I’m panicking as I type this, because in researching the topic I’m about to get into here, I’ve just discovered some bad news. With the end of summer comes the end of something I never imagined I’d feel so strongly about: lychee season.
A few months ago, while shopping at the People’s Open Market in Hawai‘i Kai on O‘ahu, I grabbed a bag of the fresh fruit near the register. The man selling them said they had smaller seeds than you might get elsewhere, so I added them to my order. It was only after he thanked me for giving them a try that I realized they were $10 a pound, but too late—that tiny bit of human connection was all I needed to get suckered into coming back for the juicy orbs every week since. Well, that and how fantastic they tasted.
I never cared much for lychee as a kid growing up in Hawaiʻi because I distinctly remember eating those lychee jelly cups on the playground and hating the texture. The little packaged candies floated in our fish tank (don’t ask me how they got there) and seemed like the last thing I'd want to ingest. As an adult, I’ve come across the fruit more as a cocktail ingredient or dessert flavor—always pleasant, never mind-blowing. And then I started getting into shrubs, or drinking vinegars, and everything changed.
It all started with a camping trip. Camping is basically just sleeping at a buffet, and someone brought pickled garlic to our mini hamlet at Mālaekahana on the North Shore. I never thought I’d enjoy eating garlic by the clove, but vinegar can do magical things. Fast forward a couple years: I finally try my hand at my own pickled garlic, among other pickled delights inspired by local author Leonora Ching’s “The Pickle Lady’s Pickle Passion,” and even after filling 12 pint jars with various combinations, I’m still left with more than a gallon of apple cider vinegar. Right around the same time, nonalcoholic drinks surge in popularity and I fall in love with the shrubs on the menu at Piggy Smalls in Honolulu and bottles of it from the Kailua-based Green Witch Apothecary. And what’s their main ingredient? Apple cider vinegar.
So here we are. My pickling hobby dovetailed nicely with my recent shrub obsession when I came across a simple shrub recipe in Richmond Magazine. Cherry was lovely, strawberry was quite nice, and lychee was oh-my-god-where-have-you-been-all-my-life amazing.
Unfortunately, $10 a pound is steep. But during the strange period in our history, I’m mostly staying close to home, unwilling to venture out to various shops and markets to hunt for the best price. I sent a very strongly worded Instagram message to my friend in Los Angeles when she posted a picture of sweet supermarket lychee for $1.99 a pound. But whatever, I keep telling myself, the lychee from my market tastes wonderful and has! tiny! seeds! You don’t leave Chris Evans to look for Chris Pratt.
My weekly summer routine involved a trip to the market followed by an afternoon peeling and pitting dozens of fruits, then pouring my concoction into old pickle jars that will never not smell like vinegar, anyway. I keep the spent fruit to mix into yogurt, topped with crunchy oat crumble. So at least those $10 go a long way. Turning fruit into a shrub is supposed to help preserve it long past the season, but I drink it every day with sparkling mineral water over ice and by Saturday, I’m starting from scratch again.
Here’s a basic recipe I’ve adapted for the perfect shrub. It’s all about ratios and easy to scale up or down.
(Note: Shrubs are usually made by fermenting fruit before adding vinegar, but I’m not confident or adventurous enough to leave out room-temperature food on the counter for a few days. In THIS heat?? The hot process, below, works great and takes less than half an hour.)
- 1 pound fruit, cut into pieces
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar (I prefer Heinz)
Start by making a simple syrup: Combine water and sugar in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add fruit (peeled and pitted, if necessary) and simmer until fruit looks tired and the syrup becomes the color of the fruit. Add vinegar and bring back up to a simmer. Remove from heat and let cool.
Strain shrub into a jar. Make sure to squeeze as much juice from the fruit as possible. Keep it as a topping for yogurt or ice cream (or eat it straight—the lychee is really nice while still warm). Refrigerate.
To serve, mix approximately 1 part shrub to 4 parts sparkling water. I like mine stronger and use a ratio of about 1 to 3. Or you can add it to cocktails—I bet gin would be a great complement!
Katrina Valcourt is the managing editor of HONOLULU Magazine, our sister publication, where she’s worked since 2013. In her spare time she throws pots, sews sock squids and pickles anything she can get her hands on. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @heykatrinajoy.