Look what’s leafing out over on the side of the house. It’s our old friend rhubarb, springiest of spring dessert vegetables. Maybe you don’t yet feel like you’re so flush with the ‘barb that you can go full dessert, like with a geometric tart or a make-it-anywhere rhubarb crisp, but like me, you’re always in the mood for a tangy refresher. Enter shrub, or drinking vinegar. It’s a piquant sort of swizzle that you use to tart up plain soda water. (People say vinegar is also good for the gut.) I’ve gotten kind of addicted to it.
Shrub can be made cold, by macerating rhubarb for a couple of days with sugar in the fridge, straining it and then adding vinegar. I do a hot version because it’s a little faster. Inspired by my shrub mentor, Kim Severson, I add some thyme to give it a little herbal complexity. It produces the most lovely magenta syrup. You’d also be crazy not to eat the solids, which make a delectable savory jam. This recipe is written small, to accommodate our new crop, but it doubles easily and makes a great gift. Good for shrubarb cocktails —Google it — and nice to have on hand as a fizzy water mixer for friends who don’t drink alcohol.
Makes about 1 cup shrub
1 pound (or roughly 2 cups) chopped rhubarb
½ cup white sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon dried thyme or three sprigs fresh thyme
Unflavored sparkling water to serve.
Instructions: In a medium saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar, thyme and apple cider vinegar. Simmer over medium heat until the rhubarb is completely broken down. Strain liquid into a resealable container. Serve about 2 tablespoons over ice with sparkling water, adding more to taste. Can also be added to champagne to make a festive cocktail or splashed into a gin and tonic. (Remove the thyme sprigs and reserve the rhubarb solids, which are basically a sweet-savory jam. Serve with roast meat, chicken or spread on buttered toast.)
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