In my continuing quest to embrace seasonal spring produce as soon as it arrives, I have discovered a wonderful way to use rhubarb.
This perennial plant produces large leaves with fleshy, edible stalks. The stalks tend to be bitter, and are generally stewed into a compote or cooked down and used in pies, crumbles and other desserts.
Full disclosure: I have never been a huge fan of rhubarb, but was given a bundle last week by a neighbor whose ailing husband was the recipient of a quart of my chicken soup. She had a bunch from a relative’s garden and offered it to me as a thank you.
I began researching ways to use it — not thrilled with the labor required for compote, pies or crumbles — for an ingredient that I was not enthusiastic about, but I felt guilty discarding since it was a gift.
Then I stumbled upon rhubarb juice. The photos were gorgeous: Most looked like natural version of Hawaiian Punch. It involved minimal effort — basically boil and strain. And the descriptions claimed that the resulting juice resembled homemade lemonade. Win-win-win.
My version was a bit paler than the online photos I saw. My guess is that the color varies significantly with the rhubarb, and my stalks were more green than red. This may have accounted for my need to add sugar; recipes were about 50-50 on this, so my suggestion is to make the juice first, taste it and then decide whether to sweeten.
The day after I made the juice, my British friend stopped by my house. I offered her refreshment and she requested something cold — when I told her I had rhubarb juice she was elated: “It’s huge in the U.K., we use it all the time. Keeps you regular.” I was not aware of that benefit, but the juice was delicious, and I shall keep that in mind should the need arise. I shall also keep a keen eye out for rhubarb in local markets.
I drank mine over ice with a sprig of mint, but another friend, also a fan of rhubarb (who knew?) spiked hers with a shot of gin and a wedge of lime. It would complement vodka, rum or tequila nicely, too.
Makes about three quarts
6 stalks rhubarb
12 cups water
¾ cup simple syrup if needed (recipe follows)
- Cut the rhubarb into one-inch slices.
- Place the rhubarb in a large pot with 12 cups water
- Bring it to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Pour the liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a glass bowl or pitcher. Press on the solids to squeeze out the liquid; discard the solids. Allow the juice to sit for about 20 minutes; this will cause the solid bits to sink to the bottom — sort of how the sediment settles in a bottle of red wine. “Decant” the juice into a pitcher, leaving the sediment behind.
- Taste the juice; it should be pleasantly tart, but not overly bitter. If it is bitter, add ¾ cup (more or less to taste) simple syrup to the juice. Chill and enjoy.
Makes ¾ cup
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
Bring the mixture to a boil until the sugar dissolves. Remove it from the heat and use as desired.