Consider the (Cranberry) Shrub

Cranberries are not a shrub, you say? You are right, but they can be turned into a shrub, the sweet-tart refreshing drink that was popular before colas.

Today – if the word is recognized at all as a drink – shrub is often understood to signify a cocktail. And indeed, in colonial times, it was often meant as a sweet-tart punch made with citrus or raspberry juice and fortified with brandy. The word shrub can trace its origins to Middle-Eastern drink made from fruit juice, often chilled with snow: sharâb – which gave us Sherbet in English. The beverage “shrub” comes from a related word šurb, a drink [itself from šariba, to drink]. By the way, the derivation of shrub, meaning a bush, comes from Middle English schrubbe [itself from Old English scrybb.] Over the centuries, the two different derivations melded into one word.

Several of the well-know 19th century cookbooks such as Martha Washington’s, Mary Randolf’s, and Lydia Maria Child’s, have recipes for shrubs – basically fruit juice (often from berries), sugar & vinegar made into a syrup. Sometimes they were called Vinegars, as in Mrs. Haskell’s Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia published in 1861 which has Vinegar As A Drink For The Invalids, adding sugar, pounded ice & water to a gill of fruit vinegar (made from scratch of course, and of which 14 recipes are provided from apples to currants to raspberries and whortleberries).

Over the 19th century, with food becoming industrialized, colas took over, providing a ready shelf-stable sweet drink and the word “shrub” disappeared from the common lexicon. Today, outlets where shrub can be bought are rare – Tait Farms, in Pennsylvania, is one of the few. Otherwise – short of making your own (which is very easy… and, yes, we are getting to that!) – you can probably sample it in those places that aim to give a glimpse on life in colonial times, like Williamsburg, VA.

Serving Cranberry Shrub

Just one more point before we get to the recipe: how do you drink shrub? Easy… put a jigger of the shrub in a glass, top with soda/carbonated water or tonic water or sparkling apple cider or sparkling wine, and you have a tasty pretty fizzy drink perfect for celebrations. Since this not the season for raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or currant (unless you stashed some excess in your freezer), let’s make Cranberry Shrub. A Votre Santé!

Cranberry Shrub

Makes one very generous quart


  • 3 heaping cups fresh or frozen cranberries * (or one 12-oz bag), washed and picked over.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 3 cups water


  1. In a large non-reactive pan, combine all ingredients. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until cranberries are soft – about 20 minutes (a few minutes longer if using frozen cranberries)
  2. Puree in food processor. Strain mixture through a fine sieve set over large bowl. Press hard with wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.
  3. Transfer to clean glass bottle. Keeps for about one month in the fridge. Shake before using.

*Note 1: this drink is so refreshing that I like to buy extra cranberries in the fall, freeze them and make cranberry shrub in the summer.

Note 2: should you be interested in learning a little about the cultivation of cranberries – specifically organic vs. non-organic – read Colleen Levine’s “Fresh from the Cranberry Bogs” post on Foodietots.

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