Concord Grape Shrub and Cocktail

One of my favorite things, or some of my favorite things, I should say, are Concord grapes. I grew up eating them as a snack, as well as in jams, jellies, and even desserts. And if anyone else is old enough, raise your hand if you remember the Welch’s Concord grape juice stand at the original Disneyland in Anaheim. Who cared about those chirpy wooden kids singing about how small the world was? That grape juice was my E ticket.

Concord grapes were prolific when I was a youngster in New England, and every time I go back in the Fall, I try to find a basket of them, to remind me of how good they are.

Recently I was at the excellent greenmarket in New York City and saw tables loaded up with Concord grapes, and bought a few baskets. As usual, I ended up with way too much fruit (I can never help myself, whether I’m at home or on the road), and needed to do something with my overload. It was tough figuring out what to make with them in a compact New York City kitchen, until I remembered shrubs.

When I shared my basket (of grapes!) online, a few readers noted that it was hard to find Concord grapes nowadays. I suspect that’s because they have seeds, and few want to fuss with plucking, or spitting, them out. It’s a tedious project for sure, but the great thing about making a shrub, like making Grape Sorbet, is that you don’t need to remove the seeds.

I trick I learned a few years ago to remove the stems is to put the bunches of grapes in a stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook, and turning it on low speed. The hook will remove the stems for you, although this recipe only uses a pound of grapes, so if you don’t have a stand mixer – or if you don’t want another dish to wash – you can use your hands. The seeds get strained out later, using your trusty food mill or with a mesh strainer.

I have seen seedless varieties of Concord grapes, including ones crossed with Thompson seedless grapes, but it’s hard to replicate the flavor of full-flavored Concord grapes, which has been described as “foxy.”

Concords are a native American grape and while the French did use American grape rootstock after the phylloxera infestation in the mid-19th century, to rebuild their devastated vineyards, Concord grapes aren’t available in France. You could make this shrub with another flavorful purple grape, such as Muscat or a wine grape if you live near a wine-growing region.

Speaking of being inventive, like the French got their vineyards back on track, shrubs are vinegar-based and were originally devised as a way to preserve fruit. I’ve made them with cranberries, a fruit that appears fleetingly in France, for a price, usually around Thanksgiving (for les Américains), which was great to have as a base for a non-alcoholic drink, as well as a cocktail, for those who imbibe. It’s a good way to use, and preserve, something precious, like cranberries or Concords.

If you’re fortunate enough to get Concord grapes, you’ll just new a few bunches of them for this lively, and flavorful shrub. I’ve given instructions and recipes for the shrub, and a cocktail that you can toast your liquid purple bounty with. À votre santé!

Concord Grape Shrub
Print Recipe
About 1 1/3 cups (325ml)
Apple cider vinegar will work, although has a certain flavor that tends to creep into the Concord grape flavor, so you'll have to decide if you want apple flavor in your shrub, or to keep it purely grape. I generally use white vinegar.There's a recipe for a cocktail after the instructions which uses the shrub, but it can also be enjoyed in a glass with sparkling water added and an orange or lemon twist, if you'd like.
1 pound (450g) Concord grapes, stemmed
1/2 cup (100g) sugar, raw granulated, or regular granulated
1/2 cup (60ml) white vinegar
1. Put the grapes in a non-reactive saucepan. Mash or squeeze them to release some of the juices. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the grapes are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and vinegar. Cover and let steep overnight at room temperature.
3. The next day, pass the grapes through a food mill to remove the seeds and skins. If you don't have a food mill, you can press them through a mesh sieve with a flexible silicone spatula into a bowl. If a lot of the pulp remains in the stainer after pressing the grapes through, gently rewarm the grape pulp in the saucepan and the rest should pass through more easily. Transfer the grape shrub into a bottle and refrigerate until ready to use. It'll keep for several months in the refrigerator.

To make a Concord Grape cocktail, mix 1 1/2 ounces of Concord grape shrub in a tumbler with 1 1/2 ounces of gin and 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec. Add 2 ounces of sparkling water, then twist a strip of orange zest over the drink. Garnish with an orange or lemon twist, and add ice.


A tangy grape shrub that's extra-refreshing!

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32 comments

  • November 20, 2018 5:10pm

    your basket, hehehehehe Reply

    • November 20, 2018 6:21pm
      David Lebovitz

      Didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea! ; ) Reply

  • Genie
    November 20, 2018 5:15pm

    I still have a Disneyland ticket book sans the C, D and E tickets. Never enjoyed much the Dumbo, Mad Hatter and Mr. Toad’s rides. Ah, what memories! Reply

  • Bernadette
    November 20, 2018 5:22pm

    That freshly strained juice looks delicious! Happy Thanksgiving! Reply

  • Nancy
    November 20, 2018 5:30pm

    I’ve just put this ‘shrub’ together with the classic rural American ‘switchel’… vinegared, sweetened plain water..same principle! I like the preservability of the cooked juice, too :)

    And I really appreciate the considerate comprehensiveness of your recipes…you think of everything! I don’t have a single question left after reading them… quite rare for me!
    Thanks Reply

  • Barbara Dramer
    November 20, 2018 5:50pm

    I grow my own Concord grapes here in Sacramento because I’m a fanatic about them just like David. But it’s been tough! Critters come in the night– I suspect rats, raccoons, or possums– and they take every single grape. In the morning I find the empty skins on the ground. It kills me! Every January I prune so carefully and get my hopes up. In July there are green grapes everywhere, but I don’t let myself get too excited because I know what’s coming. In 2017, luckily for me, the little monsters didn’t come and I enjoyed every last Concord grape. But this year, no such luck. One August evening, I admired the grapes that were nearly ready, but the next morning the vine was completely stripped. I have fantasies of rigging an electric shocker wire and flipping a switch when night comes. I just haven’t figured out how to do that yet. But I think it would be worth it. KILL!! Reply

    • gfy
      November 21, 2018 5:58am

      Try bagging your bunches!… or netting the entire vine if it’s not too big. Yes, it’s a lot of extra work but at least you get a few – we have our grape cut into a large shrub and fenced off and fortunately that’s all it’s taken here, but I used to have to bag figs individually if I wanted to have even one – the BIRDS! One bite out of each perfect fig ensured they would spoil before getting fully ripe…bagging was a game changer! Reply

    • sally
      December 1, 2018 11:44pm

      Go to your nearest feed store and purchase a hot wire box. They come electric or solar and work quite well. My organic cows know better than to walk into the wire. Very effective. Reply

  • Barbara Dramer
    November 20, 2018 5:55pm

    Anyone can enjoy eating Concord grapes if you just use this method: toss a few in your mouth and LIGHTLY chew them, so the juices flow but the seeds aren’t crushed. You have to bite down hard enough to crush the flesh but not hard enough to crush any seeds. Then just swallow everything. I’ve been doing it this way for years, and believe me, it’s as if the seeds aren’t even there. You just have to learn the technique. Reply

  • Christine Czarnecki
    November 20, 2018 6:15pm

    Have you ever made Concord Grape Pie? It’s wonderful, although a lot of fussy work, as you need to first remove the skins, cook the fruit, use the food mill to get rid of the pips, then put back in with the skins to give that vibrant purple color. i have made it once, for my son-in-law who is from New Hampshire, and he adored it. Reply

    • November 20, 2018 6:21pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, I have. The recipe was in my first book, Room for Dessert. (It’s in the updated version of the book, Ready for Dessert.) It is a bunch of fussy work pitting the grapes but it’s such a great pie that it’s worth it.

      Funny that when we shot the pictures for the book, it was late in the season and I couldn’t find any Concord grapes, after scouring all the stores in San Francisco (and the surrounding towns, too). I eventually found some but a food stylist told me while I was searching, “If it’s just for a photo, use olives.” : ) Reply

      • Christine Czarnecki
        November 23, 2018 7:42am

        I am mortified! I have your book, and after your post, I went back and read your recipe. It’s such a much better technique that you have, to cut the grapes in half and remove the seeds, then cook the filling once.

        Also, I will hunt down your suggested thickener of tapioca flour. I love tapioca as a fruit pie thickener, but I discovered that it was even better if I ground it more finely in my nut and spice grinder. I just used it today in a sour cherry pie.

        I hope your Thanksgiving was as nice as ours was here in Palo Alto, and thank you for your truly great books and your exceptional blog. Reply

  • Helen S.
    November 20, 2018 6:20pm

    Absolutely love Concord grapes and purchase a basket whenever I see them at local grocery store. They remind me of my grandparents’ grape vines and lovely memories of the past. Homemade juice and grape jelly were standards in our home.
    I eat the entire basket by myself enjoying each memory revived! Reply

  • November 20, 2018 6:58pm

    I was in New York in mid-October and had lunch one day at the dining room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The waiter recommended the Concord Grape Crème Brulee for dessert and I’m so glad I took him up on the choice. It was delicious. I’d love to make it at home.
    P.S. I remember that Disneyland juice stand! Reply

    • gfy
      November 21, 2018 5:59am

      sounds amazing! Reply

  • November 20, 2018 7:00pm

    I’ve never heard of shrubs (other than the plant kind). Your photos are mouth-watering and make me want to try this. Will seek out some robust grapes at the market.
    You are very good at presenting things so clearly and deliciously that I do try them. Your shakshuka bread, for example, is now a regular in our house. Reply

  • Susan H
    November 20, 2018 7:20pm

    I love Concord grapes, too. But they are very difficult to find. There’s a grower at our farmers market that sells Tomcord grapes which are a hybrid between Concord and Thompson Seedless. They’re seedless, but not quite as good straight Concord. Reply

  • Mike
    November 20, 2018 8:42pm

    I love concord grapes, I used to have them growing on my South wall. Two things happened, my dog got into them and died, I was heart broken. I built a fence to keep my next dog out. Then the roots grew into my drain system and backed the whole system up. I had to tear it up to fix the problem.

    I since put in a seedless variety of table grapes but they are not nearly as good and almost never fully ripen. I was hoping they would ripen this year as it was a great one for grapes but only a few did.
    I’m probably going to tear that one out and grow another concord. Perhaps along side a trellised sweet cherry. Reply

  • Janet
    November 21, 2018 12:04am

    Barbara Dramer has it right. The reason most people don’t like these grapes is because they don’t know how to eat them. It’s almost like eating an oyster if you do it right. And it has the right balance of tartness and sweetness. My favorite every fall! Reply

  • Junko
    November 21, 2018 2:02am

    I wish you had posted this in October. All the grapes are gone now from Western NY, so I’d have to wait till next fall. I wonder if another one of my favorite grape, Steuben, would work with this. I won’t know until next fall, but I will definitely try. I also wonder if this works with black currant. I am going to try next summer. Thanks for the recipe! Reply

    • November 21, 2018 10:13am
      David Lebovitz

      I was in New York City last week and there were a lot of Concord grapes at the greenmarkets so surprised you can’t find them in Western or update New York, but you can hold onto this for next year. I’ve not made this with black currants but likely you could make a delicious shrub out of those, too! Reply

  • November 21, 2018 3:46am

    Hi David,
    Thanks for bringing back fond memories of picking Concord grapes at my grandfather’s house. I can still taste the distinct flavor. Hey, any idea how this recipe came to be called “shrub?” Reply

  • Margaret
    November 21, 2018 4:25am

    In Texas, there’s a grape that grows wild called Mustang grapes. My parents discovered them at their lake house and my Mom would make wonderful grape jelly every year — not at all like the grape jelly at the grocery store :) Reply

  • November 21, 2018 2:29pm

    Hello, I have a concord grape vine and here in Portugal we call them ‘uvas americanas’ (american grapes). My father used to make wine from it and firewater but now I make juice and jelly. I don’t care much for the flavour of the grapes
    but my friends love to eat them so I give loads to everyone who likes them. Reply

  • Carolyn Z
    November 22, 2018 3:22am

    Happy Thanksgiving David and Romain!
    Love, Carolyn Z (and Zig, the tall one)
    Take good care!

    Zig made your all butter pie crust from Ready for Dessert. He’s not a baker, but he thought it went great.

    Thanks for such a good recipe! Reply

  • dianmari
    November 23, 2018 5:50am

    http://www.abc.net.au/site-archive/rural/telegraph/content/2012/s3462267.htm
    “Not all the grapes picked this vintage season in the Barossa Valley in South Australia are destined for the wine cask. Some might be transformed into a unique Barossa Valley dessert, Rote Grutze.” I believe there’s a competition every year… Reply

  • dianmari
    November 23, 2018 6:24am

    Glitchy internet sorry if its a duplicate.

    There is a yearly competition in the Barossa Valley (South Australia) for the best Rote Grutz which might be another use for your grapes. http://www.abc.net.au/site-archive/rural/telegraph/content/2012/s3462267.htm Reply

  • Bricktop
    November 25, 2018 11:52pm

    I saw black Muscat grapes at the market at Grenelle last week and will give them a go in the shrub. If I can stop eating them out of hand that is. Many of them don’t make it as far as home. I do miss Concord grapes. The douaniers would freak out if someone tried to sneak them in for us though. Reply

  • K Fayyad
    November 26, 2018 10:47pm

    I speak enough Arabic to know that this shrub comes from the Arabic verb “shariba”, to drink. Reply

  • Perry S. Hamilton
    November 27, 2018 5:11am

    Would PB&J be so famous if Concord grape jelly were not made? Reply

  • Deb
    November 27, 2018 4:33pm

    Concord grapes are one of my lifelong cravings. It began in church. Welch’s 100% Concord Grape juice was used for communion, and as the daughter of the Baptist preacher, I got to collect the unused “shot glasses” and drink whatever was left over. As an adult I made Concord grape pie regularly after finding a recipe in Rodale’s Organic Gardening. Now every autumn I make Concord grape ice cream, and have started a new generation on Concord grape addiction. Once in awhile I’ll find a pure Concord grape wine from upstate New York and, gauche though it may be, I consume with swooning delight. Reply

  • Jam Bubba
    November 30, 2018 7:14pm

    David,

    I make homemade kombucha and ferment it longer that most, making it very tart and vinegary. I like to mix it with real cranberry juice, but when Sam’s is out I buy Welch’s Concord Grape juice to mix with it. Yum! Reply

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