Fresh Apple Shrub

October 12, 2012

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.

Shop the Story

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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • 4aces
  • Ronald Dorfman
    Ronald Dorfman
  • CathyL
  • Dianecpa
  • wcl
I'm a food writer and canning teacher. I write the blog Food in Jars. My first cookbook, also called Food in Jars, is now available. My second cookbook will be out in spring 2014.


4aces December 28, 2014
i'm so excited to find this! i've been making something like this but w ginger, lemon & honey. i add the ginger & lemon to a pot of water & infuse over a light simmer for 30-40 mins, then strain to cool and add the honey while it's still hot. then i add it to sparkling water...i love it & now can't wait to try this!! what i've made (w the ginger & lemon above) called a shrub too? or does it have to have vinegar to be a shrub and what i've been making is more like a tea? just wondering. thanks for the post!!
Kt4 August 26, 2015
I think what makes it a 'shrub' is vinegar+fruit :)
Ronald D. March 3, 2013
Last night at an upscale Oakland restaurant, Camino, when I asked about non-alcoholic beers, the waitress suggested their apple-shrub "mocktail", which combines apple-shrub, rosemary and lemon. It was truly delicious. Looking forward to trying to duplicate at home after I make my batch of shrub. thanks!
CathyL October 26, 2012
This is delicious! I spent the summer drinking switchel (cider vinegar, honey, fresh ginger), and this is even better. I used Honeycrisp and Fuji apples, honey instead of sugar and good vinegar (Gingras, from Canada), which makes a difference. Thanks for a great idea, Marisa.
Dianecpa October 21, 2012
love it....thank you Marisa! I just wish I had made more!
wcl October 18, 2012
just finished aging a batch of this (only difference is i used maple sugar instead of white). i tasted it this morning and it just floored me with the incredible appley/cidery/vinegary amalgam of flavours. mild yet very full of taste and zest. i can't wait to try it in a vinaigrette on a pear-roquefort salad....oh my
ps. i had my 23 old son taste and it stopped him in his tracks with a "WOW...that's delicious "
sometimesOctavia October 15, 2012
How long will this keep in the fridge? Could I can it?
Marisa M. October 16, 2012
Shrubs last for months in cold storage. I don't like to can them because it gives it a cooked flavor, but you certainly could bring it to a boil, pour it into pint or smaller jars and process it for ten minutes in a boiling water bath canner.
TheAstonishing October 15, 2012
I just discovered fire cider, and I'm hooked. Wait til you read the ingredients list... And it's great in a cocktail!
amyeik October 14, 2012
Does anyone have some good cocktail combos to use this? It sounds delicious.
Marisa M. October 16, 2012
Most often, I just pour it into some sparkling water and drink as a virgin cocktail. However, when I want something a little boozy, I add a splash of bourbon or apple brandy to the shrub and sparkling water combination.
heatherp October 14, 2012
sounds fantastic! i'm an acid freak, so it's right up my alley, but i rarely have white sugar in the house.

do you think turbinado would throw it all haywire?
Marisa M. October 16, 2012
Turbinado would give it a slight molasses flavor, but I think that could be really good.
joannajw October 14, 2012
can you use the squeezed out apple for anything?
Marisa M. October 16, 2012
I imagine you could bake it into a quick bread or stir it into waffle batter.
hardlikearmour October 13, 2012
This is totally different than the way I make shrubs, and I'm definitely going to try it. I typically steep my fruit in coconut vinegar, then add some sugar and cook it down. I did a batch with apple once, and added a smallish amount cider vinegar. I found the flavor to be too much like cider vinegar, and not enough like apple. Does the apple flavor in your version overpower the cider vinegar flavor?
LLStone October 14, 2012
HLA, I've made two shrubs using your method and love them. As a side bonus, I really love the coconut vinegar, and use it often as a sub for other vinegars. From my summer batch, I'm still sipping on a raspberry shrub and a blackberry shrub. They are delicious, and make a great base for salad dressings as well as cocktails. I drink them w/ soda water and love them. Anyway, I think I'll try an apple and maybe persimmon mixture, but will use the coconut vinegar.
Marisa M. October 17, 2012
I was able to squeeze out approximately 1 1/2 cups of liquid from the apples (you end up with about 3 cups liquid total), so they end up balancing out the cider vinegar flavor nicely.
AntoniaJames October 12, 2012
Love this! Making some tonight. Thanks for another well-written and interesting post. ;o)
Marisa M. October 17, 2012
So glad you like the post! I hope you enjoy the shrub as much.
Cookie! October 12, 2012
As a newbie to creating drinking vinegars, I am so excited to see and try this apple recipe! Thanks!