How to CookApple

Fresh Apple Shrub

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Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today, Marisa McClellan of Food In Jars shows us how to preserve the juicy, crisp flavor of autumn's apple harvest in a drinkable vinegar. Marisa is the author of Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year Round.

Sometime in the 1970s, my mother read an article about the New York City Ballet that included details about how the dancers eased their sore muscles by taking very hot baths that had been generously spiked with apple cider vinegar. I’m not entirely sure why, but that tidbit stuck with her, and since then, apple cider vinegar has been my mother’s home remedy of choice.

When presented with an insect bite, she’d prescribe hot compresses laced with vinegar. Acne and any other minor cuts and scrapes received much the same treatment. If my sister and I complained of scratchy throats or stuffed noses, we’d be tucked into the corner of the couch and given a mug filled with warm water and fortified with honey, lemon juice and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.

Though I wasn’t much of a fan of her concoction initially, it eventually grew on me to the point where I’d make it for myself whenever I felt a cold coming on. I also credit it for tuning my tastebuds to appreciate the tangier things in life, including pickles, ferments and fruit shrubs.

Shrubs or drinking vinegars (as they’ve more recently become known) are a kind of preserve in which fruit is submerged in a combination of vinegar and sugar and allowed to steep for a time. Eventually, you strain out the fruit solids (pressing firmly to remove the juice) so that you’re left with a sweet, highly acidic, fruity concentrate. The shrub can then be used in cocktails, stirred into sparkling water or whisked into salad dressings.

Though shrubs were originally created as a way to preserve a fruit harvest for year-long consumption, I prefer to make small batches that correspond with the current season. During the winter months, I use blood oranges and grapefruit. In spring, I combine strawberries with champagne vinegar. Summer berries and stonefruit shrubs are so refreshing in July and August. And come fall, apples can make a lovely, tangy shrub.

The traditional ratio for shrubs is one part sugar, one part vinegar and one part fruit. However, because apples are so sweet all on their own, when I’m working with them, I ease back on the sugar a little and increase the amount of fruit to create the right balance.

To make the shrub, it’s simply a matter of shredding the fruit and combining it with the vinegar and sugar. Time and a cool place will do the rest.

I prefer to make a cold brewed shrub, because I’ve found that it makes for a fresher flavor that remains true to the fruit. This way takes a little longer on the steeping side, but there’s no work involved in letting it sit, so I’ve never begrudged the extra day or two. However, if you want to serve your shrub immediately, simmering the ingredients together for a few minutes over low heat will speed the infusion.

When it comes to choosing apples for shrubs, go with the most flavorful you can find. You want something assertive, tart and sweet. This year I used Honeycrisps, and they made my favorite shrub yet.

Fresh Apple Shrub
Makes 3 cups

3 medium apples (choose a variety that is flavorful and sweet)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup granulated white sugar

Shred apples on a box grater. Funnel the shreds into a wide-mouth quart jar. Top with apple cider vinegar and sugar. Use a narrow spoon to stir the apples, vinegar and sugar together. Apply a watertight lid and give the jar a good shake.

Tuck the jar into the back of your refrigerator and let it sit for four or five days. Taste the liquid and if you’re happy with the balance, strain out the apple bits, making sure to press firmly to remove all the liquid. Don’t be afraid to use your (clean) hands for this step.

Place the strained shrub in a clean jar and keep refrigerated. It is ready to use now, but will mature in flavor over time.

Stir it into cocktails, sparkling water or use in homemade vinaigrettes and marinades.

Save and print the recipe here.

Marisa will be answering questions about apple shrub on the Hotline for those of you who want to take on this project at home. For the quickest response, go to her recipe and ask a question from there -- we'll email her your question right away!

Tags: DIY Food, How-To & Diy, Small Batch