A Cornish girl's food adventures


Mr Colonial Cravings here, writing a guest post on my wonderful wife’s excellent blog! (you see I get to benefit from the fruits of Mrs Colonial Cravings efforts, so I really do think it’s excellent!)

mandarin basil shrub

A few years ago, while in a sleepy Cornish town, I was party to a very British tradition, the pub lock-in. My ticket to such a prestigious event lay with the old bar piano, on which I had been entertaining the locals with increasingly messy versions of Delilah, Your Song and Hey Jude (amongst other less memorable sing-alongs), increasingly messy because the locals had been plying me with the traditional Cornish tipple Rum & Shrub. I came away with an almighty hangover, but also with a taste for this new delightful beverage, and its similar cousin Brandy & Lovage.

Not only do they taste great, but they have a great story too. Shrubs have been around for a long time, according to ‘The Ark of Taste’ it was a colonial drink whose name derives from the Arabic word sharab, to drink, but by the time they arrived in Cornwall they took on their own unique purpose. Cornwall was a hot-spot for smuggling due to its abundance of coastline littered with many small coves, and one of the big items to smuggle was booze, in the form of French Brandy and Caribbean Rum. Trying to get a barrel of booze, in the dark, onto a small boat, into a small cove in the notoriously fickle seas around Cornwall could easily result in a dunk in salt water leaving you with a tainted product. No problem, just adding some Shrub or Lovage would mask that salty taste – proper job (as they say in Cornwall!).


Anyway, fast forward to the present and I find in our new stateside home that Shrub is back again, and back with a vengeance. I’ve even got a book on it now and have found out you can make all kinds of yummy shrubs by combining fruit, vinegar, sugar, water and herbs. So Mrs Colonial Cravings asked me to have a play with a new shrub concoction and write a post about it. This is a simple shrub combining mandarin and basil, it’s incredibly easy to make and can be used in all sorts of drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.


2 mandarins
lots of basil (at least 20 leaves)
100g sugar
120ml white wine vinegar

Remove the zest from the fruit, trying to keep the amount of white pith to a minimum. Muddle the zest thoroughly with the basil and the sugar before covering and leaving it for 1 hour (this allows the sugar to extract the citrus oils from the zest).

Combine the oily sugar mix with the squeezed juice of the fruit and the vinegar. Stir it well so that the sugar dissolves and then strain the liquid into a clean jar and give it a good shake. Put the shrub in a cool dark spot and leave it for a couple of days for the flavours to mellow and mingle together. When it is ready store it in the fridge until you want to use it, the sugar and vinegar combined with the cold of the fridge should keep it fresh for a long time (although ours only lasted 6 weeks because we’d drank it all by then!)

Now you have your shrub there are many ways to use it, here are a few suggestions we tried but I’d encourage you to get creative and try others too.

Elderflower & Mandarin Martini – try this sophisticated drink for size.



2 parts shrub
4 parts gin
1 part elderfllower cordial

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and then strain into martini glasses. Add a simple garnish of basil for presentation.

New-Fangled – my take on an Old Fashioned!



1 part shrub
2 parts bourbon
1 tsp honey
2 dashes of bitters

Warm the honey so it will dissolve more easily and then combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker (without ice), shake and then serve over ice in a rocks glass. Add a twist of mandarin peel for presentation.

Mandarin-Basil Mocktail – even the kids can get involved in this one, it makes a very sophisticated and refreshing take on a soft-drink.


Serves 2

1.5 oz shrub
1 tsp demerara sugar
big handful of basil
soda water

Muddle the basil (keep some leaves for garnish) with the sugar in a jug (or directly in the glasses if they’re sturdy). Add the shrub and then slowly add the soda water to keep the fizz. Serve in glasses with a garnish of basil leaves.

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