Oddly enough, I eat a lot of local fruit this time of year. Especially rhubarb. Every spring and summer we freeze a large quantity of chopped rhubarb stalks. The following April it suddenly occurs to me that in a few weeks there will be fresh rhubarb popping up in the backyard, and that I should probably use up last year’s harvest before that time comes.
Think of the following posts as either a way to clear the freezer of last year’s fruit, or as a way of looking forward to the new fruit on its way.
Sticklers will insist that this drink isn’t really shrub.
Shrub is an old-timey North American drink, traditionally a reduction of fruit juice and vinegar stirred into cold water or soda. It is a fantastic thirst quencher in hot weather: think lemonade, only made with, say, berries. Shrub and similar drinks like switchel have historic connections to late summer and harvest time, when they were especially appreciated by labourers working in the fields.
If using tart fruit like rhubarb, I forgo the vinegar. I have an old recipe book that does the same with raspberries, and still calls the drink “shrub,” even though it doesn’t contain vinegar.
To get a flavourful but crystal clear drink from rhubarb I chop the stems, steep them in hot water for several hours, then strain gently, without pressing down on the fruit mash. Pressing the mash or puréeing some of the fruit will make for a muddy drink.
This steeping-straining method is identical to a classic French preparation called eau de rhubarbe, or rhubarb water, which is not an appetizing term to English ears.
This is a fantastic way to process large amounts of rhubarb. The modern gastronome probably won’t want to chug this drink as was done in the days of yore to slake a rugged farmer’s thirst. I suggest serving one well-chilled ounce at the start of a meal. It’s a fantastic way to contemplate the cheerful flavour of our most under-valued “fruit.”
Master Ratio – 1:1 rhubarb, water
- 26 oz fresh rhubarb, chopped
- 26 oz fresh cold water
- 3 oz granulated sugar or quality honey (you may need to adjust this amount depending on the acidity of your rhubarb)
- Put the rhubarb in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat. Let stand at least a few hours, preferably overnight.
- Pass through a fine mesh strainer (ideally a chinois). Let the liquid drip through on it’s own. Do not press on the rhubarb to extract more liquid, as this will cloud the finished product.
- Add the sugar and heat gently on the stove while stirring until sugar dissolves.
- Bottle and chill thoroughly before serving.
1. I know that botanically rhubarb is not a fruit. I know it’s a vegetable, and that tomatoes and cucumbers and pumpkins are fruits and that strawberries aren’t really berries. I don’t care.