STONINGTON — Summer calls for shrubs.
Not the woody plant per se but the drinking variety, which has a long history and was a way for our ancestors to preserve their fruit.
“A shrub is a drink made with vinegar, sugar and fruit,” said Sadie Poland, who bartends at Aragosta on Stonington’s Main Street. “It’s a way of preserving a really fresh fruit taste.”
Shrubs or drinking vinegar, as these concoctions sometimes are called, were used to preserve fruit in the days before refrigeration.
Poland talked shrubs and cocktails on Aug. 29 at the Eggemoggin Schoolhouse in Little Deer Isle. Edible Island Culinary and Ecological Center hosted the workshop. The Blue Hill native has mixed drinks all over California as well as on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Edible Island’s mission is to provide education and training for expanded job opportunities for youth in culinary and hospitality arts as well as emphasizing sustainability and increasing public awareness of Deer Isle’s resources, culinary potential and ecological diversity.
The basic shrub recipe is to combine one part chopped fruit to one part sugar to one part vinegar in a container. Mix. Put the container in a refrigerator for at least 24 hours. The longer the mixture sits, the better the flavor will develop. When you’re ready to begin using the shrub, strain out the fruit.
Poland says there’s no need to use fancy vinegar. She uses apple cider vinegar. White vinegar also is fine.
Use your shrub syrup over ice or with soda water or in a cocktail.
“A really good ratio is two to one to one,” said Poland. “Two of a spirit, one of an acid (your homemade shrub for example) and one of a sugar.”
“That works for a pretty strong cocktail,” said Poland. If it’s too strong, you can add club soda.
Shrub or not, fresh fruit and herbs are on the summer cocktail menu at Aragosta.
“I try to complement what’s going on in the kitchen and what’s in season,” said Poland.
The fine dining restaurant, which belongs to chef and owner Devin Finigan, is focused on farm to table and sea to table.
So, earlier this summer when cucumbers ripened and were being featured on the menu, Poland was making cucumber margaritas.
Right now, peaches are in season.
Poland makes a popular cocktail with fresh peach puree topped with Cava, a Spanish sparkling white wine.
Many people order wine with dinner at Aragosta but a cocktail made with fresh ingredients is a good start to the meal, said Poland. “It’s a nice way to get excited for the things happening on the plate.”
Poland garnishes the restaurant’s cocktails with herbs and edible flowers she grows at her home in Little Deer Isle.
The bartender sprinkled blue bachelor button petals atop the peach puree cocktail and finished the garnish with a coriander flower. A raspberry cocktail was showered with orange calendula blossoms.
“People can just play around with what tastes good to them,” Poland said.
A pro tip from Poland is to keep plain, simple syrup on hand.
“Use it for the sweet in a cocktail,” said Poland. Or use it over sweetened ice tea.
“It’s nice to add to salad dressings sometimes just for a little sweet,” she said.
Simple syrup is one part sugar, dissolved with one part water, over medium-low heat. Store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to a month.