I won’t forget the first time that I was in France as a young teenager and I witnessed kids my age pouring mint syrup into flat tap water at a sidewalk café. The result was green water the color of a gemstone. The taste like mouthwash minus the alcohol. The entire ritual was baffling to this American girl.
I’m still not the world’s biggest fan of syrups added to flat water, but when there’s a little sparkle—some bubbles for all of that flavor to bounce around in—I’m sold. Enter the spritzer.
The most delightful springtime spritzers have started to appear on menus across the city in the past few weeks and I couldn’t be more delighted. Pleased as punch. I’ve seen rosewater spritzers, rhubarb and rosewater spritzers. I’m already imagining strawberry and basil spritzers. Sour cherry spritzers? Yes, please. If you ask me, nothing makes a gathering—or an ordinary Saturday afternoon—festive like a the addition of a syrup or two to add to sparkly things.
Last week, I made a variation on the theme, but instead of rosewater, I used edible flowers that are in season: my beloved lilacs.
Lilac season is so fleeting, it makes me want to gobble the blossoms whole to avoid missing out. And so. I scoped a bunch of lilacs at the market on Saturday, double-checking with the farmer that the little beauties were safe for eating. Finding that they were, I hunted for the most fragrant bunch in the bucket and came home with an armload of purple blossoms and a few stalks of rhubarb.
Rhubarb sliced into small pieces.
I followed the same basic recipe that I used to make my rhubarb syrup last May: about 1.5 cups of rhubarb (my stalks were significantly longer this go-round and I only used 4), a cup of water, and a cup sugar. This time I added a large handful of lilac blossoms to the mix and a few peels of lemon rind to keep things interesting.
The result is the same super vibrant syrup that turns into the perfect shade of light pink when it gets poured into water with ice.
Rhubarb and lilac flowers.
The lilac fragrance is subtle enough to be enjoyable—too much and I fear it would be called soapy. With a few lilac blossoms sprinkled onto the top as garnish, the heady floral scent gets you right where you want it, in the nose. And besides, who can resist a flowery flourish?
Rhubarb and Lilac Syrup
Here’s what you need:
1.5 cups rhubarb, washed and sliced
1 cup granulated cane sugar
1 cup water
1 large handful of lilac blossoms removed from the stem
2 small segments of lemon peel, taking care not to include too much pith.
Here’s what to do:
Combine sugar, water, rhubarb, lilac and lemon peel 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. I used cheesecloth this time, but it’s not strictly necessary. Whatever you don’t gulp straightaway, you can pour into a clean jar and keep refrigerated. It’ll last a very long time in the fridge, but not if I get to it first.
Very roughly measured ingredients.
Lilac blossoms removed from the stem and leaves.
Rhubarb, lilacs, and granulated sugar.
Plus a few lemon rinds for good measure.
Straining the rhubarb.
Rhubarb and lilac syrup, strained.
Rhubarb and Lilac Spritzer.
If not in sparkling water, the syrup would be just right in a summery gin cocktail or a cold glass of lemonade. It would be just right drizzled over vanilla ice cream. You wouldn’t be wrong to use it to drench a slice of pound cake or a bowl of strawberries.