Rhubarb juice is an old-fashioned drink that is out of favor mainly because few of us have the garden space to grow rhubarb, but if you happen to have an abundant supply, this is a beverage worth considering.
In past times, every home had a large garden with a rhubarb patch. Rhubarb is a perennial and will grow for years if undisturbed. It is best harvested in the spring, but from established gardens, it can be harvested twice, once in the spring, and again in midsummer. To harvest the stalks, pull them from the plant. Cut off the leaves and trim the base of the stem. Use the discarded leaves as a mulch to control weeds by leaving them near the plant. Rhubarb patches should be fertilized with manure or compost each fall. Rhubarb is ornamental and can be grown in a flower bed or by a fence line. Sometimes it is planted near the house to encourage early growth in the spring. Late in the season rhubarb becomes tough and woody and should not be used; the usual test is to bend the stalk and if it snaps, it is still usable.
Rhubarb juice has traditionally been served at weddings and social events. In pioneer times, lemons were expensive but rhubarb was easily prepared. It is a tart drink with a pale pink color, even if green rhubarb is used. Usually red rhubarb is sweeter than the green varieties.
To make rhubarb juice, harvest and chop the stalks (do not peel). Cover the rhubarb with water and simmer in a large pot, cool and strain through a colander, discarding the pulp. Add sugar and lemon juice to taste. Store the juice in jars in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
To make an ice tea concentrate, brew strong tea using about six tea bags. Do not increase the steeping time as this may result in a bitter tea. Add sugar and lemon juice to taste. Cool until ready to serve. Prepare a sugar syrup of a cup of sugar to a cup of boiling water. Stir until dissolved, then cool.
To make rhubarb ice tea, add a cup of rhubarb juice to a pitcher with half a cup of tea concentrate, then fill with cold water and stir. Taste for sweetness and add sugar syrup if necessary.
Both tea concentrate and rhubarb juice can be frozen in ice cubes, or in small round freezer containers that fit into the serving jug when unmolded. For variety, rhubarb juice can be blended with apple, raspberry, pineapple or other juices.
This summer I attended a get-together with old-timers and rhubarb ice tea was served as an authentic old-fashioned beverage. Many people had never tasted rhubarb juice and were surprised at how delicious this tart fruity drink is. In pioneer times, the women of the area used to make a home brew called "Matilda" from lemons, oranges and raisins. The rhubarb ice tea at the event was called "non-alcoholic Matilda" which went with the pioneer theme and provided a touch of nostalgia.
Rhubarb ice tea is a refreshing summer drink. If you have a patch of rhubarb, try this old-fashioned beverage for an unusual tart drink.
(c) 2010 Linda Butler. Rhubarb recipes are available at http://www.rhubarbrecipes.ca
and blueberry recipes at http://www.blueberrychef.com
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