It’s that glorious, burgeoning, green time of year and we’re all itching to get into the garden if we haven’t already. A sure sign of spring is the rhubarb first poking its red heads through the soil and then unfurling elephantine green leaves, slender red stalks a flash of colour. It’s the first crop of the new growing season, and if you’re lucky enough to have some maybe you’ve already been able to plunder it, depending on where you live.
A friend gave us a clump last fall which we planted next to the fence, and I’m eager to harvest this year’s crop. Yesterday I couldn’t resist cutting a few stalks, but I want them to mature more before taking any more. I augmented the freshly picked stalks with the last of the rhubarb I froze last year and made a rhubarb syrup. A deep blushing pink, it’s sweet with a hint of rhubarb’s mouth-puckering tang. It would be lovely drizzled over ice cream, added to a glass of fizzy water or incorporated into a cocktail as I did today.
And, once the syrup has been made, don’t throw away the pulpy remainders which are, in fact, a simple compote. It would be good on ice cream (in my books pretty much everything is good on ice cream), spread on toast or added to muffins. I don’t have a photo of it because I ate it once I put the syrup in the fridge to cool (cook’s treat).
The essence of simplicity, all you need to do to make one cup of rhubarb syrup is chop 2 cups of rhubarb, put it in a pan with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar, and heat over low heat until the rhubarb has cooked down. Press it through a sieve, and voila!
You can control the sweetness level by adding the sugar in stages. I found the syrup just a bit sweet for my taste; I noticed that my frozen rhubarb wasn’t as tart as the fresh, so that might be the reason. Nonetheless, next time I’ll start with 1/3 cup sugar, taste after the rhubarb is cooked down and adjust to my liking.
A rhubarb cocktail is a refreshing way to celebrate the arrival of spring. Here are two very simple ones that I made, variations on the classic Gin and Tonic, my all-time summer favourite.
Toss a few ice cubes in a rocks glass. Pour over one jigger of gin and one of rhubarb syrup. Top up with tonic water. Easy peasy; you’ll be toasting your rhubarb crop in no time.
Rhubarb & Lime Gin Fizz
If you’re feeling a little fancier, or just want to tone your upper arms by using the shaker, you might want to make this version of the cocktail. Put a scoop of ice cubes in a shaker, add equal parts gin and rhubarb syrup and spritz in a good squeeze of lime juice. Shake, shake, shake, then pour into a glass and top with tonic water. Garnish with a lime slice.