05 October 2012

Rowhouse Livin' gin

Rhubarb seems to be a trend lately among farmers market aficionados, chefs who want to feature seasonal ingredients, and hipsters and homesteaders getting into old-timey recipes. Who can blame them? I grew up on my own grandma's rhubarb pie -- not strawberry-rhubarb, just straight rhubarb -- made from the patch growing by her front stoop, and it helped make me who I am today: sour, stringy as I get older, and a good source of Vitamin C. Not that this makes our household more authentic than someone who first tried rhubarb in the past few years. But let's just say that some five years ago I was thrilled to have found some rhubarb at the Whole Foods, and when I gleefully tossed it onto the conveyor belt at the checkout, the young cashier with 1980's-style glasses and her half-shaved hair said, "OK, I give up. What's this?" And I desperately wanted to answer her, "Oh, it's something I've been eating for decades, but you've probably never heard of it."

A local purveyor sells a rhubarb-infused spirit. It's too sweet for my taste, and it's too expensive for my wallet. (And it's not exactly local any more.) Here's the Rowhouse Livin' version.

Clean and roughly chop enough rhubarb to fit loosely into four one-quart mason jars. Cover completely with a mid- or low-priced, unflavored vodka. (I use Jacquin's, local to Philadelphia.) Close the jars with two-piece caps. Let the jars sit in a dark corner, away from heat, for at least six weeks. Check the jars for evaporation and top off with vodka if necessary, though this is unlikely. Gently shake the jars three or four times during the six weeks.

Prepare your storage bottles by washing them in hot, soapy water. Rinse in hot water, and then purge out the water droplets by rinsing with a jigger of plain vodka, much as you'd do in a chemistry lab with your glassware, except with grain spirit instead of lab-grade ethanol or acetone.

Strain the infusion through a colander or strainer, squeezing or pressing the rhubarb; and then let pass through a coffee filter, changing filters as they get clogged. Store indefinitely in tightly closed, food-safe decorative bottles:

We'll use the jar first, and the whole stash will last
about three years

Because it's unsweetened, a less hardy urban home economist may want to keep some simple syrup on hand. Without sweetener, over ice with a splash of water it's refreshing in the summer and bracing in the winter. Bottoms up!

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