Spirits of Summer

She was a wistful woman who clung to the last few days before her children went back to school not because they were leaving but because it meant an end to the summer.

Celebrating Summer

Celebrating Summer

The author, Jane Ward recently asked her readers for their favorite first lines of novels. I scoured our bookshelves to find that perfect sequence of words that had caused me to give up air while turning pages and alas, was unable to arrive at just one. The exercise did however, force me to dwell upon just how important that opening line can be. And yes, that woman is me absurdly holding onto the remaining triple digit days that are the close to a wonderful summer.

What is the spirit of summer? It is the absence of school, bare feet, novels and summer reading, grilled artichokes, fireworks, barbecues, vacations, and baseball. It is berry pie, fireflies, vine ripened tomatoes, swimming, sleepovers, courgettes and egg plant. And it is undoubtedly rhubarb; rhubarb pie, rhubarb jam, rhubarb crumble, and rhubarb topping on ice cream. Alas, I reminisce for rhubarb does not grow at low desert elevations. And I devoured it during our summer vacation.

Rhubarb is a colorful character. In early British radio, the word “rhubarb” was often repeated in order to create unintelligible background noise. In the U.S., it was declared a fruit in 1947 only because it’s primary use was in fruit pie. This had the effect of lowering tariffs on the import of rhubarb. The ancient Chinese used rhubarb as a laxative and regardless of where it is grown, it is an ample source of calcium.

In Germany, I found this cocktail to be the perfect opener to a meal.  It is light, refreshing, slightly tart and a beautiful summer color.

Rhubarb Bellini

Adapted from The Kitchn
Ingredients:
  • 2 C chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup organic sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bottle Proseco, Champagne or other sparking wine

Combine the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently until the fruit is soft –  about 20 minutes. Pour mixture into a fine strainer over a bowl. Press the solids gently with the back of a spoon to squeeze out the last bit of syrup.

Rhubarb, sugar and water

Rhubarb, sugar and water

Using a funnel, pour the syrup into a clean bottle. Cork the bottle and refrigerate. I actually put the rough rhubarb mash into another jar for spreading on waffles in the morning.

IMG_1693

Mix one part syrup to 4 parts proseco. Or, if you prefer a non-alcoholic version, simply add sparking water.

IMG_1695

What do you consider the spirits of summer? What is your favorite opening line to a novel?

Leave a comment

58 Comments

  1. Gin and Tonic with homemade lime juice :) And favorite lines would be:

    If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

    You’ll know the book.

    Reply
  2. Opening lines set the tone for the book! Love this cocktail Tammy :)

    Reply
  3. Reminds me of Jonathan Richman’s perfect summer song: http://www.avclub.com/articles/mac-mccaughan-kelly-hogan-cover-jonathan-richman,99883/. Cheers.

    Reply
  4. If I could choose to have any job title, it would be culinary cartographer.

    What book? One of my favorite cookbooks.

    Spirits? Of course, pastis!

    Reply
    • oh girlfriend. We share many interests. I love the thought of being a culinary cartographer as maps are another passion of mine. Pastis! of course – though I haven’t had any for a while.

      Reply
      • The book is Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here for the Food”.

        One of my favorite sources for the in depth explanation of cooking techniques.

        Really fun because he wants people to cook not just using recipes.

        Reply
  5. I love this post! I have a collection of first lines. The one I always thought grabbed me and spoke volumes was from Wm. Kennedy’s Ironweed. However, when I revisited it for the exact quote, I found it was actually several sentences, not one. I’ll get back to this. I like tonic and grapefruit juice this time of year…with sparkle and sour, I bet it has many of the properties of your rhubarb drink. Thanks, Tammy!

    Reply
    • I did the same thing with the opening of The Book Thief. It’s several lines but so intriguing. I think that still counts. Sparkle and sour is a great description.

      Reply
  6. Lisa H

     /  August 6, 2013

    He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning sliver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine – he could see out, but you couldn’t see in. –Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

    The drink sounds refreshing! I like drinks that can be either alcoholic or not. During the summer I make a watermelon/raspberry sorbet that I add vodka for an adult drink. Homemade mojitos would be a close second.

    Summer to me is laying on cool grass watching the clouds move across the sky.

    Reply
    • I love mojitos and I love that book. I didn’t remember the first line at all but it was hard for me to put down.

      Reply
  7. OOOOh this rhubarb drink comes just in time! I have received some fresh rhubarb from.my parent’s garden & didn’t know what to with it! it is just a recipe that is so different! Thanks, Tammy! X

    Reply
  8. I love the first line of Watership Down: “The primroses were over.” It paints such a great picture with just four short words!

    This drink looks beautiful! Anything light and citrusy is good for summertime.

    Reply
  9. I have no first line because I can’t think of which book I would like best, but that rhubarb recipe looks like something I could use. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • It’s so yummy and with all of your activities, I think it could be a winning campaign.

      Reply
  10. Oh I remember saying rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb in school plays!! and the drink, ahhhhh it sounds superbly good and I’d forgotten about using Prosecco for lovely summer drinks too, so thank you

    Reply
  11. “Take care to chop the onion fine. To keep from crying when you chop it (which is so annoying!), I suggest you place a little bit on your head.” I know it’s two lines, but it’s better with the second included. It’s from my favorite novel-with-recipes, “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel. And rhubarb, yum! It reminds me of summer desserts that my mom used to make. We had it growing in the garden for a while.

    Reply
    • Love it. I didn’t read the book but I did love the meeting. Mary, I’ve missed you and am realizing that your blog was a casualty when googlereader went away. I’ll fix that.

      Reply
  12. I make a rhubarb syrup and it goes very well with a glass of Prosecco. I’m always tinged with sadness when summer is in its final throws xx

    Reply
  13. Chandni Lahoti

     /  August 7, 2013

    I am so going to try it! Pleased to have found your blog!

    Reply
  14. Ooohh, that cocktail looks very nice! I haven’t eaten rhubarb in a while, and I don’t it from cocktails but rather from cake and compote.

    Spontaneously, I don’t know of a favorite opening sentence, but I can go and browse my bookshelf. :)

    The spirits of summer were hard to find this year, because summer set in very late and lasted for two weeks. Today it’s cool and rainy again. In my childhood I often went camping with my family in summer, and I remember those days when there was a gentle rain falling onto the land for hours consistently, so actually this is something I associate with summer very much.

    Reply
  15. Author Jane Ward

     /  August 7, 2013

    A rhubarb cocktail is the final frontier of rhubarb for me to explore. Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply
  16. I have never tried a rhubarb cocktail . . . but I used to love the rhubarb mom and dad grew in their garden.

    As for a favorite first line . . . A Christmas Carol. “Marley was dead.”

    Reply
  17. What a great idea for a summer drink!

    Reply
  18. A great post, Tammy. It’s got everything … you’ve done a great job evoking the spirit of summer and offered a great recipe too which I’m looking forward to trying if I can get my hands on some rhubarb still.

    Summer spirits used to be defined for me by a really gin and tonic. But over the last few years, I’ve fallen in love with the mojito and with the fresh mint from my garden, it makes the drink that much more “comforting.”

    As for a line: “The book was thick and black and covered with dust.”
    ~ A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession

    Reply
    • Gosh, I read that book and it was tough reading. Byatt’s short story about the stone woman was another favorite – I need to see what the first line was! I always have mint on hand and mojitos are one that I really enjoy. In fact, I rarely drink anything but wine and they are in the exception category.

      Reply
  19. Rhubarb syrup–what an inspired idea (even better turned into a drink ;-) ) Now I really regret not pushing on the offer of the rhubarb plant for my garden this spring…

    Reply
    • I think it’s a pretty low maintenance item. When I was growing up, it wasn’t even in the garden – just a big plant in the yard.

      Reply
  20. I adore Summer, and holidays. But most of all, I love rhubarb tart.

    Reply
    • Lovely tune Kate but I must admit disappointment. I so want to hear what one of your favorite first lines is.

      Reply
  21. Love the color of the rhubarb syrup!
    Re: First Lines Can’t say that I have a fave, but here are some good ones:
    “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

    “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”

    “It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.”

    Reply
  22. I think I would fail the opening line to a novel challenge, too. But am trying not to fail at appreciating summer. Love your description of what makes this season special for you. Have never ever tried grilled artichokes, though.

    Reply
  23. Tammy,
    Dang if I didn’t just read an opening line to the kids, with the observation that it was a wonderful opening line. From what, I know not right now. But within the past 2 weeks I read a line so clever I needed to repeat it. Possibly somewhere in the book Cooked, as I’e been reading that with the HOMEGROWN.org summer reading group, but I’m not positive. Thoughts fly in and out of my brain so quickly these days, trying to cram everything in before school starts.

    However, I used to have a favorite summer spirit–a sangria knock off using lemon lime diet soda and red wine. I haven’t had it in ages, stopped buying the soda, and haven’t come up with a suitable substitute. But filling up that tall glass with ice, adding some red wine to the bottom of the dog’s paws in the Tervis tumbler, and filling it up with Sprite Zero was akin to driving over the Chesapeake Bay bridge heading to the beach–I just knew relaxation was right in front of me.

    I’ll need to try this with peaches–as we’ve got a bunch from last week’s beach trip, and a friend just invited us to come and pick more tomorrow.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • You know, I used to drink that sangria type of drink also and I loved it. I had roasted peaches at a party over the weekend and loved them.

      Reply
  24. Wow, that looks delicious! Since my husband and son own a beer store, beer is our drink of summer, fall, winter, and spring.

    Reply
  25. I dearly love rhubarb, and I can practically taste the rhubarb, sugar, and water you have pictured above. ;-9 I think I’ll be trying the rhubarb bellini…..

    Thanks for stopping around my blog and liking my post.

    ~Lindy

    Reply
    • Absolutely. I love rhubarb too but it doesn’t grow well here so it’s a special summer treat.

      Reply
  26. I love rhubarb. I can’t wait to try this bellini. When I was growing up, we used to cut rhubarb in the old garden on my grandmother’s farm. It was growing among the weeds, along with the asparagus, the only two plants to have survived since the garden was abandoned decades ago to weeds. Of course, my grandmother had planted new rhubarb in her new garden, but it was more find to find the hidden rhubarb.

    In an inn in Vermont, I recently ordered a fruit muffin for breakfast. When it was delivered I was happy to discover that it was oatmeal rhubarb. I’d thought it might be blueberry (since it was blueberry season.) The rhubarb chunks were slightly sweet and just the perfect consistency.

    Reply
  27. Yum! Another way to use up rhubarb. I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a couple of awards. Check it out here http://cmingalls.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/versatile-blogger-and-word-press-family-awards/

    Reply
    • Thank you for the endorsement. I appreciate your confidence. I’m not terribly good with awards but appreciate it.

      Reply

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