My Curiosity: I had heard the term “shrub” used to describe a refreshing beverage suitable for re-enacting/living history situations. I was told the recipe was equal parts fruit vinegar and sweetener diluted to taste in cold water. Upon consulting the first collection of period recipe books, I was finding “shrub” included alcohol. I questioned the person who shared their recipe with me and they reluctantly informed me both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions were period. Not wanting to make a fuss, I tabled the subject, but the question of what to call that drink kept coming up every summer. This summer, I decided to delve further and trace the term usage.
My Methods: I looked up over 220 period recipe books held on-line. I used terms like “shrub” “raspberry vinegar” and “strawberry acid” to narrow the search. I first notated all the recipes with terms “shrub,” “fruit vinegar”, or “fruit acid”, then, I began to explore commonalities among them. Please note: subsequent editions of books with the same title are counted as one, books of differing titles by the same author are counted separately.
Raw Numbers: I found 126 recipes termed “shrub,” various fruits “vinegar”, or “strawberry acid.”
Termed shrub, with the ingredients fruit, vinegar, alcohol, water: 42 of 126
Termed shrub, with the ingredients fruit, vinegar, water: 11 of 126
Termed fruit vinegar, with the ingredients fruit, vinegar, alcohol, water: 10 of 126
Termed fruit vinegar, with the ingredients fruit, vinegar, water: 36 of 126
Termed fruit vinegar, without either stating explicitly or implying clearly it was used as a beverage: 23 of 126
Those termed “acid” had ingredients of fruit (all used strawberry), vinegar, water: 2 of 126
If we make a small leap and assume all the “ fruit vinegars” will be used in a beverage, we get 59 of 126.
Those termed shrub used the following for fruit:
Currants (unspecified): 16 of 53, one of 16 are non-alcoholic
Raspberries: 13 of 53, 7 of 13 are non-alcoholic
Currants, white: 5 of 53
Cherries: 5 of 53,
Strawberries: 2 of 53, 1 of 2 is non-alcoholic
Lemons: 2 of 53
Gooseberries: 2 of 53
Citrus and Spices (of a type common to the 18th century as a type of punch): 3 of 53
Almond, Crab-apples, Fox Grapes, Blackberries, and Red Currants had a listing a piece.
Those termed fruit vinegar water used the following fruit:
Raspberries: 35 of 46, 8 of 35 are alcoholic
Strawberries: 6 of 46, 1 of 6 is alcoholic
Cherries, Currants, and Pineapple had a listing a piece; the cherry vinegar was alcoholic
Implications for re-enacting: We use the term “shrub” when we should be using the term “XX Vinegar” or “XX Vinegar Water” to specify the beverage we are drinking made of fruit vinegar and sweetener diluted in water, made without alcohol. The people we portray in 1858-1865 would have assumed a beverage termed “shrub” to include alcohol unless specifically stated otherwise. Raspberries were the most popular fruit for vinegar waters, Currants were the most popular for shrubs. A beverage referred to as an “acid” was likely to be strawberries.
The earliest reference to a non-alcoholic fruit vinegar beverage I came across was 1808 from Duncon McDonald’s “New London Family Cook.” The latest reference to an alcoholic shrub was in 1887 from Fannie Lamira Gillette’s “The White House Cookbook.” The first reference to a shrub that didn’t include alcohol came in 1830, the second in 1839. As the years of the 19th century progressed, less alcohol was used and fewer shrubs were listed, accompanied by an upswing in listings for fruit vinegar waters.