“Behind Every Great Shrub, There’s a Great Mother (or Four or Five)”
A New Producer Profile on Mother Shrub
It turns out that Meredyth Archer is not the only “mother” associated with her award-winning business, Mother Shrub. To being with, there’s the “mother” (or the fermentation sediment) in the bottom of each bottle. It’s there because Mother Shrub uses top-quality ingredients, including organic apple cider vinegar from White House Foods in Winchester, VA. This vinegar is raw and unpasteurized, so it ferments to create the mother that grows in the bottle, lending a little gut-healthy microbial matter to each bottle of Mother Shrub.
Meredyth makes her shrubs right here in Goochland. We’re pleased to offer it on Fall Line Farms and Local Roots, our non-profit online market, because it fits so well with our other offerings. Anything that’s both delicious and LOCAL is right up our alley! It’s also handmade in small batches with the kind of attention to craft and creativity.
You’ll find several delicious flavors on our pages, perfect for cocktails and mocktails. Currently, Mother Shrub offers Cranberry, Grapefruit, Lime, Ginger, Black Cherry, and Salted Honey shrubs on the FLF&LR buying pages. According to Meredyth, her shrubs are easy to mix, and she describes them as “familiar flavors with an unexpected taste.” Don’t worry about which one to try first. You just can’t go wrong!
Meredyth constantly creates new recipes and comes up with suggestions for using her shrubs to complement other foods and beverages. But that’s not the only creative challenge she faces; it turns out that shrub-making itself is an art. Meredyth says, “I’ve learned by doing, and I feel good about where I am now. The flavor needs to be pretty consistent, and that’s the hard part. I’ve managed to figure that out. Mostly. Sometimes my ginger has little chunks of ginger in it, sometimes not—I worry about things like that.”
Despite Meredyth’s concern, the ginger shrub sells like hotcakes. (It sold out on our list last week.) Neither the ginger bits nor the mother in the bottom seems to deter people’s hankering for this delicious stuff! In fact, Mother Shrub has received accolades both locally and across the nation. The Salted Honey shrub has been featured on Bon Appétit’s Healthyish blog and on the web by The Kitchn, a web-based food magazine with a huge following. It’s also had a great mention—with an interview—on Public Radio’s popular food show, The Splendid Table. The Grapefruit shrub also won recognition from the Good Food Foundation, an organization that advocates for small food businesses and healthy food systems. [Links provided below.]
Mother Shrub has plenty of stories and a lot of family history behind it, including a long list of strong and influential women--literal mothers--who each have inspired Meredyth and undergirded her success in significant ways. Her West Virginia childhood, which Meredyth remembers fondly, had a huge influence on her.
“I was so lucky!” declares Meredyth Archer. “I had three grandmothers into my twenties. Three great examples and three great teachers. They were basically our after-school care when I was growing up. My parents worked, so these women took care of us if one of us was sick and couldn’t go to school. We loved going to see them, because there was always someone home at one of their houses, and we knew where they kept all the cookies and candy. We could just ride our bikes any time we wanted and walk right in. They taught me how to sew and cook. Such amazing women!”
“My grandmother on my mother’s side—her name was Mattie Ardenia—used to give us vinegar mixed with honey to cure everything,” says Meredyth. “She made shrubs. She was our back-up daycare when we were sick, because my mother worked. She’d make us drink vinegar with honey in it.”
Meredyth laughs, saying ,“Maybe that concoction was to cure us, but I suspect that maybe it was also to make sure we were really sick! It wasn’t until years later that I developed a taste for it and started making my own from an old recipe I found that reminded me of her. My salted honey version is close to hers.”
Also important in her life were her great-grandmother Myrna and her paternal grandmother, Ella Mae, who was a home economics teacher in Dunbar, West Virginia. Meredyth says, “Ella Mae had apple trees. We all helped make apple butter and apple sauce on the weekends there. I remember running around barefoot under the apple trees as a kid and running over the rotten apples. We helped cook everything at her house. These were powerful women, determined to do what needed to be done! At the age of 90, Myrna was out tarring her driveway.”
Another huge influence was Meredyth’s own mother, Martha Walker, who has recently retired and who still lives in Charleston, West Virginia with Meredyth’s dad. Martha just turned 80, and those eight decades have been full of impressive accomplishments.
“My mother is six feet tall,” says Meredyth, “and people used to call her ‘six feet of rompin’, stompin’ hell’ because she knew how to get stuff done. She was in speech therapy and audiology, and she also owned a gift shop. She was a well-respected politician in the state of West Virginia, too—she recently retired, having once served as the Secretary of Health and Human Services for the state.”
Meredyth is careful to point out that it isn’t only the women in her family who’ve had an influence on her creativity and success. Her father also owned and ran a small business, so her parents were a double whammy in providing her with the entrepreneurial genes. Her oldest son actually came up with the name “Mother Shrub ” for her business. Her husband, Fielding Archer, is a fine artist who has been instrumental in designing her beautiful, eye-catching label: “Fielding drew the drawing of the sun and the trees and fruit that started it all. He included the sun because my nickname growing up was Sunny—Mattie Ardenia and her sisters used to call me that because they said I was a ray of sunshine. That crazy sun has become my logo now! Also, Fielding hand letters the words. He’s also done all of my cocktail recipe illustrations. I was struggling to take photos that I liked. He came up with the watercolor illustrations that you see on my website and my recipe cards.”
Like her mothers before her, the creator of Mother Shrub is intrepid and entrepreneurial. “ When I started, I had a lot of passion and a good work ethic, but I was learning as I went,” Meredyth admits. “For my first food and beverage show—the Virginia Department of Agriculture show—I took some cranberry shrub. I didn’t even have a web site up yet. But I won an award. I’ve just kind of taken it from there. I have been lucky in being able to use all of my work and life experiences to build Mother Shrub into a business that I can be proud of. ”
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a quick pivot for Mother Shrub, which was the shift toward selling online through organizations like FLF&LR. “I was doing a lot of events, wholesale shows, and selling through brick-and-mortar retail outlets. When all this happened, some orders were cancelled. I had to rethink my approach. It had been in the back of my mind to work with you for years.”
“I am very happy with sales on FLF&LR. There are definitely more people buying online right now. I have loved seeing how people hear about me online. My shrub goes out to Boston, Los Angeles, and tons of other places across the country. This current situation lets me revisit the local food scene. After all, it’s the support of the local community that helped me start my stuff. I feel like it’s all come full circle.”
Talk about special ingredients! Combine five strong mothers (Meredyth, Martha, Mattie Ardenia, Ella Mae, and Myrna), a couple of strong and brilliant men (Meredyth’s dad, her sons, and her husband Fielding), that magical fermented vinegar mother, a good helping of inspiration, a 19th-century recipe, some fascinating family history, organic pressed fruit juice, and organic raw sugar and you have the result: a set of shrubs that’s become popular not only here in Virginia, but across the country. Once you try Mother Shrub, you’ll see why.
To learn more about our Fall Line Farms and Local Roots non-profit online market, or to sign up for a membership, click here.
To visit the Mother Shrub webpage, where you’ll find great recipes for using this delicious shrub, click here.
To read more about the awards and accolades garnered by Mother Shrub, you can follow these links: