Rhubarb was wildly popular in Victorian England after a new variety was introduced at Queen Victoria’s coronation. The variety, later known as Victoria rhubarb, was easier to grow than previous forms. It was cooked into all sorts of sweets, from pies and fools to jams, jellies and custards. Though technically considered a vegetable, rhubarb is most often treated like a fruit in cooking. Rhubarb is usually combined with sweet flavors to counteract its natural tartness, but it can also be paired with savory dishes alongside cheeses and meat.
Rhubarb is coming into season now in California and I’m starting to see those familiar pinkish-green stalks at the market. I enjoy playing with rhubarb in various dessert and drink preparations. This rhubarb simple syrup is great when mixed into cocktails, but it can also lend a unique flavor to sparkling water or juice. When reduced to a thicker syrup (directions are given below) it can be served over pancakes, waffles or even on top of oatmeal as a seasonal spring alternative to maple syrup.
When shopping for rhubarb, look for stalks that are crisp, bright pink, thin, and clean looking (no damage from insects or disease). The thinner and darker pink the rhubarb is, the sweeter it will be. Avoid stalks that seem too old or slimy. Lighter colored stalks tend to be more tart, which is fine in this recipe since it calls for a good amount of sugar.
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- Rinse the rhubarb clean.
- Remove the ends and chop the rhubarb into small pieces. Place the chopped rhubarb in a medium saucepan.
- Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a medium simmer and let the rhubarb cook for about 20 minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the top.
- After about 20 minutes, the rhubarb will become mushy and will have lost most of its color. The water will be a bright pink/red. Remove from heat. Strain the rhubarb liquid through a fine mesh strainer into another clean pot, separating the rhubarb from the liquid. Because the rhubarb breaks down more than raspberries or strawberries, the resulting liquid will be slightly more opaque.
- Once the rhubarb liquid has been strained, discard the rhubarb. Add 1 ¾ cups of sugar to the rhubarb liquid. Bring back to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar into the syrup. Let the syrup simmer for 5 minutes till the sugar is completely dissolved, skimming any additional foam that rises to the top.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Pour into a glass container, seal and refrigerate. The syrup should last for several weeks.
- Note: If you prefer a thicker syrup for use on pancakes or waffles, you can simmer it for several minutes longer till the liquid reduces and thickens more. The consistency as written is perfect for mixing into beverages.