Turning a garden favourite into your favourite tipple is easy and rewarding, says Clare Hunt.
Fruity though it may seem, rhubarb is, in fact, a vegetable. And while it traces its ancient origins to Asia and Siberia, it’s very much a favourite in British gardens these days. The tough, deep-green leaves are poisonous (so don’t go there) but the face-screwingly sour stalks are enjoyed in puddings and tarts or, more adventurously, with oily fish or rich meats.
Admittedly, the flavour isn’t a universal favourite: it takes a lot of sweetness to balance out the astringent sourness. And then there’s the furry teeth situation, caused by the high levels of oxalic acid in the skin of the rhubarb stems.
But these are minor problems. The complex apple-gooseberry flavour and distinctive aromatic undertones make rhubarb unique. And (as with many things in life) throwing sugar and gin at it creates spectacular results. If you’re used to making an infusion with super-sour sloes, prepare to switch things up and meet your new favourite summer drink.
- 1 litre British gin (we used Tanqueray)
- 1kg fresh rhubarb stalks
- 500g white granulated sugar
- 500ml water
- Top and tail your rhubarb stalks then quickly rinse them before roughly chopping. Weigh the rhubarb and measure the sugar and water accordingly.
- Add everything to a preserving pan or large saucepan and simmer gently for about half an hour. Cover the pan with foil or a lid to stop too much liquid evaporating. Meanwhile, in a very low oven, sterilise either a large clip-top jar or smaller bottles. Make sure you remove any rubber seals.
- When the rhubarb is soft and collapsing, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly. Test the juice for sweetness – if it’s too sour for your taste, add some more sugar and briefly simmer the fruit again to let it dissolve.
- Using a fine sieve suspended over a bowl, strain the liquid from the pulp. Resist the temptation to mash the pulp through the sieve: this will result in cloudy syrup. Take your time and let the liquid drip through.
- Keep the rhubarb pulp to have later – it’s delicious with sharp, natural yoghurt or (of course) custard.
- Measure the volume of syrup in your jug. Add the same volume of gin and stir through to combine.
- Decant into your sterilised jar or bottles. Store in a dark place. Then enjoy!
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