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Rhubarb a tart, fun ingredient for drinks, as well as pies

10 Jun

FRESH, SEASONAL INGREDIENTS can make unique mixed drinks, so if it’s spring in the Midwest, the tart and tangy rhubarb is an excellent candidate for a drink.

Growing up in a small, rural town in Iowa, rhubarb always seemed like a “farm thing.” When we visited the grandparents, rhubarb was plentiful on their farms, and various rhubarb treats — rhubarb crisp, rhubarb topping, rhubarb pie — were common.

For the uninitiated, rhubarb is a perennial plant that grows from an underground rhizome. If you pick up fresh ginger at the store or the farmer’s market, ginger is a rhizome. From this rhizome, the rhubarb plant shoots out long stalks that look almost like celery, except often with a reddish color, and the stalks are topped with large leaves. It’s the stalks with their tart taste that we use for cooking — or drinking.

RHUBARB IS SO TART that it is generally mixed with sugar to make it palatable, whether you are making a pie or a mixed drink. Many drink recipes call for the creation of  a syrup, boiling down the rhubarb stalks to extract the juice and adding sugar to the mixture.

Finding the right proportion of rhubarb juice to sugar for the syrup is an art form. In the recipes below, the Sweet Rhubarb Syrup follows a pretty standard ratio used in simple syrup, plus the addition of the rhubarb juice. But adding enough of the syrup to a drink to impart the rhubarb flavor makes for a pretty sweet drink. If you don’t want something quite that sweet, try cutting the ratio of sugar just a bit.

I have a tremendous sweet tooth, so I enjoy the Sweet Rhubarb Syrup. But we have one friend who doesn’t like sweet drinks at all. When I mix her a Sazerac or a Mint Julep, I go light on the simple syrup. For her, I concocted the Tart Rhubarb Syrup. It will add a lot of rhubarb flavor without a lot of sweetness. You might try both syrups, adjusting the ratio in the drinks to suit your own taste.

Following are a couple of drink recipes that I created or tweaked from various sources. I think both worked well. For the Martini, you can definitely taste the rhubarb, but it’s still a sweet drink. For the Collins, the strawberry adds a very strong flavoring, so you may want to use the Tart Rhubarb Syrup or a bit of both syrups.

Rhubarb Gin Martini

  • 2 oz. Gin
  • 2 oz. Sweet Rhubarb Syrup
  • 1 oz. Cranberry Juice
  • Fresh squeezed lime juice to taste (Less than 1/2 oz.)

Add ingredients to martini shaker. Add ice cubes. Shake 1-2 minutes. Serve in a martini glass wheel with lime wheel on the rim.

Yield: 1 Martini

VARIATION: Use River Rose Gin from the Mississippi River Distilling Co., located in Le Claire, Iowa. The gin from this craft distillery has a strong floral bouquet that adds a different dimension to the drink.

Rhubarb Strawberry Collins

In a pint glass:

  • Muddle 1 strawberry in the bottom of the glass
  • 1.5 oz. Gin
  • 2-3 oz. Rhubarb Syrup  — Sweet or Tart, to your taste
  • A squeeze of fresh lime juice
  • Ice
  • Top with Club Soda

Yield: 1 drink

Sweet Rhubarb Syrup
  • 2 quarts water
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 4 cups roughly chopped rhubarb

Add the water to a pot and heat to a slow boil. Add sugar. Turn down heat slightly. Add rhubarb and stir gently for 5 minutes, breaking down the rhubarb. Turn off the heat and let cool completely, stirring occasionally and breaking down the rhubarb further. Strain and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

VARIATIONS: This recipe makes A LOT of syrup. I actually cut the recipe by 1/4th, and it yielded 1 gallon of syrup. Also, I added additional rhubarb to taste, feeling the syrup didn’t quite have enough rhubarb flavor and tartness.

Tart Rhubarb Syrup
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Prepare the same as Sweet Rhubarb Syrup.

Yield: Just over 2 cups of syrup.

The art of mixing the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz at home

25 Mar
A bartender at Tujague's gives a vigorous and long shake to give a Ramos Gin Fizz its creamy, frothy texture.

Bartender Paul Gustings at Tujague’s, located along Decatur Street in New Orleans, gives a vigorous and long shake to give a Ramos Gin Fizz its creamy texture and frothy head.

I enjoy cooking and home bartending as a creative outlet. The dishes and drinks I favor — gumbos, cheesecakes, cocktails and the like — provide opportunities to play with different flavors and taste profiles. And they present a challenge in their successful execution.

Certainly, the Ramos Gin Fizz meets these criteria.

Key ingredients are: gin, lemon and lime juice, orange flower water, sugar, cream, soda and an egg white.

The drink features a slight citrus taste, and it is often said it is “like drinking a flower, ” as described in the book “Famous New Orleans Drinks & How to Mix ‘Em.”

Gin fizz at homeAnd many say the key to a successful drink’s creamy texture is a long, longggggg shake.

Since first visiting New Orleans several years back, I’ve tried making the drink at home, with varying degrees of success.

Wherever you turn for advice, you’ll find that the ratio of ingredients varies slightly. And you’ll find the techniques for mixing and shaking vary, too.

With all the variations, these are my suggestions:

  • Many recipes call for just a few drops of orange flower water, saying that it is a potent, pungent mixture. Well, in the sticks of Iowa, orange flower water is pretty weak, so I’ve had better luck using the higher amounts called for in some recipes (Sazerac Bar video below, 1 1/2 oz.). If I ever find a very strong mix, I’ll cut back to just a few drops.
  • The amounts of fresh lemon and lime juices also vary. Some call for the juice of half a fruit, some call for a couple dashes of juice, some call for a 1/2 ounce of each juice. Fresh juices are best, of course, but they can overpower the drink. I use just a little less than the juice from a half a fruit.
  • While the older recipes call for powdered sugar, most of the new recipes use simple syrup. Again, the amounts vary. But I have the best luck erring on the higher side — probably 1 oz. for one drink.
  • Same goes for the heavy cream. I’ve seen everywhere from a 1/2 ounce to 2 ounces. I’d use closer to 1 1/2 to 2 oz.
  • To get the tasty froth, the best tip I’ve seen is offered in the video from the Sazerac Bar: pour a bit of soda in the bottom of the serving glass, and use a high pour from the mixing shaker. Voila! Froth. In the video from the Library Lounge via Nola.com, the bartender tops the drink with soda and then stirs vigorously to develop the froth. That works, too.

Here’s the recipe from “Famous New Orleans Drinks:”

  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 3-4 drops orange flower water
  • 1/2 lime — juice only
  • 1/2 lemon — juice only
  • 1 1/2 oz. dry gin
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 1/2 oz. rich milk or cream
  • 1 squirt selzer water
  • 2 drops extract vanilla (optional)

Mix in a tall barglass in the order given; add crushed ice, not too fine as lumps are needed to whip up the froth of the egg white and cream. Use a long metal shaker and remember this is one drink which needs a long, steady shaking. Keep at it until the mixture gets body — “ropy” as some experienced barkeepers express it. When thoroughly shaken, strain into a tall thin glass for serving.

Here’s the video (below) from the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel, via GoNola.com. This is an excellent recipe:

Here’s the video (below) posted by Nola.com, featuring bartender Chris McMillian at the Library Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans.

And here’s a video (below) from Liquor.com — an excellent source for some tasty cocktail recipes — that was shot at Rye in San Francisco. Good video, but, jeesh, San Francisco for a Ramos Gin Fizz?

The stories behind the drink

The Ramos Gin Fizz, like the Sazerac and the Hurricane, is indelibly linked to New Orleans. And even more so than the other two, the Ramos has some colorful stories associated with it.

In the book “Famous New Orleans Drinks,” first published in 1937, author Stanley Clisby Arthur states that at that time, “The Age of the Ramos gin fizz is well past the half-century mark and its popularity shows no signs of abating.”

Arthur relates that the drink came to New Orleans in 1888 when Henry C. Ramos moved from Baton Rouge to purchase the Imperial Cabinet saloon.

At the height of the drink’s popularity, Ramos’ bar reportedly employed 35 shaker boys to meet the demand.

Of course, the drink, like all liquor, receded into the shadows during Prohibition. But Arthur writes, “After the return of legal liquor the trade name of Ramos on a gin fizz was acquired by the Hotel Roosevelt, and today that is it’s legal domicile.”

And from there springs another colorful story associated with the drink.

Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long, a frequent guest of the Roosevelt, particularly enjoyed the mix found at the hotel’s Sazerac Bar. But while staying at the New Yorker hotel, Long found the drink sadly lacking, despite that hotel’s claim to be the home of the Ramos Gin Fizz. Read this post to see the incredible lengths Long took to ” teach these New York sophisticates how and what to drink.”

♦ ♦ ♦

If you’re interested in New Orleans drinks or cocktails in general, “Famous New Orleans Drinks” is worth purchasing. In addition the Ramos Gin Fizz, it offers recipes for the Sazerac, Mint Julep (and many other juleps), Old Fashioned, Manhattan, punches and much more. Now in it’s 23rd printing, the book is available direct from Pelican Publishing, located across the river from New Orleans proper in Gretna.

If you enjoy cocktails, you should follow the “Cold Glass” blog by Doug Ford. It’s entertaining and informative. Here’s his take on the Ramos Fizz.

♦ ♦ ♦

Have you made your own Ramos Gin Fizz? Do you have any tips to offer? What’s your favorite bar for drinking the Ramos Gin Fizz? Leave a comment below.

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