Monday, May 23, 2011

rhubarb syrup

my friend jen and i made the arduous journey to portland's famous saturday farmers' market yesterday to partake of spring's bounty. well, it wasn't that arduous a journey, but i did take the bus there, so that's something.

anyway, the market is a huge tourist and family attraction and it was sort of crazy-making for people who just want to buy produce. i liked the variety of things available, but i don't think i will go again soon because there are lots of other markets here that aren't so insanely crowded. but i got a ton of wonderful stuff that will be showing up in things here this week.*

one of the things about which i was most excited is rhubarb. it is at its best right now and i bought over two pounds and already made it into a rhubarb-pineapple crumble, which will be posted soon, and this simple rhubarb-vanilla syrup, which is good on practically everything.

rhubarb syrup is dead easy and requires like 5 minutes of your attention (though it cooks for longer than that, of course).

wash however much rhubarb you want to use - i used four medium stalks and ended up with perhaps a cup and a half of syrup.

cut off the ends (and be sure to get rid of any leaves - they're kind of poisonous!) and slice the stalks crosswise into thin crescent-y coins - perhaps 1/8 - 1/4 inch or so (though it all breaks down anyway, so it really doesn't matter how thin they are, as long as they aren't like 2 inches long or something).

put in a saucepan with (in this case) about 1 1/2 cups water and about 1 cup sugar. this is also kind of to taste, although you want to use enough sugar to make the texture syrupy, so i wouldn't use much less. i happened to have some vanilla sugar already, since after i use vanilla beans i rinse them and put them in a thing of sugar - they add their remaining flavor and perfume as it sits. i also put the vanilla bean in with the rhubarb at this point, but it really isn't a big deal - don't go out and buy a vanilla bean or anything - this was really just because i had it around. if you really want a little vanilla flavor you can also add a splash (maybe a teaspoon) of vanilla extract at the end, before it goes in the fridge.

so - you have your cut-up rhubarb, sugar, water, and perhaps vanilla bean in a saucepan. turn the burner on high and when the mixture boils (as it will, as long as you are not watching it too closely), turn it down to medium-low and let it cook down for about 20 minutes or so, until the rhubarb breaks down - stir occasionally - maybe 3-4 times as it cooks. i usually use the back of a wooden spoon to kind of smoosh the rhubarb against the walls of the pan - it makes it break down faster (or seems to).

once it is all broken down, many people strain it through a sieve or cheesecloth or whatever so you end up with a lovely clear pinky-red syrup. i am lazy and i also don't really see the need for this, so i just let it cool and pour it in old jars to keep in the fridge. it should keep quite a while - at least a week or so. i think if you strain the solids out it would probably keep longer - like several weeks, but i just make smaller batches and don't bother with the straining.

you could probably freeze it as well - maybe in ice cube trays. that might be nice for keeping it longer, but frankly i just can't be bothered.

there are so many possible uses for this delightful syrup - experiment!

i use it on greek yogurt in the morning, mix it into club soda or sparkling water for rhubarb sodas, have it over pancakes or in cereal, or add it to cocktails for a springtime treat.

you can also eat it out of the jar while looking guiltily around to see if anyone is watching and judging you.

the solids from the rhubarb could also be smeared over toast or an english muffin. possibilities!

this is an easy and delicious way to enjoy spring's finest red stalks.

*ingredients (can be scaled up or down depending on how much syrup you want)*

4 stalks fresh rhubarb

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

*other wonderful farmers' market stuff: green garlic, 5 large bunches of asparagus (i know - it's a lot. but we love it! and they gave me a deal! i couldn't resist), baby mustard greens, japanese turnips, and a big bag of wild sorrel for which i have big plans that involve eggs and cream - more on that later.

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