This easy peasy hot-weather sip tastes exactly like summer should: fresh, bracing, juicy, a little sweet, and extra-hydrating. Right on time for cheersing.
We were chatting just last week—right when the first truly hot day sort of stopped us in our tracks—and our wordsmith Susannah mentioned that she had a beloved old recipe for something called "Watermelon & Vinegar Tonic". "It's a 'shrub' actually, I think?" she said, "But my mom always calls it a 'tonic'."
If you haven't heard the term, a "shrub" is a kind of old-fashioned "drinking vinegar" first sipped by Babylonians and omnipresent in colonial times, when adding fruit to vinegar to infuse it and then adding the infusion to water would both help preserve the fruit and keep drinking water fresh. The resulting concoctions are delicious, fresh, packed with fruity vitamins and minerals, and boast all the blood-sugar regulating and healthy hydration properties celebrated by devotees of Apple Cider Vinegar.
If you've been following along with our adventures in exceptionally refreshing seasonal sips (see: lemonade, rhubarb syrup) you know we'll never miss an opportunity to try our hands at a new tart-sweet concoction, especially not one which promises to *actually* rehydrate you better than Gatorade. As the sign of the first summer swelters and the season's first watermelons usually come along together, our dear Heather right hopped on it. Her adventures + instructions here:
Big Enamel Bowl, Barro Negro Salt Dish, Tiny Beechwood "Pinch" Spoon
I followed Susannah's sweet, simple notecard recipe, which absolutely felt like something your grandma or auntie would call you in for on a hot summer day at the farm. (I do not/have not ever lived on a farm, but my Anne of Green Gables cordial fantasies were definitely piqued throughout this). For those of you who don't want to parse that funny old notecard, here it is written out:
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 cups coarsely chopped watermelon (seeds are fine)
1 cup packed mint
1 cup apple cider vinegar (we used Bragg's)
1 cup honey
Bring water and salt to boil, add honey to dissolve and remove from heat.
Combine melon and mint in a bowl, stir in honey water and add vinegar.
Steep mixture in the refrigerator overnight.
Strain, store in refrigerator.
Add concentrate to seltzer over ice.
I was definitely looking forward to a fun, refreshing and flavorful drive that *could* be made alcoholic (it's great with tequila or gin), but certainly didn't have to be! And boy, I was NOT disappointed! This was such minimal effort, and yielded something I was delighted to keep finding in the refrigerator every time I opened it!
Pouring a big, glowing cup of honey from that glass bottle into a measuring cup and then into a pan was VERY satisfying. It was also super handy to have one of those German Cleaning Cloths on hand to lay under the giant cutting board to soak up the inevitable juice that absolutely burst from that melon! Wow! Stickyville!
I used one of our big enamelware bowls to gather my chopped watermelon in to make it easier to blend with the mint, but then transferred it into a big ol' 3 Liter Le Parfait beauty to make sure it didn't take up SUCH a giant footprint in my fridge.
I let that big vessel sit over night (and then some!), and pulled it out the following afternoon to be strained. It was easiest to strain such a huge jar over that enamel bowl again, and then pour that (carefully! with help!) into the funnel over the flip top bottle. This enamel measuring pitcher would also be the perfect thing/make things a little easier. Once that was done, I wiped up any residual stickiness, and voila! Bottled up! And such a pretty color.
At this point it should also be noted that the watermelon left in the jar has effectively been gently pickled and can totally be eaten. Some might say it is even extra delicious with a dash of tajin on it, Oaxacan streetcart style. If the taste isn't quite up your alley feel free to compost it or give it to some chickens if you know any lucky birds.
I did a quick dash out to the garden for some fresh mint and pulled some leftover watermelon slices out of the fridge (this recipe used maybe 3/4 of a standard, round watermelon—not those crazy long ones), so there was more for garnishing and snacking. I added ice, seltzer, and a splash of the shrub to my go-to summer glass and garnished with some chopped up melon! It had an incredible sweet-bite...vinegary, but in a way that I did not realize would be SO refreshing!! LOVE!
By this time, it was still sunny out, but about 95 degrees and HUMID outside, and suddenly I started hearing thunder?? With a mostly blue sky?? Well, Minnesota pulled one of its surprise summer thunderstorms, but this time as a big, crazy sun shower! I had stepped outside to enjoy my shrub in the heat, when BOOM! Tastes good in the rain!
Right on time, a double rainbow showed up to the party (it's faint in the pictures-right above my glass above- but was super vivid in real life!), the ice in my shrub had melted—and now had some zesty rainwater in it—and it STILL tasted good!