A Fine Cup of Tea


My life has become one of ritual – more of the slow motion type.  These rituals center around the garden and putting food by.  For years (and years) I have begun the canning season with rhubarb, always the first vegetable to make an appearance here.  I planted my own patch of rhubarb on the property about 5 years ago.  My mother always told me she couldn’t grow it here, she had tried for years.

Our real rhubarb ritual was to go to a friend’s house every spring and pick our fill there.  Their patches of rhubarb are magnificent.  This plant is showy and large.  The rhubarb at this house fills large swathes around the back yard of the house as well as over by their vegetable garden.  The woman with the gardens was also my mother’s best friend and I dare say picking rhubarb was an excuse to sit around a table with a cup of tea as well.

This ritual has gone on for more or less 55 years.  The family became part of who we are.  My mother passed away in 1989 but the ritual continued.  The rhubarb gave me an excuse to visit, hear the stories of my childhood, catch up with a family I felt was my own.

I would be greeted at the door with a paper bag and a paring knife.  Walking to the back yard I would pass a little flower garden where pansies were often planted.  Little smiling faces in the sun not bothered by a little frost, first blooms.  Once out back I would pull the stalks from the plants, cut the leaves and put them in a pile to mulch all the while remembering childhood sledding on the hill in the  back.  Recalling croquet games on the front lawn or swinging on the swing hung on the huge maple in the front yard.  Overnight stays with crazy family dinners including homemade bread and the best tollhouse cookies.  Laughter, always so much laughter and love beyond measure.

Once I had picked enough I would go into the house for that cuppa and chat.  What should have taken a few minutes often turned into hours but this is what it was all about.  Reminiscing and words of wisdom imparted across the kitchen table over a hot beverage.  Most of all it was a reminder of how much we all loved each other and our families.

The most difficult part of life I think now is the shifting of generations.  I am now of an age when all of our parents are leaving us.  This year I will not go to pick rhubarb.  The house is empty now and I am coming to terms with the fact that the matriarch is gone, left us a few days ago to join her beloved husband.  I picture cups of tea being served all around in that great reunion.  Walks around a warm, green verdant yard discussing kids and gardens.  That is my vision of heaven really.

The shift is also to my own patch of rhubarb here. On hearing of her death I went out and picked some rhubarb and baked a cake to be eaten with a nice cup of tea while I remember.  As I was in the garden I realized it wasn’t about rhubarb not growing on the property at all,  it was about the ritual of visiting.  Conscious or unconscious these women knew what they were doing.

Digging in the Dirt

150501 Rhubarb


Finally.  My sister commented the other day how she felt like she was coming out of a coma.  I understand.

Last evening I did a walk about checking for signs of life.  This the time of year when I’m anxious to see what made it through the winter.  As everyone knows this past one was particularly cold but we had a pretty good snow cover so I’m hoping that insulation helped everything survive.  It’s particularly concerning to me because I put in so many new gardens last summer.  The waiting has only just begun, some plants won’t show signs of life for weeks.

At the end of my walk I saw the leaves popping out of the canes on the raspberries.  My raspberry bed is in a sad state, overgrown with crabgrass (the bane of my existence).  I started to pull things out – dead or alive.  If it wasn’t a raspberry out it went.  Being a spur of the moment weeding event I didn’t have gloves with me.  The soil was the perfect texture – not too wet, not too dry and the perfect temperature.  It’s been 7 long months since I’ve had my hands in the dirt – seven months!  

There’s an article that my sister and I pass back and forth about digging in the dirt acting as an antidepressant.  I don’t think I needed a scientific study to tell me this.  All I needed was a long, cold, sleepless winter.  After just an hour of digging in the dirt I slept like a baby.  I’m addicted to dirt.

Strawberry Simple Syrup and the Finished Ruby Rocket

130608 Strawberry Simple SyrupThe local strawberries are out so I picked some up to make the next vital ingredient in the Ruby Rocket – Strawberry Simple Syrup.  Since simple is the operative word here I will just give you a brief description of what goes into it.  I used 2 quarts of strawberries hulled and halved.  They were put into a saucepan with 4 cups of water and brought to a boil, then simmered for 10 minutes.  The strawberries will have lost most of their color and look light pink. I used a small colander to drain the liquid into another saucepan.  Do not squeeze the berries in the strainer or your syrup will be cloudy.  Return the liquid to the stove and add 2 cups of sugar.  Heat until the sugar is dissolved, skim off the foam.  I then put the syrup into a couple of canning bottles and screwed on the caps. Once it had cooled down I put it into the refrigerator.  The sugar content allows this to keep for quite a long time.

130609 Ruby Rocket (2)I pulled all of the ingredients together for the now famous drink.  The vodka had been infusing for 8 days.  In a martini shaker filled with ice I added the vodka, the simple syrup and a healthy squeeze of lime.  Shake, shake, shake, pour.   This can be made in proportions that combine the flavors in any way you want – tart or sweet.  You may need to make a few before you get exactly the taste you want.  Mine was maybe a little bit sweeter than I wanted but it tasted like the freshest strawberry rhubarb combo.

130609 Ruby Rocket (1)There you have it, the perfect Ruby Rocket.  Too much work?  Check out the Blue Rock Cafe if you are in Shelburne Falls, MA – they may have it.  If not they will certainly have some other fabulous infused vodka martini.




Ruby Rocket Continued

130601Rhubarb Infusion (1)Today I made the rhubarb infused vodka that is the base of this drink.  I cut up 8 stalks of rhubarb each about 2 feet long.  I put it into a lidded glass container.

130601Rhubarb Infusion (2)I then poured two 1.75 litres of vodka over the rhubarb.

130601Rhubarb Infusion (3)This will sit in a darker, cooler room for about a week, then be strained and returned to bottles.  Done.  That’s it.  The waiting is the hardest part.


The Ruby Rocket

Ruby RocketI was at The Blue Rock restaurant last night.  I went on a mission really because even though it is one of my favorite restaurants I had heard a rumor that the Ruby Rocket cocktail was to die for.  Strawberry Rhubarb pie filling in a glass.  I’m in, all in.

This cocktail was soooooo good I had to know how to make it and our waiter was also the cocktail master. Best happy accident EVER!  Although truth be told I would have hunted down the brains behind this cocktail before I left the restaurant (maybe because I’d had two who knows).

This cocktail is made with a rhubarb infused vodka, strawberry simple syrup and lime.  Today I’m on a mission to make the infused vodka.  When the strawberries are ready the simple syrup will be made and Fourth of July week will be nothing but these delightful martinis all around.

This is slow food at its best in my opinion.  I will update as the process goes along.