Fruit vinegars, also known as shrubs, were a popular way to conserve fruit in the 19th century. This version comes from Catharine Beecher, an educator, writer, and social activist, and older sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In the early to mid-19th century, Catharine Beecher was a prominent writer and lecturer on women’s issues. To me, many of her views seem contradictory; although she advocated strongly for women’s education, she also opposed women’s suffrage and believed that a woman’s place was in the home. She was a proponent of what Laura Shapiro calls “divine domesticity;” the idea that women’s housework was not drudgery, but “the most important, the most difficult, and the most sacred and interesting duties that can possibly employ the highest intellect.” Despite her ideal vision of a married woman staying at home, however, Catharine Beecher herself never married, and supported herself with her writing and lecture tours – exactly the kind of independent, professional pursuits she discouraged women from participating in.
While I definitely don’t agree with most of Catharine Beecher’s beliefs, the advice in all her various home management books isn’t all bad. In A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for example, she argues that even wealthy women should learn all the aspects of running a home – including knowing how to run a farm and raise animals and crops – so that in case of her husband’s death or the loss of his fortune, she would be able to take over and keep the family from falling into ruin. I do at least admire her belief in self-sufficiency – and I think some of her recipes look pretty tasty, too!
- 3 pounds of strawberries total; use 1 pound every 3 days
- 3 cups distilled white vinegar
- baker’s sugar (regular white sugar will work too, but I like baker’s sugar because it dissolves faster)
- Wash 1 pound of strawberries, trim off the tops, and cut into quarters.
- Place strawberries in a covered, non-metal container with 3 cups of distilled white vinegar and let sit for 3 days.
- Strain the strawberries and vinegar through a jelly-bag or a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Toss out the strawberries and put the vinegar back in the non-metal container.
- Wash and cut up another pound of strawberries and let them sit in the vinegar for another 3 days.
- Repeat steps 3-4 one more time; at this point you will have used a total of 3 pounds of strawberries and the vinegar will have been steeping for a total of 9 days.
- Weigh the vinegar, then weigh out the same amount of sugar and stir it into the vinegar until it dissolves.
- Bottle the vinegar and refrigerate it. Do not seal the tops of the bottles until after a week has passed; I didn’t test what would happen if you do seal them right away, but I noticed that the vinegar did get slightly bubbly so it’s possible that they could build up enough pressure to burst.
- After a week, the vinegar is ready to use!
So…what do you do with Strawberry Vinegar?
Although made with vinegar, it really is more like a strawberry-flavored syrup; once the sugar is added, it tastes very sweet without a hint of the original vinegar. Fruit vinegars like this one were often used to flavor beverages, especially non-alcoholic drinks. Catharine Beecher includes this recipe in her chapter on “Temperance Drinks”:
To make Effervescing Fruit Drinks:
- Put 1/2 tsp of baking soda into your drinking glass. Add a little bit of cold water and swirl it around until it is dissolved.
- Fill the glass 2/3 full of cold water, then fill the remainder with the strawberry vinegar and stir.
I used the strawberry vinegar to make an Effervescing Fruit Drink following Catharine Beecher’s instructions. The baking soda did give it some fizz, but just as she noted, “delay spoils it;” the fizz was gone after only a few seconds. I liked the drink, but it was very sweet for my taste. I found that squeezing in the juice of about half a lemon, or adding in something else acidic like a little bit of citric or tartaric acid greatly improved it. Then, it tasted more like a nice, strawberry-flavored lemonade – what I would call a “very fine drink for summer.”
There are a lot of other ways you could use strawberry vinegar, too. My boyfriend tried mixing it with tequila and tonic water (because we happened to have them on hand). He said it tasted good, although it definitely wasn’t a temperance beverage! You could also mix it with club soda and cream to make an Italian soda. It is essentially just a fruit-flavored syrup, so it could be used in virtually any recipe that calls for fruit syrup.
I thought it was a fun way to experiment with preserving fruit – although to be honest I would be perfectly happy to just eat the 3 pounds of strawberries instead.
Beecher, C.E. (1848). Miss Beecher’s domestic receipt book. New York: Harper & Brothers. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Miss_Beecher_s_Domestic_Receipt_Book/I1o-AAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
Ross, A. (2004). Beecher, Catharine. In A.F. Smith (Ed.,) The Oxford encyclopedia of food and drink in America. Oxford University Press.
Shapiro, L. (2008). Perfection salad: Women and cooking at the turn of the century. Berkeley: University of California Press.