On my first visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, over a Memorial Day weekend, I was as enchanted by the food and drink as by the women’s tightly corseted dresses, clanging blacksmith demonstrations, and the sense of tasting another time. I was twelve years old, so dining by flickering candlelight, using a three-pronged fork and a bulbous, pistol-handled knife with its long, curving blade was more challenging than romantic.
The Virginia weather was hot and humid. Our hotel was air-conditioned, but at the Williamsburg restoration, it was authentically oppressive, indoors and out. The sticky weather made me particularly curious about what people drank before the days of refrigeration in order to cool off, and how farm-hands and hard-working indentured servants quenched what must have been an endless thirst. Even the Governor’s lady hardly led a life of cool comfort compared to today, and must have needed something bracingly restorative.
People back then placed whatever they wanted cooled in cold cellars and running streams. Needless to say, soda and ice were out of the question. Even fruit juices were a rarity, though lemonade was popular. It was often honey-sweetened, as sugar was a luxury.
On the other hand, people did partake of concoctions with enchanting names like “syllabub” and “shrub.” With syllabub, a creamy blend, the main point was spooning up the airy froth on top. For a long time, this foam was thought to be the result of shooting milk directly from a cow’s udder into a pitcher containing a sweet blend of cider and spices, but modern experiments disproved that theory. The secret, it turns out, was simply whipping it up by hand.
Shrubs rely on the bracing tartness of vinegar. Old cookery books indicate they were made by crushing fresh raspberries or other fruit in vinegar, leaving the mixture overnight, straining it and sweetening it to taste. Eventually, recipes including milk appeared. Today, I make shrub using fruit juices, topping off the glass with refreshing, ice cold club soda.
Strawberry Shrub – Serves 4
1 1/2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup reduced-fat (2 percent) milk
2 cups chilled club soda
4 mint sprigs, for garnish
Place berries, sugar and orange juice in blender. Whirl until berries are pureed. Add milk, and blend until smooth.
Divide purée among 4 chilled glasses. Top off each glass with 1/2 cup soda. Garnish with mint. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 117 calories, 1 g. total fat (<1 g. saturated fat), 26 g. carbohydrate, 2 g. protein, <1 g. dietary fiber, 42 mg. sodium.
“Something Different” is written for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) by Dana Jacobi, author of The Joy of Soy and recipe creator for AICR’s Stopping Cancer Before It Starts.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) offers a Nutrition Hotline online at www.aicr.org or via phone 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, MondayFriday, at 1-800-843-8114. This free service allows you to ask questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. A registered dietitian will respond to your email or call, usually within 3 business days. AICR is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on how the risk of cancer is reduced by healthy food and nutrition, physical activity and weight management. The Institute’s education programs help millions of Americans lower their cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. Over $82 million in funding has been provided. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.
Photo Credit: rakratchada torsap