There's a crate I've been avoiding at the farmer's market.
It's full of pink-hued long stalks that look kind of like Swiss chard, and also somehow remind me of celery. They look stringy and sour, are rumored to have poisonous leaves and be incredibly tart....kids jam the cut ends into bowls of sugar and then gnaw on them, apparently. Not in my childhood, however. We grow and eat the fruits and stems of a lot of pretty gnarly plants in the desert (Nopales? Prickly pear fruits? Those I will happily nom on), but rhubarb is a cold-winter-loving plant that never made it as far south as the growing zone of my childhood home. Thus, I never even saw a rhubarb stalk until about two years ago.
But rhubarb's got two things going for it. One, it's been a long, long six-month winter break around here without the farmer's market, and now that the weekly stalls and trucks have reappeared for the season the boyfriend and I have been falling on them like a pack of starving hyenas. Subsisting on preserves and the limited pleasures of watery supermarket fruit has been okay (First World Problems, guys, I know), but I'm ravenous for some real, in-season fruit goodness. And the first official fruit-like substance (technically a vegetable, but why argue over semantics?) to show up in any market is rhubarb.
Or 'RuhBa', as it is apparently known in my neighborhood.
The other thing rhubarb has going for it in my world is pie (not surprisingly, since rhubarb was dubbed 'pie plant' in Laura Ingalls Wilder's day and before). More specifically, the catchy little jingle from A Prairie Home Companion that is the first thing that always comes to mind whenever rhubarb is mentioned.
'Wouldn't this be a good time for a piece of Rhubarb Pie?' Garrsion Keillor intones from the radio. 'Yes, nothing gets the taste of shame and humiliation out of your mouth like Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie....'
'Damn straight it would, Garrison!' I reply cheerfully, humming bee-bop-a-ree-bop-Rhubarb-Piiiiiiie.
Yep, I know, I really ought to get out more.
Besides, look how beautiful they are in a bouquet of tender whole carrots! More gorgeous than roses.
So, even though I was unfamiliar with it, rhubarb pie has always been on my mind. The other night at a restaurant, I was served a lovely slice of rhubarb tart to end the meal. It was like a simple deconstruction of rhubarb pie, a golden square of puff pastry on which rested a hefty spoonful of poached rhubarb, surrounded by a drizzle of creme fraiche. It was delicious: buttery flakiness punctuated by warm mouthfuls of soft, tart fruit. And it got me a bit obsessed with the tangy, elusive vegetable-fruit in earnest this time. I was determined to make not a pie, or even a deconstructed tart, but the simplest thing I could think of that would allow me to enjoy the fruit directly (without jamming stalks of it into a bowl of sugar and chewing, because, no)......a rhubarb syrup.
Using this method from The Kitchn, I combined 4 cups of rhubarb (slice the stalks into 1/2" segments, but discard the scary leaves) with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for about 20 minutes. The fruit will begin to soften and fall apart, and the mixture will thicken slightly into syrup and become a brilliant pink.
After 20 minutes, remove pan from heat and place a mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl. Strain the mixture through the mesh, pressing on the leftover fruit solids with the back of a spoon to extract more of the syrup. Once all the liquid is in the bowl, chill completely and then pour into an airtight container (like an adorable ceramic-stoppered glass bottle) and refrigerate.
The nice thing about recipes like this is that nothing needs to go to waste. After straining, the leftover sweetened fruit is fantastic as a jam-like spread for toast, or just eating with a spoon like applesauce (not gonna lie, totally did this while standing in the kitchen).
I ended up with about a cup and a half of finished syrup, and a little less than a cup of leftover fruit 'jam'.
Pour chilled rhubarb syrup into club soda or seltzer to make a fabulously pink soda (I know, what is it with me and the bright pinkness at the moment? I think it's a spring thing), about one part syrup to three parts soda. I'd love to try this in prosecco or any other sparkling wine....or maybe some of these cocktail recipes? Enjoy it while you can, because rhubarb season will be over in a few more weeks!