Better than Cola


It’s strawberry rhubarb season again, and every year I wonder, “What can I do with rhubarb that isn’t pie?” It’s not that pie isn’t good – it is. Pie is a marvelous invention and ought to be eaten regularly to maintain an attitude of joy in the world. Pie is round, and thus a mandala of the mouth and a path to nirvana. Please, do not mistake this desire to experiment with rhubarb as a slight on pie!

At the same time, it seems as though the classic pairing of strawberries and rhubarb is relegated to pie, and pie only. Perhaps the occasional cobbler, which is basically pie, but upside down. It seemed to me that there must be another place for this wonderful combination of sweet and tart.

Sweet. Tart. Springy. Refreshing. “Well,” I thought, “lemonade is sweet and tart and refreshing. Maybe I can make a drink from strawberries and rhubarb.”

I have two copies of the Joy of Cooking. One is the most recent printing from 2000 and it is a perfectly fine cookbook that I hardly ever use. Instead, I continue to use my stained and battered 1975 edition. The ’75 has all the older drinks and recipes that fell out of fashion (the Lady Balitmore Cake is a knockout), but can make the best basis for new recipes. Recipes like “Lemonade Syrup.” Instead I made Strawberry Rhubabarb Syrup, which is now stored in the ‘fridge. Some of it is gone, mixed in a few teaspoons at a time with my homemade club soda, to make Strawberry Rhubarb Soda.

It’s refreshing, sparkling, and a really fun pink color! At about 35 calories for 8 oz of soda water and 2 teaspoons of syrup, it’s a far healthier treat than store bought soda – and MUCH better tasting. With a splash or two of bitters, I discovered this morning that it’s a great hangover cure too! I’m curious to see how delicious this would be with a little bit of champagne for a decadent Memorial Day brunch. If you are diabetic, you can easily replace the sugar with Splenda, honey, or agave syrup. This is also gluten free! Most of all, it’s delicious.

Strawberry Rhubarb Drink Syrup
1 cup quartered strawberries
1 or 2 stalks of rhubarb (depending how tart you want it)
1/8 inch slice of fresh ginger
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons vodka (as a preservative – optional)

1) Wash and quarter your strawberries.

2) Wash and peel your rhubarb. You want to take off that outer skin which is kind of stringy.
It’s very easy, just use your paring knife and it will peel off in lovely strips. Dice your rhubarb.

3) Put the berries, rhubarb, ginger, sugar and water into a small sauce pan. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, and everything begins to simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, and then leave pot to cool on stove for an hour or so.

4) Strain the fruit syrup. I like to do this by using a cheesecloth bag. These are quite inexpensive, though sometimes hard to find. They are easier to work with for some things than cheesecloth, and take up no storage space, and are reuseable. I like to use them for making stock (put all veg in the bag and remove and then you don’t have to strain), and I use them in beer making too. Here, you can stretch the bag open over your bowl (much like how you put a trashbag in your trashcan – they are very stretchy) and pour the syrup and fruit in. This will let the syrup through and catch the fruit. Pick up the bag and give it a good squeeze to get the last of the syrup out of the fruit and into your bowl. Mmmm.

5) Add vodka.

6) Pour concoction into bottles or what have you. You’ll want to keep this in the ‘fridge, not on a countertop. Between the sugar and the vodka, this syrup should last for quite a while in the ‘fridge. A couple of weeks at minimum.

7) To serve: Pour a glass of seltzer or club soda. Add syrup to taste. Drink and enjoy!



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2 Responses to “Better than Cola”

  1. Amy Says:

    I just had to say that your ode to the wonder of pie made me smile today. 🙂 I’ve never been a huge fan of strawberry rhubarb pie. I like my pie just sweet, without the bitter tang of rhubarb. But I might have to give this drink a try. It sounds REALLY interesting. And you know how I love my homemade soda. 🙂

  2. kathryn Says:

    Thanks for the great recipe! Seems like it would work well as an additive to fresh lemonade, too.

    I also have been wondering the same thing about rhubarb-not-in-pie. Some suggestions:

    A few nights ago I made a wonderful pork tenderloin with an onion-rhubarb compote:

    And yesterday afternoon, I made a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler with a cornmeal biscuit topping from Cooks Illustrated. The cornmeal in the biscuit gives it an interesting taste and texture, different from your typical strawberry-rhubarb dessert.

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