make your own: plum shrub.

August 15, 2016

plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

No, we’re not crafting woody plants with very low hanging fruit. We’re making summery drinks. 

Allow me to explain. 

First things first: To get down with shrubs, the drink, you need to have a healthy relationship with vinegar, an impassioned reverence for early American customs, or, perhaps like me, you have both, plus you’re pregnant and hankering for a refreshing, not-too-sweet cocktail minus the alcohol. In that case: Twinsies! (Just kidding. Shrubs are very equal opportunity. Not for pregnant women only.)

A shrub is a fruit-infused vinegar. It’s sometimes called a drinking vinegar. And it’s a close cousin to the gingery switchel, another vestige from days of yore and a favorite of temperance supporters everywhere, in case you’re curious.

Like many things I have a soft spot for, shrubs had their origins in the days pre-refrigeration. Early American settlers would preserve their summer fruits in vinegars and the resulting syrup was mixed with rum or lauded as a virtuous alternative to spirits altogether. 

If you’re not into vinegar, shrubs might take a little bit to grow on you. But to me, they offer a slightly sour, very delicious, and despite being made from a syrup, not at all saccharine summertime beverage. In other words, make a small batch, see for yourself, and come back to let me know if you’ve discovered that shrubs are your new jam (not to be confused with the food stuff).

To make this plum shrub, I used the cold-process method, which relies on sugar to break the juices from the fruit over a few days and doesn’t require any heating on the stove (lest I need to remind you that we don’t have air conditioning and we’re enduring a veritable inferno.) Lots of folks use the old countertop steep method (as you would expect from a 17th century-inspired project), but I stayed firmly in the 21st century and let my fruit and sugar steep in the refrigerator.plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

Plum Shrub

The recipe could be altered in about a million ways, but the ratio of 1:1:1 (fruit:sugar:vinegar) seems like a solid one. I developed this particular recipe based on notes I found at Food52 and Port &  Fin.

What you need:

1 cup sliced plums (I used Italian prune plums because that what was at the market last week.)

1 cup sugar (I used half cane sugar and half brown sugar; you could also try honey.)

1 cup apple cider vinegar

plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

What you need to do:plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

+ Wash and slice ~1 cup of plums (for me that was five smallish plums)plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

+ Combine plums with a cup of sugar in a non-reactive bowl (I used stainless steel). Stir, cover, and allow to stew in the refrigerator for 2 days, stirring daily.plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

+ After two days, a significant amount of juice will have formed. Strain the mixture into a bowl, discard the fruit, and add the vinegar to the syrup. The mixture will be sweet and tart; but remember it’s a mixer!plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

Strained plums. plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

Apple cider vinegar, ready for mixing.plum shrub | reading my tea leaves

+ Pour the shrub into a clean jar, refrigerate, and serve mixed into sparkling water, spiritsor champagne for a sour take on a kir royale.plum shrub | reading my tea leaves


Any shrub enthusiasts out there? What kinds have you made?


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  • Reply Katie August 15, 2016 at 10:23 am

    I just started making shrubs this summer. My first was blackberry that I drank with sparkling water. I’m going to try a more savory version soon using carrots and ginger. There is a book on shrubs by Micheal Dietsch that has a lot of ideas for different flavors and ways to mix them.

  • Reply Emily August 15, 2016 at 10:50 am

    I actually just printed off a peach shrub recipe to try a few days ago.
    Regardless, it is going to end up being a nectarine shrub, but I am very excited to try it 🙂
    I love kombucha, but gave it up during pregnancy, and I also have been drinking lots of soda water from our Sodastream this summer…so a shrub syrup seems like the perfect thing to have on hand!

  • Reply Allyson August 15, 2016 at 11:08 am

    I love shrubs but I’ve yet to make my own. This plum shrub looks delicious, and I love that there’s a no-heat method. I’ll have to try this very soon. I’ll also have to look up gingery switchel, because with a name like that it has to be good.

  • Reply Carol August 15, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Another munchkin on the way? Or memories of the last one?

  • Reply Linda August 15, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    You didn’t really discard that fruit did you?!

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 15, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      I did! After a few days getting the juices drained out of them, they weren’t super tasty, but still super sugary. Do you make something tasty with your leftover shrub fruit?

      • Reply Lillian August 16, 2016 at 6:27 pm

        I made berry vinegar this week (which is fairly similar) and put my leftover fruit in an ottolenghi meatball recipe that called for the meatballs to be simmered with figs. Excellent substitute if I say so myself!

  • Reply Elizabeth August 15, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    I started mixing shrubs with my sparkling water for the first time this year – because craving something refreshing in my pregnancy. I buy them at my local farmer’s market in Seattle and my favorite flavor so far is Rhubarb Ginger Pink Peppercorn. Congratulations on your upcoming little!

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 15, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Thank you!

    • Reply Kim R August 16, 2016 at 12:32 am

      Elizabeth! I just moved to Seattle and bought this exact flavor a couple of weeks ago. Been mixing it up since. Can’t wait to try a new flavor – they had so many good ones.

  • Reply Brenda August 15, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Perfect timing! There are 4 plums in my refrigerator that are begging to be turned into a shrub!
    This recipe will impress the husband:-)

  • Reply Erin August 15, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    I don’t know–I love shrub-based cocktails, am pregnant (also due in January!) AND I’m also named Erin. We may actually be twins. Plus I have peaches needing to be used up, I know just what I’ll do with them–perfect timing!

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 15, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Haha! Yay!

  • Reply Heather August 15, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    This looks refreshing. I’m curious if it’s similar to a Bragg vinegar drink.

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 15, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      Made it with Bragg’s apple cider vinegar, so likely!

    • Reply Julie Hawthorne August 17, 2019 at 11:01 am

      Blackberry ginger is a fovorite since we are surrounded by blackberries. I use 1gallon of berries to 6-7 cups sugar with lots of ground ginger thrown in, 2 days later I add 6-7 cups red wine vinegar, strain and let age a few days. We make a margarita called, “Under the Shrub” at our restaurant,Redfish, Port Orford , Oregon.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 17, 2019 at 11:28 am

        sounds so good!

  • Reply Jess August 15, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    I had to read that third paragraph a few times and then the Instagram post clinched it! Congratulations, Erin!!! I just made a batch of peach shrub following your directions and will update you on the results in a few days. I’m intrigued! Congrats again, mama!

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Exciting! (And thank you! I forget not everyone’s on Instagram!)

  • Reply Alyssa August 15, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    A friend and I played with shrubs last fall — she made a strawberry basil shrub as well as a mixed berry/balsamic combo that was divine. I made a bottle of persimmon shrub steeped with cloves and cinnamon, which paired excellently with whiskey. We did the stovetop method though, but I will have to try your approach with some peaches I have in my fridge 🙂

  • Reply Katrina August 15, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Ooo, I love shrubs! It was my favorite special beverage when I was pregnant as well. My fave kind is a blackberry rosemary shrub made with balsamic vinegar–sooo good.!

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 15, 2016 at 3:38 pm

      oh, yum!! need to get my hands on more blackberries!

  • Reply Katie August 15, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    I’m on Instagram but didn’t catch the wonderful news! Congratulations to your family 🙂

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 15, 2016 at 4:29 pm


  • Reply Brittany August 15, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Basil shrub!

  • Reply ChavaJ August 15, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    I love shrubs! I’ve been making them for years and was, in fact, just put a plum shrub in the fridge to soak for a bit before I sat down to read the blogs.

    Tip: Berry shrubs are waaay faster to make than stonefruit. You can macerate strawberries or blackberries in sugar (as if you were making strawberry shortcake) in the morning and be enjoying a lovely cocktail by dinner.

  • Reply Heather August 16, 2016 at 6:04 am

    Very subtle pregnancy announcement… Congratulations!
    I really like shrubs if I can find some ready fruit I am going to give making my own a go.

  • Reply Hannah August 16, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Just so you know, I LOVE this blog and your emails are the only ones that I open and read regularly. Thanks for everything you do!

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 16, 2016 at 9:18 am

      Thank you!

  • Reply MA August 16, 2016 at 9:10 am

    This looks so refreshing. I have some plums and peaches that would be perfect for this. Thanks for the recipe!
    And congratulations on your pregnancy!! Two kids! Hope you are feeling well. Will love seeing how your home adjusts.

  • Reply Josh August 28, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Aloha Erin, my wife and I love your blog! We recently started a Shrub buniness on Maui using tropical fruits and herbs we make six different flavors. Hibiscus x orange, ginger x Hawaiian chili, pineapple x sage, guava x rose, strawberry x rhubarb and passion fruit.
    Strangely my wife is also pregnant and she is really enjoying the shrub sodas.
    Next time you all come to Maui stop by the farmers market in upcountry on Saturday morning; we will see you there! Mahalo

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