Book 19 in our cook-through project is The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss. As the subtitle, “A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping,” suggests, the book is a seasonally organized collection of recipes for foods and preserves and formulas for homemade cleaning products and toiletries. One of Kate’s sisters gave her a copy for Christmas, and we have both been looking through it and bookmarking things we want to make for the past few months. When it coincided alphabetically with the bumper rhubarb crop from our garden, it was obvious that we needed to start with the recipe for rhubarb syrup.
As with fruit syrups generally, it couldn’t have been simpler. The recipe has instructions for canning the finished syrup and processing it in a hot water bath to make it shelf stable, but, since it was a tester batch, which I figured we’d go through pretty quickly, I decided to cut the recipe in half and just refrigerate it.
The first step was cutting about a pound of rhubarb stalks into one inch chunks. Remember, rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so, if you are harvesting your own rhubarb, just bring in the stalks and put the leaves in the compost bin. Kate did some research and assures me that it’s safe to compost rhubarb leaves. Just don’t eat them.
Combine the chopped rhubarb in a medium sized saucepan with two cups of water and one and a half cups of sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft. Strain the the syrup through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a one quart measuring cup. When all of the liquid has drained through the sieve, gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and give it a gentle squeeze over the sieve to extract a bit more of the syrup. Stir two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice into the rhubarb syrup and it’s ready to pour into a jar, or jars, to store in the fridge until your are ready to use it.
But don’t throw away that rhubarb purée that’s left in your cheesecloth! It is delicious on its own to eat like applesauce. Kate and I added ours to our yogurt the next few mornings. It was an outstanding treat for breakfast, and we were sad when it was gone.
What do you do with the rhubarb syrup, you ask? If you know us at all, you’ll know that our plan is to use it in cocktails. Though not a cocktail, our first highly successful use was just to add an ounce or so to a glass of plain sparkling water and ice for a slightly sweet and tart homemade rhubarb soda. It was really refreshing and tasty.
We started our cocktail experimentation with a recipe for a French 75 variant that Erica Strauss included in her book, but I found her recipe unbalanced and felt that the rhubarb flavor was too muted. We came up with our own version we’re quite happy with that I’ve dubbed a Rhubarb Artillery Punch: shake one ounce each of London Dry Gin and rhubarb syrup along with three dashes of rhubarb bitters, if you have some, with ice and strain into a coupe or Nick and Nora glass. Top with three ounces of sparking wine, preferably brut, and enjoy. We have a rhubarb bitters how-to in progress, so watch this space to learn how to make you own.
We declare the rhubarb syrup a success and will be making a larger batch to can so we can have a taste of Spring through the rest of the year. Here’s a video we made to help you make a batch yourself.
Up next: Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook.