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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Mix one part syrup to 4 parts proseco. Or, if you prefer a non-alcoholic version, simply add sparking water.
What do you consider the spirits of summer? What is your favorite opening line to a novel?