I’m not much of a baker, so my favorite ways to “use up” a flat or two of berries usually involve eating them with un-whipped heavy cream or drawing out their juices with a whole bunch of sugar, then making a shrub (also known as “drinking vinegar”) from that vividly-covered syrup.
I usually use a ratio of 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of vinegar for every pound of fruit, but yesterday I added a pinch of salt to my Hood strawberry shrub and discovered it was immediately improved. It’s not that the shrub was displeasing in its un-salted state. It was everything it was supposed to be—very sour and very sweet, fantastic when diluted with a tall glass of cold seltzer (or sparkling wine, which I enjoyed it in yesterday afternoon).
That pinch of salt didn’t diminish the shrub’s berry-forward sweetness or dim its acidic brightness. It simply did what salt does best: It tempered the sugar’s more cloying qualities and calmed some of the vinegar’s harsh, acidic bite, nudging the strawberry—which is the star, after all—to the forefront.
The only thing about this I surprising is that I didn’t think to do it sooner. Adding salt to beverages—particularly in the summer months—is a time-honored practice here at Lifehacker. Salt is the great flavor rounder, the mighty contrast maker—salt brings out the best in foods by making them taste like themselves.
The amount of salt your shrub needs depends on the fruit involved and how much vinegar you add. I always start with a pound of berries, mix it with 2 cups of sugar (in this case 1 cup white and 1 cup brown), let it sit for a few days, then strain and measure the syrupy juices. I then dump in about half of that volume of vinegar, taste, and add more if needed. Once I’ve got the acidity dialed in, I’ll now add a pinch of salt, stir, taste, and repeat until the shrub tastes better, but not outright salty. If that sounds vague, don’t fret. You’ll know it when you hit that “better but not salty” spot, because you’ll find yourself reaching for the seltzer (or bubbly, depending on the time of day).