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liquid sunshine

August 5, 2011

You might not know it yet, but I am obsessed with rhubarb. For a humble vegetable, it’s surprisingly versatile. And while it typically plays Ed McMahon to the Johnny Carson of fruit, strawberries, it has much much more to offer than that. I actually sat down to share our recipe for rhubarb ketchup. The ketchup is this year’s addition to the binder full of rhubarb recipes we pull inspiration from, and the reason we have sworn off store bought ketchup entirely. But then I realized I need to start at the beginning, and the very heart of my rhubarb obsession is the juice. Growing up, my favorite summer rhubarb concoction, hands down, was mom’s homemade rhubarb juice. Rhubarb was always the first thing out of the garden, signaling a start to the summer season. And that juice? It’s the pitch perfect antidote for increasingly warm days. For the height of summer, it freezes into popsicles (or granita) that have the perfect balance of tart & sweet. And now as a grown-up, I’ve discovered it pairs perfectly with a splash of soda water and some rum. With only a set of guidelines to follow instead of harshly exact measurements, it couldn’t be easier to make no matter how much (or little) rhubarb you have on hand. And unlike many recipes that crave the fresh from the market stalks, you can make this with the rhubarb you hoarded and have sitting in the freezer (or is that just me?). As a bonus, the pulp—a byproduct of mom’s method of creating the juice concentrate—can be used to craft a creamy rhubarb butter.

recipes after the jump…

rhubarb juice concentrate

  • diced rhubarb
  • water
  • sugar

In addition to the ingredients, you’ll need a few simple  supplies for this recipe:

  • large strainer/colander
  • a large glass measuring cup
  • clean cheesecloth*
  • some kitchen twine

Put the diced rhubarb in an appropriately sized pot. Add water just about to the 2/3 the height of the rhubarb in the pot. Do not entirely cover it with water. Rhubarb brings alot of water to the party already, add too much more and your concentrate will be too weak.

Bring the rhubarb to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for another 20 minutes.

Strain the resulting rhubarb through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into a large glass measuring cup. Most of the juice will strain through immediately. To get the most out of it, however, it needs a bit of extra time to strain. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth and tie it securely with the twine (think of the handkerchief pouch at that end of a hobo’s stick). Hang the sack over the measuring cup for at least a couple hours (we typically do this in the evening and let it hang overnight). Mom’s low-tech method of hanging the sack o’rhubarb pulp off of one of the upper kitchen cabinet door knobs is still what I do today. For smaller batches, it’s possible to use a jellybag.

When you’re done straining the rhubarb, measure the resulting juice. Add, to taste, 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar for each cup of liquid you have. I’ve found the tart factor of rhubarb differs widely, so go slow with the sugar. (this is also why I prefer this method to the more common approach of adding the sugar before the rhubarb cooked. i like having more control over the tart to sweet factor)

Put the juice/sugar mixture back on the stove and heat to boiling. Boil for 2 – 3 minutes, then remove from heat. (The concentrate can be saved in a jar in the fridge for a couple weeks, or preserved for the next season through your typical hot water bath canning method)

For a rhubarb juice cooler, add a few tablespoons (increase/decrease depending on the strength of your concentrate) to still or bubbly water and serve over ice. To grownup-ify it, add a splash of rum, and, if you are so inclined, mint or basil (herbs pair really well with rhubarb). If you’re using herbs, add a few leaves to the glass & bruise them with the back of a spoon (or muddle them) before adding the ice & liquids.

For popsicles, mix 50/50 with water and freeze in popsicle molds.

* A note about cheesecloth: I prefer to use the variety you can get in a kitchen supply or grocery store. The weave is a bit tighter, so you can typically just double it up and be ok. In a pinch, however, hardware stores carry it (ordinarily in the paint aisle), and that works just as well. The weave is quite a bit looser, however, so I’ve found it necessary to use at least 4 layers to make sure the resulting cheesecloth ‘pouch’ is strong enough to hang the rhubarb in.

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