During the autumn months in Greece, people get excited about grapes. This is a craze which, along with the wine produced because of it, I have gotten behind. At the grocery stores and laikis, vendors set up tables selling spicy moustokouloura (grape must cookies), mustos (grape must itself), and molasses-like Petimezi, (a syrup made from grape must). Crates also, overflow with clusters of white, red, and black grapes just for eating.
Last week at the supermarket, I picked up a kilo of oblong, jade grapes called White Sultanas from Corinth. Plump and shiny, they seemed like a good choice. At home, Spyros plucked a few for an after-work snack and pronounced them, ”delicious” which I didn’t expect. I mean, they looked nice at the store but I didn’t think they’d be remarkable. Just to be sure, I tasted one myself. Spyros was right. If I may get poetic about grapes, this batch resembled edible marbles from the gods, bursting with nectar of tart, sweet, and floral flavors. If we didn’t find a recipe for them, we’d be just fine.
But the next day my Bon Appetit arrived in the mail with a recipe for a Concord Grape Shrub. I’d never drank a shrub but had read about them. I searched online again and found that a shrub is an offshoot of a British berry preserve which used vinegar instead of citrus for acid. The ‘shrub’ then traveled to the Colonies where people served it as a compote. Later, Americans strained the fruit from the syrup and added soda water or alcohol. I’m a huge fan of vinegar and love cocktails with a little history, so I decided to make Bon Appetit’s recipe, albeit with white grapes.
The recipe that follows is my Greekified version. I’ve made it a few times and believe I have it just right. It’s a nice, early fall cocktail for days when the sun is bright but the air is fresh. Spyros and I drank them on our balcony on a similar evening. A cool breeze, the first one in months, made me dash inside for a sweater.
Fall, according to my friend Helen, is romantic. I had never considered it so when I lived in Pittsburgh but now, I agree. Romantic is the change from shorts and flip flops to hoodies and jeans. Romantic, too, is the cuisine’s transformation from light tomato salads to beef stews over egg noodles. I thought about these things as I sipped my tart, fizzy cocktail with Spyros next to me, watching the sky darken 2 minutes earlier than it had the day before. My skin prickled from the wind–for the first time in months I was cold–but it felt good and right to be heading this direction this time of year. Fall, too, is something I can get behind.
Note: Shrubs can be made using any combination of fruit syrup, vinegar, and vodka. I happened to have fig vinegar (because my mother-in-law is fantastic) which I call for in this recipe but apple cider vinegar tastes great too. Experiment with what you have, the shrub is an adaptable cocktail. If you come up with a combination you like, please let me know. The drink below is a nice pre-dinner cocktail but would also do well at brunch or a weekend lunch. I hope you’ll give it a try.
White Grape Shrub
Rosemary Grape Syrup:
1 cup yellow or green grapes
1/3 cup sugar
1 sprig of rosemary
Cocktail for 2 drinks:
2 shots Vodka
1 shot rosemary-grape syrup
½ shot fig or apple cider vinegar
To make the syrup:
In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of water to a boil. In a small, heatproof bowl, pour the boiling water over the rosemary and allow it to infuse for an hour.
Combine the grapes, sugar and rosemary water in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture boils, reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced to ½ cup. Strain the grapes from the syrup and reserve for another use, (I recommend serving them over vanilla ice cream). Allow the syrup to cool.
To make the drink:
Place vodka, grape syrup, and fig vinegar in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and shake for about 30 seconds, until the shaker frosts. Pour the cocktail into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with soda water, stir and serve.