiction, involved in this commonly told tale. It is fact, however, that the term is derived from the Arabic sharāb meaning to drink. These type of drinks remind me a little of the Greek vinegary mint syrup drink called oxymel (which translates as “honey-vinegar”). There are numerous Middle Eastern variations of this mint drink, all most likely derived from the Persian syrupy mint-vinegar concoction, sekanjebin.
This is a perfect way to use imperfect fruits. Shrub syrups can be mixed with sparkling water and ice for a refreshing summer drink, can augment salad dressings, be sprinkled on fruit salads, spike sparkling wines – roses and whites – or added to gin, vodka, and other spirits for fruity cocktails. To find out more, the blogging magazine, The Kitchn has a very interesting post, How to Make a Shrub Syrup, which provides generic instructions on producing all sorts of fruit shrubs.
Wild Strawberry Shrub Syrup
I’ve used a combination of my alpine strawberries and the less than perfect larger strawberries from my garden (the ones the birds didn’t get). I gather them as they ripen, clean them, and pop them into a bag in the freezer. When there is a sufficient amount, I defrost them to make the shrub. My vinegar of preference for this fruit is white balsamic.
- 350g (approximately 2 cups) alpine strawberries (or combination alpine and ordinary strawberries)
- 16 fluid oz. white balsamic vinegar or a good quality white wine vinegar – with at least 5% acidity
- 350g (1-3/4 cups) castor sugar
In a large, clean (sterilised) canning jar or equivelent, place your cleaned fruit. In a saucepan, warm the vinegar to about 190 degrees F (88 degrees C) at a point just before it will boil. Pour the hot vinegar over the fruit, seal leaving a little headspace for air. Let the jar cool and place it in a cool dark place (or refrigerator) for at least 1 week, but up to 1 month, shaking it occasionally. This is a very similar process to producing a fruit infused vinegar – such as my raspberry vinegar I made last year.
Decant the strawberry mixture, straining the liquid through a cloth or coffee filter. The Kitchn blog indicates that the fruit can be discarded, but are also excellent added to chutney recipes.
Place the strained fruited vinegar into a saucepan, add the sugar and bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn off heat, let cool and decant into a clean (sterilised) container.
Seal and store in the refrigerator. The Kitchn indicates it will probably last for 6 weeks, but if it shows signs of fermentation (bubbles, cloudiness, sliminess) or moulds, do not use.
Dilute to taste with mineral water. A little goes a long way, so start with just a little and then add more if you feel it needs it. Serve with ice. This strawberry shrub is good with gin and soda as a fruity cocktail.