Martha Washington’s Secret Drink Recipe Isn’t for the Faint of Heart

Former First Lady Martha Washington definitely made herself memorable with this cocktail.

When Martha Washington inherited a handwritten cookbook from her mother-in-law after her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis (sorry, George!), she was bestowed with some pretty unique recipes. Since she’s the most well-known person in history to receive the cookbook, it’s been aptly named Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery.

Among the 550 recipes the cookbook contains—and there’s some seriously good ones—one that stands out is Mrs. Washington’s shrub cocktail.

Psst! These were George Washington’s favorite foods.

What’s a Shrub?

It’s a drink you’ve heard your grandmother talking about but never asked how to make because of the, um, interesting name. A shrub usually contains three common ingredients—sugar, vinegar and fruit—and is known for its acidic flavor. Although they were more popular during the 17th and 18th centuries, they’re seriously underestimated in today’s world.

Martha Washington’s Secret Shrub Recipe

If you’re not a big drinker, Martha Washington’s shrub might hit a little harder than most alcoholic beverages. The tasty-but-strong key ingredients of her concoction include brandy, white wine, sugar and lemons.

Here’s the original recipe:

“Take one quart of brandy and a quart of white wine, and a quart of spring water. Mix them together then slice 3 leamons, and put in with a pound of sugar. Stir these very well, cover yr pot close, and let it stand 3 dayes, stiring it every day. Then strayne it, and bottle it, and crush ye leamons very well inside it.”

Try Crafting Your Own Shrub Cocktail

If you’re brave enough to try Mrs. Washington’s original version, hats off to you! If you’re looking for something a little lighter with the same taste as an authentic shrub cocktail, it’s pretty easy to make—and will only cost you about 10 minutes and a handful of ingredients you probably have around your house.

Start off by making a classic shrub syrup like this one, which uses equal parts water, sugar, vinegar and fruit. You can make it drinkable by adding a little seltzer or soda water, or turn it into a shrub cocktail with some sparkling wine. Cheers!

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Taylor Murphy
Taylor is a food, parenting and health writer. When she's not writing about the newest Oreo flavor or her favorite kitchen appliance, she can be found searching for her next coffee fix or taste-testing recipes with her daughter.