For The Press
Squeezing enough lemons to make a big, icy pitcher of fresh lemonade requires strength and time. I respect the arm and praise the patience of anyone who takes this on. Homemade lemonade also raises the question of how much sweetener to use.
Whatever natural sweetener you choose, it usually takes more than expected to produce smiles instead of puckery frowns. So I have been experimenting to create a cold summer drink that will be as refreshing as lemonade, needs even less sweetening and is also less labor-intensive.
Rhubarb turns out to be a perfect alternative to lemons. While it has been eaten for thousands of years, this plant's famous sour power has limited it mainly to medicinal uses. Only when sugar became more affordable and widely available did rhubarb become popular, stewed on its own or baked with strawberries into mouth-watering pies, earning its nickname: "pieplant."
Rhubarb goes well with other fruits, even though it is a vegetable, botanically speaking. I started experimenting to make my un-lemonade by cooking chopped rhubarb without sugar.
Straining the soft-cooked pulp produced a lovely pink liquid with full-bodied flavor. Combining this rhubarb infusion with orange juice, three-to-one, the result needed to be just a little sweeter, so I added a tablespoon of light-colored agave. Zingy, colorful and refreshingly brisk, this refresher is perfect for rhubarb-lovers and as a grown-up lemonade alternative.
Note: Be sure to cut away all of the leaf, which is toxic, from rhubarb stalks.
From the American Institute for Cancer Research
Rhubarb and Orange Refresher
•3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut crosswise in 1/2-inch slices, about 3/4 lb.
• 4 cups cold water
• 1/4 cup agave syrup, preferably light color
• 1 cup orange juice
• 4 mint sprigs, for garnish
In large, stainless steel or other non-reactive saucepan, combine rhubarb and water. Cover and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Set covered pot aside to steep for 10 minutes.
Set large strainer over bowl. Pour contents of pot into strainer and drain liquid into bowl. Using back of wooden spoon, press very lightly on rhubarb, just to extract liquid that drains easily. Pressing too firmly will make infusion cloudy. Discard pulp. Pour liquid, about 4 cups, into jar or other container, preferably glass, and let sit until room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
To serve Refresher, measure 3 cups rhubarb infusion. Pour 1/2 cup into pitcher, add agave, and stir until combined. Pour in remaining rhubarb infusion and orange juice. To serve, divide Refresher among 4 ice-filled, tall glasses. Garnish each glass with mint sprig, if using. For single serving, in a glass, combine 1/4 cup rhubarb infusion with 1 tablespoon agave, and then add remaining 1/2 cup infusion, 1/4 cup orange juice and ice.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional information per 1 cup serving: 90 calories, 0 g total fat, (0 g saturated fat), 23 g carbohydrate,
0 g protein, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 mg sodium.