May is the start of the rhubarb season which also means the summer must be on its way.
In Shetland rhubarb seems to grow in every garden and you’ll also often find it around old abandoned crofthouses. Probably because it grows far better than anything else in these windswept islands, as Mary Prior writes in her wonderful Rhubarbaria, it formed an important part in the Shetland diet.
In the past I tried to grow rhubarb but unfortunately with not much success. Until the time when my neighbour dug out a piece of her rhubarb and gave it to me. Since then we’ve been enjoying this super versatile crop in abundance. And to get wonderfully crisp, vividly pink stalks we force the plants in the early spring by placing and old garden incinerator on them.
Yesterday, for a treat after a day spent by building a raised bed and tidying up the garden, we lifted the bucket and voilà, there it was – the first beautiful crop of the season. Inspired by a photo from Donna Smith’s lovely Instagram feed I decided to make a batch of rhubarb cordial.
Here’s the recipe:
1.5 kg chopped rhubarb
600g caster sugar
4 unwaxed lemons
1 vanilla pod
1. Place the rhubarb, halved vanilla pod and lemon zest in a pan with 100ml water over a low heat. To zest the lemon I use a potato peeler which makes the job really easy. And it fills your kitchen with a wonderful uplifting smell too! Cook slowly until the juices start coming out of the rhubarb, then turn the heat up a little. Continue cooking until completely soft and mushy.
2. Put a sieve in a large mixing bowl and line it with a piece of clean muslin or a tea towel. Ladle in the rhubarb and leave it to drain for several hours or overnight.
3. Measure the juice: for every litre add approximately 600g caster sugar. Pour into a pan on a medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat before it boils. Add lemon juice, pour into sterilised bottles and seal.
4. Serve 1 part cordial with 4 parts sparkling water and don’t forget to add slices of lemon for an extra zing. Or even better – for a special summer treat add it to your Prosecco!
And if you have lots of rhubarb here are some more recipes to try: Rhubarb schnapps, Rhubarb, ginger & orange jam or the slightly more unusual pickled rhubarb recipe by my favourite chef and cookbook author Diana Henry.