Back in early July, the heat was sweltering here in Baltimore. One Wednesday, around 5:30 p.m., I left my apartment in the central part of the city and walked to Bad Decisions, a bar near the water in Fell’s Point, to research a story about culinary cocktails. More cars than usual packed the streets, thanks to the U2 concert at the M&T Bank Stadium that night. The air was thick and unmoving and engulfing, the kind that leaves sweat stains on your clothes. (It certainly left a lovely mark on the front of my dress.)
When I arrived at the bar, John Reusing, the owner, made me four cocktails to sample for my story. (Get recipes for his bacon habanero mojito, pickletini, and smoky margarita here.) They all had a lingering heat, which I love. But what my overheated body really wanted, I learned, was Reusing’s rhubarb shrub.
Made with fruit, vinegar, sugar, and Seltzer, shrub is like a soda. In his handwritten menu book, Reusing wrote that the shrub’s popularity dates back to the 1700s in the U.S.; today, it is popular in Japan. I ordered a non-alcoholic shrub made with rhubarb, and it was sweet, tart, fizzy, and incredibly refreshing. I couldn’t wait to make a version at home.
A shrub can be made with any kind of fruit. Since I made mine a few weeks ago and since I loved Reusing’s version so much, I used rhubarb. I diced two stalks of rhubarb and heated them with apple cider vinegar until the liquid simmered.
Then I poured the heated rhubarb and vinegar in a long glass container, and let it sit in my refrigerator for three days. If you want to be transformed back to childhood, take a good sniff of the rhubarb when it’s done soaking. (You may not even have to lean down – the smell is that strong.) Doesn’t it remind you of dyeing Easter eggs, when your parents dropped those little colored pellets into cups full of vinegar?
When I was done sniffing the vinegar (which sounds wrong when I write it down, like sniffing markers), I strained the mixture to remove the rhubarb. Here’s the coolest part: If you touch the soaked rhubarb, it will turn to mush beneath your fingers. The vinegar completely breaks it down. It also makes the rhubarb unusable, so I threw it away and focused on my rhubarb-infused vinegar.
I poured the vinegar into my Dutch oven, added three-fourths cup of sugar, and heated the mixture until the sugar dissolved and the liquid reduced slightly. That’s it – this thin syrup is shrub.
I stored my rhubarb shrub in a glass container. I like to pour two tablespoons of the shrub into a tall drinking glass, then fill the glass with Seltzer. You may want to use more or less shrub, depending your tastes.
Here’s a recipe for rhubarb shrub. The vinegar flavor in my shrub was strong, so next time I’ll increase the amount of sugar to a full cup. I’m also curious to try replacing the rhubarb with peaches.
Have you ever had shrub or made homemade soda? Tell us about it!