Tag Archives: rhubarb

Let there be pie

It’s 10:45 pm, Monday night. Monday 03-14, Pi(e) day. I breeze into my kitchen after a long day of work and couldn’t NOT make pie on Pi(e) day. I’d been going back and forth on whether to go to the hassle most of the afternoon and evening. When I was still at work at 8:00 pm, I almost convinced myself that I didn’t really need to do it. After all, I have two manuscripts to finish editing, graduate student qualifying exams to review, undergraduate letters of recommendation to write and who knows what else. Pie could wait until another time.

But a thought struck my mind.

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It’s the start of spring – I might actually be able to grab some rhubarb from the store and wouldn’t that pair wonderfully with the ginger ice cream I had made a few day ago? Ahhh, the allure of rhubarb is simply too tempting for me to ignore. Store number one – out of luck, I live in Georgia now and wasn’t entirely sure that I would spot it at all. However, store number two (I love residing within walking distance to not one, or two but three grocery stores!) revealed a few vibrant pink stalks. I quickly grabbed the few remaining pieces and silently cursed (or not-so-silently, but hey, I was at the Murder Kroger). Not nearly enough for a full pie. Now what? Another stroll through the produce section had me stopping at the peaches. And the third pass through at the blackberries. Alright, I may be a little off script, but I think, just maybe, not only will it not be a complete disaster, but it may actually be quite good.

I’m quickly and assuredly making decisions as my pie idea forms in my mind – it borderlines on manic. I choose a buttermilk crust since I have some leftover buttermilk from a batch of biscuits I made over the weekend. Yes, I think that should do the trick. Given extra wet nature of the rhubarb, peaches and berries – I think I’ll not only par-bake the bottom crust, but seal it with an egg wash as well. Because the difference between an okay pie and a transformative one is often in the details of the crust. Oh! I’ll do a lattice top – won’t that be pretty! So, perhaps I’ll do 1.5x the recipe for the crust. No big deal.

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I toss together my coveted rhubarb, a few bordering on underripe peaches and the handful of blackberries along with some sugar, flour, a dash of cinnamon and a couple of teaspoons of grated ginger and give it all a good toss and let it meld while the pie dough chills. A couple of cocktails, a load of dishes and the beginnings of a long and rambling blog post happen.

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Pie, no matter how well done, is impressive and needs to be shared, if only to glory in the accolades it will undoubtedly receive. Perhaps because of the underlying assumption that it is a brave soul who attempts to put together such a concoction of pastry and fruit. The dough could be too tough or crack when rolled, the fruit too watery or worse, sickly sweet from adding too much sugar, the ratios of the two could be completely unbalanced. The sheer thought of baking a pie is overwhelming enough to scare people away. Consequently, offering pie alà mode the day after Pi(e) Day was met with an absurdly high level of enthusiasm from members and friends of my lab.

For the inexperienced, pie seems impossible – and rhubarb-peach-blackberry pie made up on the fly, particularly when paired with homemade fresh ginger ice cream (a stroke of genius) even more so. A number of students expressed awe and wonderment at the ability to tackle such a task, followed by a sad statement regarding their lack of confidence in this arena.

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My actions Monday night are reminiscent of the recent days that I’ve spent in my lab. We finally arrived at spring break during my first semester of teaching undergraduates (the semester prior was dedicated to graduate teaching) and it was a busy, and sometimes impossible to maintain semester. I desperately craved a break and contemplated renting a cabin in the north Georgia mountains to escape from it all. Yet, in the end, I spent most of that time in the lab after a seemingly endless hiatus. Regardless of the time spent away, I storm into the lab and begin tying up a number of experimental loose ends.

I’d forgotten how much at home I feel in the lab. I certainly had forgotten the sense of accomplishment one has at the end of the day spent on your feet, running around from the warm room (our yeast like to grow at 30º C) to the bench, to the autoclave, to the glassware cabinet, to the PCR machine, to the centrifuge, to the gel electrophoresis rig, etc. There is an underlying ease and confidence to my actions. It feels good. And if the gel of my PCR is any indication, I haven’t lost my lab hands. Not only is it comforting to spend time back in the lab – it’s genuinely fun.

It’s difficult, after nearly a decade of time spent in the lab, to remember that it wasn’t always second nature. That the very reason that I can waltz into the lab after six months away and nearly immediately encounter experimental success is precisely because I’ve had a decade to slowly, but surely, hone my skills, encountering a turning point that remains imperceivable to me as to when exactly it occurred. One of the more challenging aspects of my job is to to teach people how to think scientifically and importantly, to not judge too quickly when they are not immediately successful. Or to judge too harshly when a young scientist can’t immediately pick up on the nuances of an experiment or how to optimize a protocol or manage their time.

{Note: there are MANY new aspects of my position that I attempt with complete uncertainty – and am learning to forgive myself for not knowing how to do all of them with expertise. But life in the lab? That I know something about.}

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What’s it like to be unsure? To not know, or to carry the confidence that what you’ll do will end well? Intellectually, I know I that I did not arrive in the lab (or the kitchen for that matter) fully formed. But now it seems foreign to me, the notion that I didn’t always have such a deep intimacy of my study subject or, when in the kitchen, flavor profiles and techniques or to have a repertoire of resources and accumulated knowledge to draw upon. In hindsight, there are a few things that must have contributed to my development. 1) The sheer repetition of action and consistency in results contributed significantly to my confidence. 2) Learning who to trust with protocols/recipes – just because something is available online does not it will yield reliable outcomes Who are the scientists/chefs that I respect and want to build my own work off of? 3) Appropriately testing a technique and establishing a baseline before making educated modifications – but not to be afraid to try something a little different and outside of my comfort zone. 4) And finally, embracing the notion that sometimes I will fail. And possibly fail spectacularly, knowing that the failure is worthwhile because I will have learned something critical.

I struggle to find ways to extend my patience with naïve scientists, to remember to acknowledge the small victories and to cultivate an environment in which failing is a beautiful learning opportunity. To be able to remind them that the very process of doing something is as important as the result. That we may not know the outcome as we embark on a new project, but, that we can hopefully navigate logically and with our collective knowledge through the murkiness to a breathtaking destination.

And when that fails, sweeten them up with pie.

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Rhubarb-Peach-Blackberry Pie with Buttermilk Crust

Buttermilk Crust:

  • 1 7/8 (aka 2 cups – 1 T) cups all purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little water for egg wash

Filling:

  • 2 ½ cups rhubarb, chopped in ½ inch pieces
  • 3 peaches, peeled and chopped in ½ inch pieces
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size pieces remaining. Drizzle the buttermilk on top and pulse until the dough just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather up any crumbs and divide into two disks – one a little larger than the other. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the larger disk of dough to a 12-inch round, a scant 1/4 inch thick. Ease the dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate. Trim the overhanging dough to 1 inch, fold it under itself and crimp the dough decoratively. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until barely set. Remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Brush with egg wash, reserving remaining wash. Bake for 15  minutes longer, until the crust is lightly browned. Let cool on a rack. Leave the foil strips on the crust rim. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.

Toss together all ingredients for the filling. Pour filling into par-baked crust. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the smaller disk of dough to a ~12-inch round, a scant 1/4 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut into ten, 1-inch strips. Place strips in a lattice pattern (5 in one direction and 5 perpendicular). Brush with remaining egg wash. Cover the edge of the crust with strips of foil and bake for 45-60 minutes until top lattice is browned and filling is bubbling. Let cool.

Serve with homemade fresh ginger ice cream spiked with some Au Thym Sauvage from Farigoule de Haute Provence (and why it has a place in my liquor cabinet is a story for another time). Although, to be fair, most any type of ice cream will suffice.

 

Potential

Every year, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of rhubarb. I simply cannot wait for it to appear at the market so that I can swoop in and take a few pounds of crimson stalks home with me. I obsess over it, as my friends and family can attest. Then an odd thing happens: I freak out over what to make with my bounty. The potential paralyzes me. It has to be something that lives up to the utter brilliance of the tart and tangy and gloriously pink rhubarb. The anticipation nearly kills me every year only to have the reality stop me cold in my tracks.


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I don’t always succeed in making a showstopper. Sometimes things are just okay, like the rhubarb shortbread bars I tried to make recently. They looked horrendous, all grey and sludge-like, but mostly just tasted like butter and sugar without a single note of rhubarb. Edible, but unimpressive. Other times I downright fail. Caramelized rhubarb-upside down cake with cornmeal and buttermilk? Not from this kitchen. I can’t even begin to tell you all the ways that didn’t work out. Somehow, these attempts are even more devastating in light of all the great things that I have done with this vegetable-disguised as a fruit. I can do better than this.

They also, without doubt, feed into the vicious cycle in my head of placing rhubarb on a pedestal and expecting it never to tumble. I’m an over-thinker and this particular trait constantly gets in my own way. It’s no different with starting my own laboratory and becoming a professor. This goal has been hanging over my head for the entirety of my adult life and now that it’s in my grasp, I worry that I won’t live up to the promise and to my own abilities.

Sidenote: The line ‘I know he can get the job – but can he DO the job?’ from Joe Vs. the Volcano has been playing on a loop in my head. After watching this movie when I was a kid, my dad and I used to quote this constantly.

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I’m supposed to be buying equipment and hiring people. The university gave me a staggering amount of money in a generous show of support of my research potential. I can imagine that for some, this must feel like being a kid in a candy shop, but, for some reason, I am hesitant to jump right in. The fear of failure is overwhelming. How does one get past a crisis of confidence? It’s not as if I haven’t been working in a yeast lab for the past decade, accumulating and storing experience and knowledge for just this thing.

Is it because I am female? Or simply an over-achiever and perfectionist? Perhaps it has to do with my current context in Minneapolis (I’m one of the last in a lab that has relocated halfway across the world, a situation that makes me simultaneously feel completely independent and utterly abandoned.) It’s likely a little of all these things. And to complicate matters further, the feelings of fear are are intimately paired with an unbridled excitement for the future. In the end, I think my strategy will be go with what I know, but push it to the edge. It’s a perspective that suits me well in my research, in my style and in my food.

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Rhubarb rosewater ice cream sandwiched between two thin and crispy oatmeal-coconut cookies. Edgy, yet entirely approachable. It’s a riff on my take for Grabbers and worth a re-visit. In the years since I published the first, I know a fair amount more about ice cream and even something about the cookie characteristics best suited to sandwiching. Not to mention a look back on my musing regarding the many (many!) colleges and universities is timely as I prepare for my move to Emory.  The originals are good, but I think these are better.

Rhubarb rosewater ice cream sandwiches
makes about a dozen
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Rhubarb rosewater ice cream
1 lb rhubarb, diced
cup honey
juice from one lime
2 tablespoons rosewater
 
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 ½ oz cream cheese
teaspoon sea salt
cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
 
In a small saucepan, cook rhubarb, honey and lime juice over medium-low heat until rhubarb completely breaks down, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in rosewater. Set aside.
Mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch, until dissolved. Set aside. Whisk cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Set aside.
 
In a medium pot, combine remaining milk, cream, sugar and honey. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through mesh sieve. Return to pot and whisk in cornstarch slurry, cooking until slightly thickened, about a minute. Remove from heat. Gradually pour the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese, whisking constantly until smooth. Pour through mesh sieve to remove any clumps. Stir in rhubarb. Chill mixture thoroughly.
 
Churn ice cream base in ice cream maker. Freeze at least 4 hours.
 
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Thin and Crispy Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies
5 oz (1 cup) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons butter, softened but slightly colder than room temperature
7 oz (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 ¾ oz (¼ cup) brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ old fashioned oats
2 cups shredded, unsweetened coconut
 
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. 
 
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside. Mix together butter and both sugars at medium-low speed until just combined. Increase speed to medium and continue to beat until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl as needed. Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium low until fully incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture until just incorporated and smooth. Gradually add oats and coconut and mix until well incorporated. Give dough a final stir to remove any flour pockets and evenly distribute all ingredients.
 
Working with 2 tablespoons of dough at a time, roll into balls and place on baking sheet. Using fingertips, gently press each dough ball to ¾ – ½ inch thickness. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are deep golden brown, edges are crisp and centers yield to slight pressure when pressed, around 13 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cookies cool completely.
 
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To assemble sandwiches: Take ice cream out of the freezer about half an hour before assembly and let it soften slightly. Place a generously sized scoop onto the backside of a cookie and top with a second. Wrap in wax paper and store in the freezer. Enjoy at will.

Oh … hello!

Is anybody there?

This tiny, online space is not forgotten. I simply took some much-needed time for me. But I’ve missed this terribly. This place. Writing. It’s not to be overlooked or undervalued.

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I haven’t been comfortable sharing my thoughts, opinions and experiences for immediate public consumption. Striking a balance between my online presence and real-world life has been an impossible task over the past year (and it’s not just me). Nonetheless, there has been a fair amount of ice cream and perhaps a cocktail or two. Some fantastic travels to the south of France with dear friends and scuba diving in Bonaire with family (where you might just find yourself swimming with a pod of dolphins) and many other places near and far. A re-upholstered chair and a revamped sofa table turned kitchen cart. But more than anything else – life as an academic and biologist.

This past year has been a doozy and change is underway.

(The details on that are for another time).

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But on to more pressing topics … It’s springtime in Minneapolis! At last! Opening the windows, biking into campus, beers on patios and the start of farmers markets. – a glorious time indeed. I’ve been in a flurry of spring cleaning – my closets, my kitchen, the laboratory. No space I occupy has been safe from my critical eyes. I adore the process of shedding winter layers. To rediscover lost treasures and carefully assess what to keep close and what to finally let go of.  It’s no small task and not an easy one either. But the psychological satisfaction of this particular accomplishment is one of the best there is. It’s not for everybody, but it certainly is for me.

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Now that the dust has been cleared and I’ve got no upcoming travel scheduled, I’ve been having fun playing in my kitchen. To brush up on my skills and hone my culinary instincts. To anticipate the summer bounty and enjoy fresh, seasonal food again. Which brings me to … RHUBARB!!! I’ve waxed poetic time and time and time again about my favorite spring crop, so let me just cut to the chase. An afternoon tart of roasted rhubarb with cardamom pastry cream and orange poppyseed shortbread crust.

This dish took me the better part of a Saturday morning, but there is no reason why the parts can’t be made independently and assembled whenever it pleases you. It’s good. Very good. In my opinion, worth not only the time, but also the number of dirty dishes.

 Not-so simple rhubarb tart
Serves 4
 
Roasted Rhubarb
~10 oz rhubarb, cut in 4 inch pieces
3/4 – 1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
 
Combine all ingredients in an oven safe dish. Roast at 300 degrees for about 50 minutes, occasionally  so that the rhubarb is soft, but still holds its shape and the juice is reduced to about a quarter cup or so.
 
Cardamom Pastry Cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
 
Make the filling: Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cardamom, and salt in a 2-qt. saucepan; whisk in milk and eggs. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; whisk in butter. Transfer mixture to a bowl (pressing through a sieve, if you are so inclined, as I usually am); press a piece of plastic wrap onto surface of filling. Refrigerate until ready to use.
 
Orange Poppyseed Shortbread Crust 
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
 
Cream the butter, mix in the sugar, lemon zest, poppy seeds and salt followed by the flour and mix until it forms crumbs. Press the mixture into a 4” x 13.5” rectangular tart pan. Freeze for 10-15 minutes and bake in a preheated 400F oven until lightly golden brown, about 15 minutes before letting it cool.
 
Assembly
Spread chilled cardamom pastry cream into baked shortbread crust. Carefully top with roasted rhubarb pieces. Brush with the reduced vanilla orange juice. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Cherry-Rhubarb Mini Crisp with Sweet Basil Ice Cream

Just call me Goldilocks. You wouldn’t be the first.

Whenever I go to bake something I first need to make the decision on how much I want to make. You can see from my assortment of baking dishes that this isn’t always a straightforward choice. You make too much and you get tired of eating (no matter how tasty it is) after a few days. You make too little and the last bite comes all too quickly.

I made this crisp last Saturday evening, hours before leaving to go to a scientific conference (which is where I am currently…more on that later), so I went with the smallest of my choices – a perfectly-proportioned 1 1/2 cups. A small dessert is better than no dessert at all in my book.

And speaking of books, this recipe came from a new book that I am enamored with. Beautiful photography and whimsical writing – and foods categorized by color. Utterly delightful! I am a little jealous I didn’t think of it myself. With the intersection of rhubarb and cherry season I knew that I wanted to give this recipe a go.

I had been waiting for an opportunity to make Sweet Basil Ice Cream and this seemed like the perfect pairing. Sweet, herbal and bright green in striking contrast to the deep reds of the rhubarb and cherries. None of it is overly sweet and all the flavors really come through brilliantly.

Cherry-Rhubarb Mini Crisp
adjusted from Ripe, by Cheryl Sternman Rule
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1 cup diced rhubarb
1/2 cup cherries, halved (pitted and de-stemmed)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons (33 grams) brown sugar
2 tablespoons (15 grams) flour
2 1/2 tablespoons (15 grams) oats
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 teaspoons pine nuts
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Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Toss together the rhubarb, cherries, sugar and balsamic vinegar. Pour into a small (1 1/2 cup) baking dish. In a food processor, combine butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon and salt. Pulse ~35 times until dough starts to come together. Stir in pine nuts and crumble over top of rhubarb and cherries. Bake for 35 minutes in top third of oven. Let rest 10 minutes before eating.

Sweet Basil Ice Cream
from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebowitz
makes ~1 pint
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1/2 cup (12.5 grams) packed basil leaves
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
pinch of salt
3 egg yolks
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In a small food processor, grind the basil leaves with the sugar and 1/2 cup milk until the leaves are finely ground. Pour half the mixture into a large batter bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. Take the other half and put in a medium saucepan, add remaining milk, cream and salt. Heat until steam starts to rise from the dairy. Whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape egg yolks and milk back into saucepan and heat until the mixture thickens. Pour the custard through the strainer and whisk into the basil-sugar-milk mixtures. Chill thoroughly. Freeze in your ice cream maker.

A late night cocktail

Do you remember how I mentioned I was entering into the writing cave? Let me tell you about my day.

~7 am – wake up

7:30 cup of coffee #1, start working on manuscript/presentation for conference

8:30 – 10:30 – cups of coffee #2-3, work on manuscript/presentation

10:30 – cup of coffee #4, get ready for the day

11:15 – 11:45 – bike to work

12:00 – 2:00 meet with advisor to discuss manuscript/presentation

2:30 – lunch

3:00 – 7:30 – lab work, catch up with co-workers on other projects

7:30 – 8:00 – bike home

8:00 – 9:00 – dinner, watch 3 episodes of Scrubs

9:00 – 12:00 – work on manuscript/presentation

12:00 – go to bed (write this blog post) 

It’s been like this for the past week or so with variations on the theme. Sometimes I wake up at 5 am and go to bed at 11 pm. Sometimes I don’t go into lab until after lunch. But you get the gist. I am working. A lot. Don’t get me wrong – putting together science stories makes me happy and provides a gratification like nothing else. But sometimes, just sometimes (usually around 11 pm), it drives this girl to drink.

Bourbon + Rhubarb + Rosewater = Brilliant.

Bourbon seems serious. So, being in a serious state of mind, bourbon is what I am reaching for these days. Adding the rhubarb and rosewater was an amazing happenstance.  The rhubarb mellows the edge of bourbon without losing any of its bourbon-ness. The rosewater adds a whiff of floral. I like to put in a martini glass and pretend that I’m not glued to my computer.

Bourbon, Rhubarb and Rosewater Cocktail
serves 1
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1 part bourbon
1 part rhubarb-rosewater syrup (see below)
1 part raw rhubarb juice
dash of angostura bitters
3-4 ice cubes
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Combine all the ingredients in cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass.

*I made this rhubarb-rosewater syrup and was overwhelmed by the rosewater and underwhelmed by the rhubarb. Which is why I went 50:50 of the recipe below with straight-up rhubarb juice. One could just up the up the amount of rhubarb in the syrup, but I kind of like the astringency that the raw juice brings.

Rhubarb-Rosewater Syrup
makes 2 cups
adapted from 101 Cookbooks
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1 pound rhubarb, diced
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon rosewater
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Combine the rhubarb and the sugar in a medium pot and let sit (not on heat) for about 45 minutes. Add water, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain and return juice to pot and heat. Add lime juice and cook until reduced to 1/2 volume. Cool. Stir in rosewater. Store in a air-tight jar in the refrigerator.