My favorite thing about visiting my mom and dad is the bounty that you can root out from their yard without hardly any more effort than stepping outside in your bare feet and scrounging around a bit. My mom transplanted a bit of rhubarb from a friend’s garden twenty years ago and like clockwork, every Memorial Day, it’s ready for the picking. Over the weekend I tramped out to the garden and picked a bunch to turn into a tart and sweet rhubarb syrup.
I mixed some into a bourbon cocktail made for enjoying right then and there and poured the rest into an old jar to bring back to Brooklyn. It’ll be good for pouring over ice cream, mixing with seltzer for a fizzy and alcohol-free refreshment, or stirring into tart gin and tonics.
There are as many recipes for rhubarb syrup as there are days in the month of May, but they all rely more or less on sugar, water, and rhubarb stalks. The exact proportions get played with according to taste and habit. I used eight stalks of rhubarb and a cup each of sugar and water for mine and once the rhubarb had melted into pulp, I yielded almost two full cups of syrup. Cut up rhubarb stalks and discard the leaves—they’re decidedly not edible.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1.5 cups rhubarb stalks, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 stalks)
Combine sugar, water, and rhubarb pieces into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer until the fruit has broken down completely and the color from the stalks has leached into the syrup. (This takes about twenty minutes. Depending on the color of your stalks the syrup will range from light pink to a deeper magenta.) Strain your mixture over a fine mesh sieve. (If you’d like, you can save the rhubarb fruit for spooning over ice cream—but a fair warning: it will be a slightly unfortunate color of green.)
Bottled leftovers in a Bonne Maman jar that my mom had saved. This would keep all summer in the refrigerator if we weren’t guaranteed to speed through it before then.
Strawberry Rhubarb Smash
Adapted from Saveur.
Makes one drink.
juice from 1/2 a lemon
3-4 mint leaves
1 ounce rhubarb syrup
1 ounce bourbon
1-2 strawberries, washed and hulled
mint, strawberry, or lilac flower for garnish
(I mixed up a batch of four drinks in one go, but purists will likely want to do the mixing individually.)
Muddle together strawberries, lemon juice, & mint. Top those off with rhubarb syrup and bourbon and shake or stir with ice. Strain into a glass filled with ice (or, go ahead and let some of that strawberry pulp makes its way into the glass, too.) Garnish with mint, strawberry, or tiny lilac flowers, as your heart desires.
Strawberries, mint, and lemon juice, muddled.
Rhubarb syrup and muddled strawberries and mint, ready for combining.
James and I gave my dad a bottle of Widow Jane bourbon (made right here in Brooklyn!) for his birthday that he was kind enough to share with the rest of us.
No cocktail shaker? Never you fear. I mixed up a batch of four drinks in a large beaker instead, and gave the mixture a stir with a spoon before pouring into glasses. No damage done.
The finished product, topped off with a bit of topsy-turvy mint—and a lilac blossom or two, if you remember.
I don’t believe in straining the fruit out of a smash. Not all of it anyway. Let a juicy strawberry or two tumble into your glasses. Consider it dessert.