Behind my house is a rhubarb patch in its prime, with floppy deep-green leaves and stalks the color of bubblegum. I'm not much of a baker, so rhubarb crisps and crumbles and clafoutis won't appear in my kitchen anytime soon. I am, however, an enthusiastic drinker, and rhubarb can lend a racy tang and vegetal pucker to cocktails, as well as a bouncy, rose-colored hue.
Adding bits of rhubarb stalk to your drink won't do much of anything — a rhubarb simple syrup is the key to liquifying its charms. Boiling sliced rhubarb with sugar and water for about 15 minutes renders a rosy-pink syrup that smells like lemon candy, as well as a mush of rhubarb pulp that's delicious spooned over vanilla ice cream or yogurt (yum).
Since my garden is overrun with mint — which slowly strangles everything around it — mojitos seem like an ideal form of weed control. And mashing in some raspberries with the mint and rhubarb syrup yields a juicy, refreshing libation that tastes vaguely of summer. (BTW, strawberries work, too, but I've reached strawberry-rhubarb overload).
Mojitos are usually made with silver rum, and some people consider using dark rum a blasphemy, turning the entire drink on its head. But for one version, I used the new bourbon-barrel-aged rum from Smuggler's Notch Distillery. It lent an oaky, boozy undercurrent which de-emphasized the fruitiness and made the drink more full-bodied. Either way, your teeth might end up speckled with mint shards and raspberry seeds. Welcome to spring drinkin'.
for the simple syrup:
4-5 stalks of rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup water (I prefer a slightly less-sweet simple syrup; use 1:1 sugar/water for more sweetness.)
for the drink:
a few sprigs of fresh mint
2 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. white rum
1-2 oz. club soda
To make the simple syrup, wash the rhubarb stalks, then slice into roughly 1/2-inch slices. Place in a saucepan with sugar and water, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. (For an extra layer of flavor, you could add a knob of fresh ginger, some vanilla bean or lemon verbena). Turn down the flame and simmer until the rhubarb goes pale, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and strain syrup through a fine sieve. Leave the rhubarb mash on the sieve for awhile, as syrup will continue to drip out slowly.
Tear up 6-7 mint leaves and muddle these in a cocktail shaker with raspberries, a squeeze of 1/2 lime, and simple syrup. Add ice and rum, shake and pour into a highball glass. Top with club soda. Serve.
Each week, Grazing highlights tasty, sometimes under-the-radar dishes and drinks that reflect the season. If you know of a local edible (or libation) worth making a fuss over, let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.