BEACH PLUM SHRUB // the local food report

I'm not sure how to start. Shrub! Woah! Holy discovery. That seems as good an introduction as any.

I don't know if you've had shrub, but it's a colonial soda. It is unlike any soda I've ever tasted before. For starters, it smells like vinegar. You think it's going to taste awful, and then you take a sip, and it's sweet and tangy and delicious. It starts as a syrup—fruit cooked down with sugar and then mixed with vinegar—and originally, it was a way to preserve a glut of fruit for the winter. 

I was introduced to it by Kim Shkapitch, who makes all kinds of preserves. She found out about shrub through old cookbooks, and adapted a recipe she found in a 1934 book called From Cape Cod Kitchens. She's made it with peaches and lavender and even cucumber, but this time of year she likes to use beach plums. They give the syrup a beautiful color, and she uses a white balsamic for the vinegar to keep things light.

In reading up on shrub, I discovered it's making something of a comeback. It fell out of favor with the advent of home refrigeration in the early 1900s, but these days high end restaurants interested in local food are bringing it back to make cocktails. There was a recipe for cucumber shrub this summer in the Boston Globe, and I also found this recipe for a plum shrub cocktail (which would be great with Kim's beach plum shrub, or the recipe below). Fennel-Apple-Rhubarb Shrub sounds pretty amazing, as does the Summer Breeze cocktail that Carey over at Reclaiming Provincial made up to use it. Martha Stewart also put together a gorgeous beet and lemon shrub cocktail, and I am dying to try this peach shrub with bourbon. You see what I mean when I say it's making a comeback.

I decided to look through my old cookbooks and see if I could find any recipes for shrub. I found two—one in an 1860s Virginia manual for housewives, and another in the more modern Plum Crazy from 1973. I'm curious...have you tried it? What do you think?


This recipe comes from The Virginia Housewife, published in 1860 and written by Mary Randolph. For the vinegar, I think a nice red wine vinegar would be nice with the berries. I've typed out an ingredient list but left her original wording.

3 quarts raspberries
1 quart "strong, well-flavoured vinegar" 
granulated sugar, to taste

"Put a quart of ripe red raspberries in a bowl; pour on them a quart of strong well flavoured vinegar—let them stand 24 hours, strain them through a bag, put this liquid on another quart of fresh raspberries, which strain in the same manner—and then on a third quart: when this last is prepared, make it very sweet with pounded loaf sugar; refine* and bottle it. It is a delicious beverage mixed with iced water."

*Refine in this case likely means to strain through cheesecloth, which is what Kim does. She then strains it a second time through unbleached coffee filters to get a very clear syrup.


This recipe comes from Plum Crazy by Elizabeth Post Mirel, published in 1973. Interestingly, the headnote to this recipe says the vinegar odor will dissipate in a few days. I tried Kim's right after she made it, but also brought a bottle home. I opened it today to take the pictures you see up there, and did notice significantly less vinegar smell. Even if you drink it fresh, though, as Mirel notes, "[The vinegar smell] does not affect the extraordinarily refreshing taste of the shrub."

2 cups whole beach plums
2 cups cider vinegar
4 whole cloves
2 cups sugar, approximately

Crush the beach plums in a large bowl with a pestle. Add the vinegar and cloves, cover the bowl, and let sit overnight.

Pour the liquid into a coffee filter cone, supported in a funnel. Filter for 1 hour or until the liquid has dripped out. Being careful not to rip the paper, press the beach plums against the sides of the cone to get out as much liquid as possible. Measure the liquid and pour it into a saucepan. Add an equal amount of sugar. Bring to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the liquid thickens to a thin syrup. Pour the hot shrub into bottles. Cover and cool, then keep refrigerated.


Laurie said...

Sounds interesting! I'll have to check my cookbooks. The plum shrub sounds delicious.

Bill said...

Mary Randolph's book was actually first published in 1824. She is from an old and influential Virginia family.

Elspeth said...

Laurie, let us know what you turn up!

And Bill, thank you for the correction. The version I have simply has one date. According to my grandmother our family (the Cary's) is closely related to the Randolphs, though I haven't quite sorted through the family tree. My mom's family is from Richmond and her first cousin's maiden name was Randolph, so I think it's pretty close. One of these days I want to learn more about the history.

All the best,

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