Good Life

Eats & Drinks | Shrub trend has deep local roots

Kim Tait of Tait Farm Foods in Boalsburg makes a wild blueberry shrub August 31, 2015.
Kim Tait of Tait Farm Foods in Boalsburg makes a wild blueberry shrub August 31, 2015. CDT photo

Kim Tait is very pleased these days that the rest of the country has finally caught up to her. Shrub is a hot topic and she has been there, done that for a long time.

According to the San Antonio Cocktail conference held last January, one of the drinking trends to watch for 2015 was the craft cocktail made with shrub — a colonial era concentrate of fruit, sugar and vinegar.

David Tait was way ahead of the curve in 1982 when his first wife, Cindy, played with Betty Groff’s recipe from her iconic “Country Goodness Cookbook” to develop the old-fashioned elixir and created a family favorite.

Initially it served to quench the thirst of the raspberry pickers who came to the 130-acre farm to pick berries.

However, in 1986 those fair-weather pickers didn’t show up because of continued rain and the family cleaned out the bushes and preserved the ripe fruit in vinegar, a time-honored way before refrigeration.

The infused vinegar, when sweetened with sugar, sparked the advent of a new commercial venture for the farm; one that would prove to outlive the mastermind himself.

David Tait succumbed to cancer in 1997 but the Tait Farm Shrub legacy thrives today as the commercial home of The Original Shrub, according to a post on the Beverage Industry website.

“David would be delighted to see how the business has flourished in the past 18 years. We currently have 11 different varieties of shrub, depending on the season. Our new Boalsburg production facility runs year-round and we ship product all over the country. Whole Foods is our biggest account, with all their stores in the mid-Atlantic region stocking our product. We also sell to the 11 Giant Eagle Market District stores in the greater Pittsburgh area, by the palette,” said Kim Tait, David’s second wife, who laughed at being called the CEO, CFO or president of the company, now with 19 employees.

“I’m the chief cook and bottle washer,” she demurred.

The newest flavor of Tait Farm Shrub, Wild Blueberry, launched this summer and is destined to be popular here in the land of the blue and the white.

It is a perfect option for both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages and lends blue-themed tailgates just the right trump card. The flavor is explosively fruit forward, more blueberry flavor than our own local cultivated fruit can deliver.

Tait explained that they used to have a blueberry shrub made with local fruit, but “we weren’t quite happy with the flavor, though many people expressed an interest in that option. What we use for our new flavor is wild blueberries from Maine, which have a much more concentrated flavor. We are committed to not using any flavoring or artificial colors in our products, so those berries fit the bill.”

The term “shrub” is a variant of the word “shurb” from the Arabic word “sharāb” which means “to drink.” Shrub was popular in England in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was a common way to preserve fruits before refrigeration.

The early colonists brought the practice to America, to places like City Tavern in Philadelphia, where Tait Farm Shrub drinks are still on the menu and include a champagne cocktail made with Raspberry Shrub.

Today’s micro-distillery boom is another reason for the steady increase in shrub sales. Distilleries are limited by law to only sell the spirits that they produce in-house, so a wide variety of fruit shrub flavors from Tait Farm makes possible an interesting collection of craft cocktails.

In the quest to consume more of all things local, area bars are featuring Tait Farm Shrubs in a variety of specialty cocktails, as evidenced by the recipe below for a Wild Blue Yonder cocktail developed for GiGi’s Restaurant by Rebecca Larson.

Next on the horizon is the possibility of selling a line of pre-mixed shrub beverages in individual bottles. A test run of the shrub sodas launched this summer and proved very popular.

Will the pleasantly piquant and healthful shrub drinks one day be available next to Coke, Dr. Pepper and Gatorade in soda machines at rest stops on Route 80?

“We’ll see,” laughed Tait, glancing upward. “Who knew we would get this far?”

Tait Farm Shrubs and other products are available at the Harvest Shop at the farm on Route 322, 179 Tait Farm Road, Centre Hall.

The phone number at the farm is 466-3411. The products can also be purchased online at www.TaitFarmFoods.com or at Wegmans, Nature’s Pantry, The Granary, The Cheese Shoppe and many other locations in the State College area.

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