One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting on the front porch on a hot summer day, waiting for my mother to come home from work, with a stalk of rhubarb and a shot-glass of sugar, crunching and slurping and enjoying the contrast of the very sour rhubarb with the very sweet sugar.  Between the acidity and the sugar, that rhubarb habit probably explains my many appointments with the dentist as a child.

I rescued the shot glass from my parent’s effects.

I grow lots of rhubarb.  It’s a great garden plant, growing up from nothing in the early spring, disintegrating back to nothing after the hard frosts of fall.  I got my plants from my cousin, who was growing it for juice to make wine (and very tasty wine it was too!).  It’s thriving, to say the least.  I have a large yard, with plenty of planting beds to fill:  rhubarb is my perennial of choice.  It’s so much more reliable than junipers that turn up their toes after a less than perfect winter, and just as good at filling up the empty spaces where growing conditions are less than ideal.  Rhubarb also makes good neighbors (I always have lots to share), and it makes great juice.

One of FOUR patches!
Look for tender, dark red stalks.

I watched a fine chef named Laura Calder on Food TV years ago making what she called “Rhubarb Water”.  Unlike other recipes for iced rhubarb juice, which involve boiling the stalks, she steeped hers for 12 hours in initially boiling water.  Boiled juice is cloudy, but steeped juice is very clear, and absolutely delicious when sweetened to taste, accented with a little fresh lemon.  I have TONS of rhubarb, and experimentation has led me to the recipe below, which I hope you will enjoy if YOU happen to have a bounty of rhubarb just waiting for an opportunity not to be cobbler.


8 – 10 nice big trimmed stalks of rhubarb, the redder the better, about 2 1/2 pounds

4 – 5 cups of boiling water, or enough to cover the pieces

Sugar or sweetener of choice, to taste, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup

Lemon or lime juice, to taste, fresh if possible


Cut the well-washed rhubarb in 1cm pieces.  2 1/2 pounds yields a generous 8 cups.

Place them in a glass or ceramic bowl (better for steeping).

Cover with boiling water.  Stop just as the pieces start to float.

Cover the bowl with plastic or a lid.  Leave at room temperature for 12 hours (which is most convenient overnight — start the process right after dinner, and you can strain off the juice in the morning before you go to work).

What a pretty color!

Strain, discarding the pulp right onto the compost pile.

There’s not much flavor or color left in the pulp.

Sweeten to taste with sugar, honey, agave nectar or that artificial stuff if you must.  Stir well to dissolve.  If you want your juice “ready to pour”, add lemon or lime juice to taste.  Just a word of warning — if you leave lemon or lime slices floating in your sweetened juice for more than 24 hours, the pith (that white part just under the zest) will start to impart bitter notes.  If you’re making a big batch, use just juice, and garnish with slices or wedges to serve.

Chill thoroughly in a covered container.

I like to squeeze in my lime juice just at serving time — the flavor is fresher.  Of course, under certain conditions, I also like to add a shot of vodka or gin … just sayin’…

You can “spritzer” with club soda or other fizzy water if you like.  Serve over plenty of ice, so you can press the glass to your forehead when you finish weeding the garden.  Enjoy!

PS:  I’m certain you can make Rhubarb Liqueur by infusing vodka (or Alcool, if you can get it) with rhubarb (and perhaps a little orange or lemon zest), then sweetening the resulting extract with simple or heavy syrup (heavy syrup will dilute the alcohol less…)  Quick research indicates that about 3 weeks is required to get all the goodness out of the rhubarb and into the vodka.  I’m waiting for the best, reddest, tender, slender stalks to emerge after my recent harvest.  If my batch works out, I’ll let you know!