Pickling, fermenting, brewing, sour dough baking – they’re the culinary techniques that define current trends. But wild shrubs . . . that’s a new one on me, and it’s got nothing much to do with gardening.
However it's not new at all, as Sharon Greene of Wild Irish Foragers and Preservers in Birr, Co Offaly, explains. "Shrubs are what was a traditional drinking vinegar. The word shrub comes from a Hindi word which means "to quench" and they found their way to Ireland during the Middle Ages. Back then they would have been made using 'rotting' crab-apples or verjuice, but we use a local organic apple cider vinegar."
Greene's wild shrubs are made with foraged wild berries, flowers, herbs and crab-apples picked on her family farm. They can be sipped – vinegar is the new green juice in some circles, ask Megan Fox and model Miranda Kerr – or used in dressings, in marinades and as a seasoning.
Greene recommends her shrubs as a drink paired with cheese.
“My cheese shots are the shrubs diluted 1:1 with sparkling water. Wild blackberry shrub pairs well with a strong salty cheddar, honeysuckle shrub goes well with Gouda and dandelion pairs well with Stilton,” she says.
Greene’s husband Gordon and their children Norton, Jordan, Jane, Stuart and Emily (aged from 23 to 15) are all involved in the business. As well as shrubs they make wild syrups, sauces, preserves and fruit cheeses (like jam, but firmer), from foraged foods including elderberry, rosehip, gorse, nettle, hawthornberry, crab-apple, damson and rowanberry.
“I am planning on having a go at wild-flavoured mustards this year also,” Greene says. “This involves a homemade mustard flavoured with, say, wild elderberries or rowanberries.”
Wild Irish products are on sale at food fairs and festivals nationwide; they won an all-Ireland farmers market competition for best stall. You’ll find them at Taste of Cavan (August 7th and 8th); Tullamore show (August 8th); and Taste of Donegal (August 20th-30th).