FRONT BURNER: Cranberry shrub gets pucker power from vinegar

Cranberry Shrub Photo by Kelly Brant

I was first introduced to shrubs — the syrup and the drink made from sweetened fruit juice and vinegar — a few years ago.

Don't let the vinegar scare you — it adds a pleasant puckery tang with no hint of acridity.

What I like best about shrubs is how they can be served simply topped with soda for a festive, flavorful alcohol-free drink or mixed with spirits for a cocktail.

There are two ways to make a shrub -- cold and hot. The cold method calls for combining uncooked fruit and sugar and letting the fruit macerate for a few days. The hot method is the one I've used here. It is much faster and the flavor is a bit more jammy since the mixture is cooked.

The amount of vinegar used is up to you. Some recipes call for equal amounts of sugar, fruit and vinegar.

This shrub is considerably less vinegary, making it an ideal introduction to the world of shrubs.

This one is made from cranberries, because well, it's cranberry season. But almost any fruit will work, as will most vinegars. I would avoid using distilled white vinegar, but apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar as I used here, are all excellent options. A splash of balsamic would be good, too, especially in a strawberry shrub.

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Cranberry Shrub

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1 cup granulated sugar

1 ounce white-wine vinegar

Ice, for serving

Club soda, for serving

Lime, optional garnish

Sugared cranberries, optional garnish (directions follow)

In a medium saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar and ¾ cup water. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes or until cranberries begin to break down. The berries will make popping sounds. This is normal.

Remove cranberries from heat and mash with a potato masher. Pour mixture into a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl and drain, pressing on the solids with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard or reserve pulp for another use (it is delicious spread on toast or mixed with cream cheese for a simple spread). Let cool for 30 minutes. Whisk in the vinegar. Strain mixture again into a jar or bottle. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a month.

To use: Combine 1 ounce shrub syrup with 4 to 6 ounces club soda over ice. Garnish as desired — a lime twist is delicious as are sugared cranberries.

Makes about 1 ½ cups or enough for about 8 drinks.

Recipe adapted from How to Cocktail: Recipes and Techniques for Building the Best Drinks from America's Test Kitchen

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Sugared Cranberries

Rinse cranberries in cool water. Gently roll in granulated sugar — I like to use coarse sanding sugar, but regular white sugar will work. Or skewer cranberries on a cocktail pick, dip skewer into water and then roll stick in sugar. The sugared cranberries can be used immediately but for best results, let them stand at room temperature on a plate for an hour or two so the sugar has time to set.

Food on 12/04/2019