The Anachronistic Chef: Cranberry Lemon Shrub Cocktail

This summer I'm taking a break from Houston and spending some time in my birthplace, Alexandria, Virginia. Last week, I wandered into a gift shop, and unsurprisingly gravitated toward the food section. The wares initially appeared to be the usual assortment of ye olde cornbread mixes, cans of Indian pudding, and "colonial" chocolate bars. Then, I spotted something that, in spite of years of American history classes and family trips to various pilgrim attractions along the East Coast, was completely unknown to me.

"What the fuck is SHRUB?," I said a bit too loudly, as I picked up a bottle filled with a bright scarlet syrupy liquid. [Family with two small children glares at me and moves to different part of the store.] A Colonial Fruit Drink Concentrate, replied the label.

Although I was fairly certain this product was probably 10 percent historically accurate and 90 percent tourist junk, I picked up a bottle of Cranberry just for the hell of it and went home to do some interwebs research. I learned shrub was 1) a real thing, and 2) popular with the more genteel set. In the eighteenth century, American colonists juiced lemons, raspberries, cherries, and other fruits 'n' roots to make hyper-concentrated syrups that they would then mix with vinegar, sugar, and water for a cool summer beverage. I like to imagine them sipping shrub while scheming how to piss off the British.

Tait Farms, the manufacturer of my cranberry shrub, recommended using it as flavoring for lighter white wines and club soda or as mixer for modern-day cocktails (guess those colonists didn't love cosmos).

I was more than happy to do some cocktail experimentation, though in the spirit of historical authenticity, decided to skip the whipped cream-flavored vodka in favor of some dark rum. After some taste tests and tweaking, I came up with this recipe:

Cranberry Lemon Shrub Cocktail

  • 1 oz cranberry shrub
  • 2 oz club soda
  • 2 oz dark rum
  • 2 oz lemonade
  • lemon slices

Mix shrub with water, then add dark rum and lemonade. Serve over ice and garnish with lemon slice. Drink in jam jars with anyone except a Tory.

Note: Tait Farms also offers apple, grape, ginger, cherry and lemon flavored shrubs. However, if you've got time and fruit on your hands, go ahead and make your own.

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Joanna O'Leary