I’m writing this on a bright and sunny day, with temps soaring in the upper 80s. This might even be considered an uncomfortably hot day by Pacific Northwest standards. I’m grateful for our well so I can have sprinklers running on my thirsty flower beds, big old trees shading the house and a refrigerator humming along in the kitchen, keeping me hydrated with homemade raspberry shrub mixed with club soda and poured over plenty of ice.
When the McDermott family built Far-A-Way in 1915, they may or may not have had a refrigerator, but chances are they did. An article in The Tacoma Daily Ledger, titled “Seattle Man to Build Big Country Estate Near Tacoma” and dated May 9, 1915, read, “The house will have electric lighting and will be heated with hot water.” Also noted was running hot water in the kitchen, another luxury in those days.
Considering Far-A-Way would have electricity and the electric refrigerator was invented in 1913, I’m betting they had the best fridge money could buy. Although Far-A-Way was merely a summer retreat, the McDermotts spared no expense. After all, construction of the main house began in the midst of their success with the Bon Marche, the department store they founded.
At the time they built Far-A-Way, the flagship Bon Marche was located at 2nd and Pike in downtown Seattle, and their “town house” was a mansion on Highland Drive in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Through a series of shrewd business maneuvers and by providing quality goods and excellent customer service, their sales increased from $338,000 in 1900 to $8 million in 1923.
Now back to that shrub I’m drinking.
Drinking vinegars, switchels and shrubs was all the rage before refrigeration. What do all of these nonalcoholic beverages have in common? They are all made with fruit, sugar and vinegar, with the vinegar and sugar acting as preservatives.
Your imagination is the only limit to the combinations you can come up with when making any of these thirst-quenching concoctions. Try using different fruits each time, and use whatever vinegar you have on hand. Add herbs or flavorings, like mint or vanilla beans, and you just upped your shrub game a few levels.
Searching for recipes on the internet is a fun way to spend some time; numerous cookbooks on modern shrubs are available on request at the library too. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
The “All New Ball Canning Book of Canning and Preserving” has the simplest recipe I know for starting on your own path to preserving your fresh fruit in an easy-to-imbibe beverage.
1 cup crushed fruit (such as strawberries, peaches, apricots, Concord grapes, plums, berries or cherries)
1 cup sugar
1-quart canning jar
1 cup vinegar (such as unfiltered apple cider, balsamic, sherry or red wine vinegar)
1. Combine crushed fruit and sugar in a 1-quart canning jar. Cover and shake to combine. Chill 1 to 3 days or until sugar dissolves and fruit releases its juice.
2. Pour fruit mixture through a wire-mesh strainer into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, pressing with the back of a spoon to release as much juice as possible (about ¾ cup); discard solids. Stir in vinegar. Transfer mixture to a 1-pint jar. Cover with lid and chill 2 weeks before serving.
Note: The recipe suggests refrigerating, but I have also made it without for a little fizzy ferment. Depending on the temperature in your house, the kind of vinegar you use and the presence of wild yeast spores in the air, your fruit shrub may or may not ferment. But to be safe, if you are leaving it out at room temperature, don’t put a lid on the jar. Simply cover with cheesecloth or a clean, dry dish towel—and secure it with a rubber band. Unless you like explosions after the 4th of July!
Brook Hurst Stephens lives in Longbranch. She can be reached at HistoricFaraway@gmail.com. Follow the restoration progress at Historic Faraway on Facebook.