That's the Shrub.

I would normally start off by suggesting the merits of this liquid as an alcoholic mixer.  I believe cocktails have a therapeutic and social nature which—as long as you do not set out to have, say, seven—can enhance an evening much like candle votives and Ray Charles on piano.  

The gastronome Brillat-Savarin, once said “A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”  Please forgive the political incorrectness (he spent most of his life in the eighteenth century). 

I appreciate the general sentiment though.  And feel similarly about beer, wine, and drinks that contain gin or bourbon and the occasional egg white.  However, I cannot suggest much in the way of booze with this mixture today. 

For the past two weeks, I have been battling some sort of viral something that has chosen me as an agreeable host.  I have also been bitten by what general consensus indicates was a spider.  The cocktail of these two organisms has irritated a lymph node in my neck so that it has puffed up to the size of a pea. 

Consequently, I have found my bed more appetizing than a bar and have not done much in the way of imbibing. Unless you count translucents, like soup and hot water, in a list of boring possible antidotes.

In alcoholic terms, I can tell you that this liquid works with a little seltzer and about an ounce of vodka. (But what doesn’t?)  Luckily, it also works as a lovely base for homemade soda with some bubbly water and ice cubes.

The bright cherry-colored liquid is called a shrub and earns its name through the addition of vinegar.  It is an old timey drink that has recently experienced a popularity resurrection. The slight sourness from the vinegar balances and pulls together the other flavors—providing a cohesive kick.

I used damson plums because it was early fall at the time and the market still had some. I suspect you could use supermarket stone fruit, as you will be concentrating the flavors through heat anyhow. You may also want to experiment with a variety of herbs, fruits, and types of vinegars. 

Either way, it is worth trying.  It is an elixir that makes other clear liquids vastly more appealing.  Which is really what we are all after, in some form, anyhow.

Damson Shrub
Inspired by Kathy Gunst of WBUR’s Here & Now


½ cup sugar
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 cup whole damsons (with the pits) (or about 2 large plums, pits removed and roughly chopped)
½ cup apple cider vinegar, see note


In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and add the basil.  Simmer about 10 minutes then add the plums and cook about 5 to 10 minutes, until the plums start to burst and break down.

Add the vinegar and cook at a simmer 2 to 5 minutes more.  Strain out the basil leaves (or leave them in if you want a stronger herbal note; I did not).  Let sit for 1 hour.

Strain out the remaining ingredients using a wire mesh sieve or cheesecloth set over a small colander or strainer.  Keep the resulting liquid in the refrigerator until ready for use.  It will last for several weeks (mine has thrived for about a month).

Yields about 2 cups

-The apple cider I used was fairly mild in terms of its acidity: if you have strong vinegar start with 1/3 cup. (I suspect this will include most supermarket grades.)

-I kept the pits in the damsons because they were too many to remove and was going to have to strain out all the bits anyway.  I also thought maybe they’d add a little structure to the final product, like stems and skins can with wine. Maybe?

-You’ll probably need about ½ cup of the shrub if making a cocktail (adding an ounce of booze and an ounce or two of seltzer, for fizz, with some ice cubes is a good place to start).