Fresh rhubarb from the 'farmacy'

When we last visited my parents, my dad gave me some sticks of rhubarb from the giant plant in his vegetable patch that had gone a bit nutty while they were on holiday. We’re big fans of rhubarb in our house, but although we have a plant in a container, I have yet to establish it in the garden. Rhubarb grows in a container, but it never reaches its full potential, so it will have to be planted out as soon as possible. We’re such big rhubarb fans that I’m considering adding a second plant to our rhubarb family – perhaps Rhubarb ‘Livingstone’, a variety that bucks the normal rhubarb trend and crops in the autumn – meaning 2 rhubarb harvests in one year! Or the new and equally exciting Rhubarb ‘Poulton’s Pride’, which has been bred to crop for 10 months of the year! I don’t know how they have achieved this wonder, and how much you have to feed the plant to make it happen, but it certainly sounds like the best bet for people who love rhubarb and only have space for one plant.

Anyway, my fevered rhubarb dreams have caused me to digress. We were given rhubarb, and I decided to use it in a culinary experiment and make a Shrub. Whilst not at all familiar to UK readers, Shrubs, or drinking vinegars have a long history in the US. And if you think that drinking vinegar sounds like a very odd thing to do, then trust me – I thought so too!

Shrubs are basically cordials – sweet, flavoured syrups with vinegar. The addition of the vinegar means they last – it’s a form of preservation. And gives the drink a tang which is surprisingly addictive. They’re quick and easy to make, although it does mean your house will smell like vinegar for a while. And everything will be sticky.

Sliced rhubarb

To being with, wash, dice and weight your rhubarb. My haul from dad’s garden weighed in at 1.4kg. You’ll need about a cup (236ml) of both red wine vinegar and sugar per kilo or rhubarb. In my case, 300ml of each.

Pop all 3 ingredients into a pan and stir over a medium heat until it starts to boil – then turn it down to a simmer and stir regularly for about 10 minutes (it will depend on the quantity and freshness of your rhubarb) until you’ve basically got rhubarb mush.

Turn off the heat. At this point it’s a good idea to pop a lid on the pan and leave it to cool, because the next step is straining off the liquid into a bottle. I used a fine mesh strainer, and didn’t find that stirring or pushing the mush helped – you don’t want strands of rhubarb ending up in your drink.

Rhubarb shrub

Once your shrub has chilled, it’s ready to drink – and will last in the fridge for quite some time (a month on, ours is still lovely). To drink it, you dilute it like a cordial; we started with fizzy water and then moved on to Diet Lemonade to just take the edge off the tang. It was so nice that we turned it into a cocktail 🙂

A Shrubbery
1 measure lavender-infused vodka*
1 measure Rhubarb shrub
Lemonade and ice to fill a tall glass

A Shrubbery is a nice, grown-up drink for a hot summer afternoon or an evening barbecue. And yes, that is a Monty Python joke 😉

If you don’t have lavender-infused vodka (I made mine, so long ago now that I don’t really remember… it had been languishing, waiting for a use) then use plain or experiment with different flavours – rose goes nicely with rhubarb, as would vanilla.

Making Rhubarb shrub leaves you with a lot of sweet and vinegary rhubarb pulp leftover, and Kitchen Womble has been finding ways to use that – rather than throw it away – so watch this space to find out how that works out!