Ever since I got my SodaStream last year, I’ve been obsessed with sodas and the syrups that flavor them. I love the fizziness of store-bought sodas, but not the artificial ingredients that plague most of them. Artisanal sodas and sodas made with pure cane sugar are a real treat, albeit an expensive one in the long run.
With my SodaStream (which has become an indispensable kitchen appliance!) and a garden full of natural flavors to satisfy my sugar fix, I’ve had fun experimenting with different fruits and herbs to concoct my own syrups.
One of my favorite flavor combos this time of year was inspired by my lush Victoria rhubarb plants, which seem to shoot up new stalks every day. While their common use in recipes is usually relegated to pies and jams, I especially love the tartness of rhubarb in syrup. A hint of vanilla mellows out the flavor.
Since I mix my own sodas and coolers almost every day, I like to make a big batch of syrup at one time. To store the syrup neatly in a mason jar, this recipe can be halved.
Rhubarb-Vanilla Bean Syrup
Makes 4 to 5 cups
4 to 5 stalks rhubarb
3 cups sugar
4 to 5 cups water
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
If you’ll be pulling rhubarb from your garden, choose thick, healthy stalks at least 10 inches long. Green varieties such as Victoria will have a pink to red gradient at the bottom of the stalk, fading to a solid green along its length. Store-bought varieties will usually have solid red stalks. The color of the stalks does not indicate level of sweetness — green rhubarb is just as flavorful as red.
With freshly harvested rhubarb, you’ll need to cut off and discard/compost the leaves — they contain high concentrations of oxalic acid and are mildly toxic if ingested.
Wash, dry and chop up the rhubarb stalks into 1/2 to 1-inch chunks. You should end up with about 8 cups of chopped rhubarb.
In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, and vanilla seeds. Pour just enough water to cover all the ingredients completely. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and stir every few minutes to blend the flavors together.
Simmer on the stove until the rhubarb is softened and the liquid is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
Using a fine mesh strainer, strain all the liquid from the rhubarb mixture into a bowl. Press down with a spoon to really squeeze all that liquid out. Your syrup will be tinted anywhere from a pretty blush pink to a more intense red, depending on the color of your rhubarb.
But wait! Set aside all that juicy pulp to use in another recipe — it’s especially good warmed up and spread over pork chops, chilled and topped over ice cream, or folded into mashed potatoes — no additional cooking needed.
Pour the syrup into your storage container of choice. The syrup should keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator — though mine never lasts that long!
And for a fine summer beverage, use the syrup in one of the coolers below.
Rhubarb-Vanilla Bean Soda
1 part rhubarb-vanilla bean syrup
3 parts seltzer water
Sprig of mint (optional)
Mix both ingredients together over ice and garnish with a sprig of mint (orange mint is a tasty complement).
This refreshing cooler is perfect after a long day working in the garden!
Or for a fizzy yet boozy variation, try this Sunday brunch cocktail:
Rhubarb-Vanilla Bean Cooler
1 part rhubarb-vanilla bean syrup
3 parts sparkling wine
Pour sparkling wine into a glass and top with syrup. Toast and sip!