Almost fourteen years ago my son was born in Minneapolis, on a freezing day in May. When we took him home for the first time, I remember carefully treading my way along the walkway from the garage to the side door. Carefully because I was still wobbly from an emergency C-section, but also because the ground was patched with ice and clods of snow.
Hard to believe it was a spring day, but it was. The scarlet stalks poking out of the frozen ground in my neighbor’s yard were proof of that. Unlike many humans, rhubarb needs cold weather to thrive. Every season for the handful of years I lived in the Upper Midwest the sight of that rhubarb coming up was the first hopeful sign of spring, appearing weeks before trees budded and flowers bloomed. I haven’t lived next door to a rhubarb patch since then, and I still regret I never “borrowed” some.
Locally grown rhubarb will start coming into the market very soon and I’m looking forward to baking it into a simple tart with strawberries, and trying a recipe for raw sweet rhubarb topping I saw in one of my favorite new books, A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus. Until then, I’m watching magnolia flowers fade and drop to the ground, as dogwood and lilacs are in full bloom.
I made syrup from a small bunch of rhubarb I found at Whole Foods. I love the infusion of color it gives to a drink, along with a sweet, tart earthiness that seems to marry perfectly with slightly bitter herbal notes found in dry vermouth. I’m not a fan of sweet-sweet cocktails, so this concoction hit the spot for me.
The leftover rhubarb pulp doesn’t look as pretty as the syrup, kind of sludgy and puce-colored, but it does taste delicious stirred into yogurt or a bowl of creamy oats so it’s definitely worth saving.
The Rhubarb Syrup recipe will yield more than enough for 4 drinks. Double the batch for a party. Stir extra syrup into sparkling water for a virgin cocktail or pour over fresh strawberries and yogurt.
- Rhubarb Syrup:
- 1/2 pound rhubarb, chopped
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1 long strip of lemon or orange peel
- Juice of 1/2 a lime, plus thinly sliced lime for garnish
- 2 ounces ice cold gin
- 2 ounces dry white vermouth
- 2 ounces rhubarb syrup
- Dash of bitters (Peychauds is my favorite)
- Make the syrup: Combine rhubarb, sugar, water and peel in a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat and cook until rhubarb is broken down and tender, 15 - 20 minutes. Pour the mixture through a strainer set over a bowl to let the syrup run through. Stir gently to expedite the process, but try not to push too hard or the solids will cloud the syrup. Cool before using. Refrigerate for a up to week or two.
- Combine ingredients for cocktail in a shaker with ice cubes. Shake vigorously and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with lime wheel.