Shrubs, part one

IMG_2972No, this is not a post about shrubs, bushes and trees.

Shrubs, deriving from the Arabic word for beverage, are the original soft drinks.  A recent New York Times review calls them sipping vinegar and the rediscovered ingredient in chic cocktails. Shrubs are incredibly thirst-quenching. Like pickle juice and isotonic sports drinks, they replace needed fluids in the human body.

I must admit I’m obsessed with making shrubs out of the fruits — and even some vegetables I grow in my garden. Here you see rhubarb and raspberry shrubs. When I used to have a glass of wine in the evening, I now mix sparkling water and shrub. (And shrub is delicious with Proseco!)  The next couple of posts will be about shrubs with some recipes and tricks. First, here’s some history.

Shrub, syrup and sherbet all derive from the Arabic word sharab, beverage. All originally were fruit juices with vinegar and sugar blended to make refreshing drinks and have nothing to do with pancakes or frozen desserts. Shrubs originate in Turkey where Western Europeans discovered Ottomans and other Muslims in the Middle East enjoying non-alcoholic drinks.  From there, shrubs spread through Europe and to colonial America in the 17th Century. Martha Washington, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were notable shrub makers and drinkers. Shrubs were made and served to mask the taste of bad hooch, by genteel society-ladies, and by the US government for soldiers during the Civil War. Then soft drinks hit the market, and shrubs disappear.

In Michael Dietsch’s Shrubs: an old fashioned drink for modern times (2014), he recounts a story that astonishes me. Apparently, Roman soldiers and commoners drank a vinegary fruit drink called posca. When I was growing up I was taught that the Roman soldiers giving Jesus, thirsty and dying on the cross, some vinegar was an act of derision and cruelty. Instead the soldiers were compassionately slacking Jesus’ thirst with their own shrub.

Stay tuned for more about shrubs.



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