By Corin Hirsch / Newsday
Abstaining from alcohol for Dry January should not mean being relegated to the outer limits of soda and sparkling water.
For those voluntarily giving up booze this month, join the trend to bring back the shrub. Shrub — basically a blend of fruit juice, sugar and vinegar (usually apple cider vinegar) — is a tangy syrup that mimics the raciness and bite of alcohol without the intoxication.
With top-form pears plentiful right now, a pear-ginger shrub is a zesty base for a quenching mocktail. Pears mingle well with flavors such as cardamom and vanilla; for this shrub, I used ginger and lightly crushed Szechuan peppercorns. The resulting syrup is just as you’d expect: Fruity, zingy, slightly peppery. Blend some with ginger beer and a dash of bitters, and you have yourself a zero-roof party.
Pear-ginger shrub mocktail
4 to 5 comice pears
2-inch nub of fresh ginger
1 tablespoon peppercorns, Szechuan or black
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
Dash of bitters
Lemon peel and slivered pear garnish (optional)
Make the shrub (It may seem cumbersome at the outset but is actually simple; a total time investment of about 30 minutes over 2 days.): Core and dice the comice pears (peeling is unnecessary, though will yield a lighter-bodied syrup). Peel and slice the ginger (about 2 tablespoons), and add to pears; lightly crush peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, and add to fruit. Cover mixture with sugar and stir aggressively to thoroughly coat mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, pour pear pulp into a strainer positioned over a bowl. Let drip for an hour or more, occasionally pressing fruit with back of a ladle to extract juices. To those juices, add ½ the volume of vinegar (for instance, for 6 ounces of juice, add 3 ounces vinegar). Taste, and add more vinegar as needed to achieve a tart-sweet balance. Strain again into a bottle or jar. Shrub will keep for up to 2 weeks in refrigerator.
Make the mocktail: Add 1½ ounces of shrub to a rocks glass; add ice. Top with ginger beer and the bitters (angostura will do. Note: Bitters are alcohol-based). Stir. Garnish with lemon peel and pear slivers.