Along with lilac blossoms and early morning sunshine, fresh rhubarb is one of the surest signs in Southern Ontario that summer is finally on its way.
Because rhubarb season is relatively brief, I obsessively stockpile it, filling my freezer with bags upon bags of chopped rhubarb. This way, I can reassure myself that I'll still have enough rhubarb on hand to make a half-dozen pies, even if the zombie apocalypse arrives or a vicious plague wipes out the entire North American rhubarb crop.
I also eat more than my fair share while the getting is good, though. Rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam, and rhubarb muffins are all on the agenda this month. Even savoury dishes aren't safe... I make a killer sweet-and-sour rhubarb chutney that's perfect for grilled chicken or pork.
Maybe it's because the winter was so painfully long and it felt like it took forever for the warm and sunny weather to arrive, but my favourite way to enjoy rhubarb right now is this blush-pink sparkling lemonade, which is made with a homemade rhubarb-ginger syrup with soda water.
It's tangy and refreshing, with just enough sugar to mellow out the puckery sourness of the rhubarb and lemon, and a subtle hint of spicy ginger hanging out in the background. You can keep a jar of the syrup in the fridge to make a glass or two at a time, or just mix up an entire pitcher if you've got company coming over.
It's perfect for sipping on a warm afternoon. The kids'll love it because it's fizzy and pink, and the grownups'll love it because it's completely free of artificial flavours or colours (and also because it's delicious with a splash of gin... but, sshhhhhh, that's our little secret.)
Quick Tip: Rhubarb freezes beautifully! To stock up, chop the rhubarb into bite-sized pieces, and spread it out into a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in the freezer until the chunks are frozen solid, then transfer to a large zip-top plastic bag and return to the freezer.
This way, the rhubarb doesn't freeze into a solid block, meaning you can easily measure out as much (or as little) as you need.
Sparkling Ginger-Rhubarb Lemonade
1 lb rhubarb, roughly chopped
1 cup water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 slices fresh ginger root, cut about 1/4" thick
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons)
In large saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the rhubarb, water, sugar and ginger slices to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is soft and starting to fall apart, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Strain the cooled rhubarb through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, pressing with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool off completely. Once cooled, pour into a mason jar (or any other container with a tight-fitting lid) and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The syrup will keep for up to one week.
To make a single serving: Combine 1/4 cup of syrup with 1 cup of soda water.
To make a full-size pitcher: Combine the full jar cooled syrup with 4 cups soda water in a large pitcher, and stir until completely incorporated. Add ice cubes and garnish with lemon slices and fresh mint.