Cherry season is fading fast, but there's still a little time to capture summer in a bottle and make a cherry shrub. A shrub, or drinking vinegar, is a tart and sweet syrup that can be used to liven up a cocktail, fizzy water, or even dessert (vanilla ice cream comes to mind). This shrub is particularly luxurious, combining sweet cherries with balsamic vinegar, vanilla, and a hint of maple syrup. Although you are welcome to break out your finest balsamic vinegar, for shrubs I usually opt for a solid, budget-friendly brand like Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value. Do use the best cherries you can find, though, and come fall and winter you'll savor the sweetness of this summer's fruit.
Makes about 2 cups
2 1/2 cups sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted
1 vanilla bean, split
1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1-quart glass jar with lid for infusing
Glass jar or bottle for storing
Sterilize a 1-quart jar by submerging it in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jar using canning jar lifters or tongs.
Place the cherries and vanilla in the jar and lightly crush with a muddler or a fork.
Combine the balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar in a small saucepan. Heat just to a boil and pour it into the jar, making sure the cherries and vanilla are submerged (crush them more, if necessary). Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth. Cap the jar tightly; if using a metal lid, place a piece of plastic wrap, wax paper, or parchment paper between the jar and the lid to prevent corrosion from the vinegar.
Store the jar in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard or refrigerator for at least 2 days and up to 2 weeks, shaking it daily. The longer it infuses, the stronger the flavors will be.
Strain the vinegar through a fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or coffee filter. Combine the vinegar, sugar, and maple syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into the original, re-sterilized jar or another sterilized jar or bottle. The shrub may be used right away, although the flavors will continue to improve and harmonize over the next few days.
Store the shrub in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
• Non-alcoholic soda: Combine 1 part shrub with 6 parts sparkling water. Taste and adjust quantities as desired.
• Boozy soda: Pour 1/2 ounce lemon juice, 1 ounce shrub, and 2 ounces bourbon into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with club soda.
• Dessert: Drizzle the shrub over vanilla ice cream or grilled stone fruits.