Recipes

rhubarb cordial

My friend David Lebovitz, OG food blogger and nine-time author, wrote a book on the iconic cocktails, aperitifs, and cafe traditions of France, including 160 recipes, that came out in March. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve hopped on a plane to fly to Paris to spend long, leisurely afternoons-into-evenings wandering, sipping and tasting this and that, something I had the delight to do almost a year ago in person. The circumstances might be terrible, but it feels like a bit of luck that he’s created a book that allows us to recreate these tastes and the feeling, as best as possible, at home.


terribly out-of-season rhubarbchopped rhubarb

David wastes no time dropping us into Paris at dawn, right around the time we’d be stumbling off a too-brief-to-be-restful redeye, where the lights in cafes are flickering on, followed by the coffee machines. Baguettes are picked up in paper sacks that will be served with butter and jam. He explains that cafes are the living rooms of Paris, places where artists and writers have long worked, attracted by the heat that their homes lacked, and the wine, and remain places to meet friends outside your too-small apartment, freeing you from having to clean up before people come over. From café au lait to chocolate chaud (hot chocolate), citronnade (lemonade), into l’heure de l’apero (a time to unwind with a drink before dinner) to the craft cocktail movement of the last decade, the book is a bit of a dreamland, so perfect for those of us who desperately miss wandering right now.

add ginadd sugara month (okay, two!) lateradd some cointreau

I went, almost predictably, straight for the rhubarb cordial, attracted by the use of my favorite spring stalks and by the uncomplicated ingredient list (rhubarb, gin, sugar, citrus zest). A cordial is an infusion in the liqueur family (sweeter spirits) that includes cremes and distillations.* Historically, they were opportunities to use up a bumper crop of fruit or preserve a harvest; today, I think of them as a way to celebrate seasonality. When my book arrived in early March, I chopped some rhubarb (alas, pre-season and borderline-sketch, sorry, but you should seek out the freshest you can find), and added it to Dingle gin (from our trip to Ireland last year), “Cutie easy-to-peel mandarin” zest, and sugar in a jar. It’s supposed to hang out at room temperature for a month but my apartment runs warm and David assured me I could put it in the fridge instead, it just might take longer. In fact, I forgot about it for two months, until yesterday afternoon. At 5:01pm, we poured it over an ice cube in a small glass, finished it with a twist of orange peel, and a splash of tonic (but sparkling wine or seltzer would work too) and clinked our 54th day of safety inside, looking forward to make this again every spring.

rhubarb cordial

Previously

Six months ago: Perfect Apple Tarte Tatin
One year ago: Braised Ginger Meatballs In Coconut Broth
Two years ago: Triple Coconut Cream Pie
Three years ago: Pistachio Cake and A Reall Great Pot of Chickpeas
Four years ago: Potato Pizza, Even Better, Carrot Tahini Muffins and Sheet Pan Chicken Tikka
Five years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Soda Syrup, Artichoke Gratin Toasts and Maple Pudding Cake
Six years ago: Lamb Meatballs with Feta and Lemon
Seven years ago: Ramp Pizza and Yogurt Panna Cotta with Walnuts and Honey
Eight years ago: Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Rabe, Classic Ice Cream Sandwiches and Cinnamon Toast French Toast
Nine years ago: Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll and Crispy Potato Roast
Ten years ago: Tangy Spiced Brisket
Eleven years ago: Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and Buttermilk Ice Cream
Twelve years ago: Fork-Crushed Purple Potatoes, Whole Wheat Apple Muffins, and Caramelized Shallots
Thirteen years ago: Black Bean Confetti Salad and Margarita Cookies and Tequila Lime Chicken

Rhubarb Cordial

  • 1 pound (450 grams) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups (830 ml) gin, plus more if necessary
  • 3 wide strips orange zest
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or triple sec (to serve)
  • A splash of club soda, tonic water, or sparkling wine (to serve, optional)

Put the rhubarb, gin, orange zest, and sugar in a clean 2-quart (2L) jar. Cover and shake to encourage sugar to dissolve. Store in a cool, dark place, shaking it every few days, for a month. [This recipe is intended for room temperature. My kitchen runs hot and I had it in the fridge, instead, for a couple weeks longer.] After a few days, if some of the rhubarb is still floating above the level of the liquid, add another pour of gin, enough so that the rhubarb is covered.

Use a fine-mesh strainer to strain the liqueur into a large measuring cup or bowl with a spout. Add the Grand Marnier. Pour into a clean bottle (or bottles) and tightly cork. Store the cordial for up to 1 to 3 months longer. Apparently, you can wait this full 1 to 3 months to drink it, for proper aging. We, absolutely, did not.

To serve, pour into small tumblers with a few ice cubes, a twist of orange or tangerine peel, and a splash of sparkling water, tonic, or sparkling wine, as an apéritif.

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110 comments on rhubarb cordial

  1. Alissa

    Ohhh, this sounds delicious. My only problem is that I just yesterday used some ancient rhubarb in my freezer for your strawberry soda syrup, so now I’ll have to find more rhubarb!

    1. Prathi

      I’ve done a rhubarb cordial with vodka. Works a charm. No need to go spendy, you’d be surprised how the straining and filtering (through a coffee filter if you can) really smooths it out.

    2. Maro

      i didn’t read it carefully and started mine with vodka, then added more rhubarb when i realized it was supposed to be Gin and wanted to get rid of some gin i don’t love. it should be absolutely fine with vodka, just no botanicals to complement the rhubarb.

    3. lmfb

      You might try everclear! It’s high proof is really good for drawing out maximum flavor from fruit. So if you aren’t trying to get the botanical flavor from the gin, you might as well go for everclear. I’m currently using it to make lemoncello currently :)

  2. Emily Topham

    Between this and your upside down cake, it’s time to start bothering my mother about my grandfather’s rhubarb patch!

  3. Smg

    I just bought an N2O infuser and am given to understand that you can use them to i Stanton make infusions like this – think I’m going to try it. Supposedly it also works with CO2 chargers ….

  4. Christina

    Been doing this for years (that reminds me to start a batch this year!) – I use corn schnapps (German, comparable to vodka) and add some vanilla as well. We usually drink it as it is, but sparkling wine sounds lovely! As you said the same principle also works well for other fruit, successfully did the same with blackberries (and brown sugar) last year :)

  5. Rachel

    This seems like everything good in the world. But alas, I am pregnant. Is the alcohol content important for preserving it out of the fridge or otherwise? I have some nonalcoholic gin that is… passable in a mixed drink, but I don’t know if it would work here.

    1. Andrea

      I’m also pregnant, so I feel your pain on this one. But I’m seven months along, so this will be ready around the time I can drink again! I think no matter how far along you are, it’ll probably hold up after straining and storing (perhaps in the fridge) so that you can enjoy it after your little one arrives. Think of it as an amazing present you’re making for your future self!

    2. Teresa

      Maybe a rhubarb syrup or shrub to add to the nonalcoholic gin? It would probably need to stay in the fridge, though.

    3. Anna

      Make a rhubarb syrup instead maybe? Can me mixed with club soda or water or into mocktails: chop about a pound of rhubarb, add to a pot along with 2/3 cup water, cook until soft. Strain out the solids and drip for several hours. Bring the liquid to a boil, add 1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar, skim off foam, bottle. Keep in fridge, mixed 1+3 with other liquids.

  6. GeekKnitter

    “Serving size may vary”
    Perfect!
    Since I’m making your Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble this weekend, I’ll just buy a little extra and put this in the pantry to steep.

  7. LitProf

    HOW DID YOU KNOW I HAVE FRESH RHUBARB IN THE FRIDGE AND ZOOM COCKTAILS SCHEDULED FOR THIS EVENING? I love you.

    1. Robin

      Dingle is my favorite too. It’s availability is off & on. I get it in CA at K&L Wine Merchants and lovely local wine shop started carrying for me. It seems maybe expensive for this purpose but it’s only a few bucks more than Hendricks I think.

    1. deb

      Yes, I forgot to mention David Lebovitz’s advice (he never wastes anything): “You can use the leftover rhubarb to make a compote by adding additional sugar, to taste, and cooking it in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until the rhubarb pieces have broken down into a thick, chunky puree. Add a dash of vanilla extract at the end of cooking, or add a vanilla bean, split lengthwise, at the start of cooking if you wish.” I presume that it goes without saying that compote will be very, very boozy.

  8. Emmy

    Can you link the jars you used here? I recognize the Weck jars but what about the tall one you put the finished cordial into?

  9. Amanda

    How do we think frozen rhubarb would hold up? I was planning to make some rhubarb compote for my kids but this looks too good to pass up and a month from now, I will really have earned this sort of treat!

      1. deb

        I’m not certain — David says to use the freshest, least blemished fruit for preservation so I’m not sure how frozen fits in there. I’ll ask him!

    1. Hazel-Dawn

      Wondering about the instructions regarding floating rhubarb. Should it sink to the bottom? It’s been about four days and the rhubarb is essentially a floating block with the tops just peeking above the liquid. If I add more gin, won’t it just rise to float the new level?

      1. deb

        I think if it’s just peeking about the liquid, it’s fine; it will eventually soften and sink a bit. I do wonder, and I can check to see what David L. thinks, if the parchment round trick would work here. Paper clings to liquid surfaces, of course, and can push lightly floating things down.

          1. Meera

            It has been 4 days. The rhubarb was floating. I added more gin and the rhubarb just floated to the top. its a layer with only little bits floating above the liquid. Should I wait or try to add some parchment paper on top?

  10. Breanne

    I spy the Dingle Gin! I’m not normally a gin drinker, but I definitely picked some up at duty free on my way home from Ireland last year. So good.

  11. Thea

    Oh interesting! Here in Australia, cordial refers to a sweet non-alcoholic syrup that you add to still or sparkling water – I think you call it squash or soda syrup? I’d be interested to try this version!

  12. Renee

    oooooh, so perfect. my rhubarb is about ready for any and all recipes and this one will be perfect. thanks! can’t wait to add this to the cocktail hour (in a month). all good things come to those who wait. thanks deb!

  13. Brittany

    What a fabulously elegant pink! Did I miss the aside on cremes and distillations? I love your asterisk notations and I can’t seem to find it.

  14. Willah

    I love your posts dearly, and a large part of that is your elegant use of English. I am having a laugh, though, at the paper sacks being served with butter and jam. A friend gave me a bottle of rhubarb and ginger gin, so I don’t need to make that, but I’m steeping quinces in vodka and await the result with interest.

  15. Speaking as a retired writer, this SK blog post is beautifully written and deeply touching. You deftly opened my heart and took me to Paris, a city I’ve never personally visited.

    1. deb

      This is the carafe — I use them for a lot of things, including getting a bunch of water cold before dinner parties, and gifts, like the homemade irish cream. The glasses are from Duralex; I have them in a tiny size (for, like, a single espresso shot or the most perfect toddler drinking glass), this middle size, and a larger one. The mid- and large are good for wine, although my husband mostly uses them as ice cream dishes.

  16. Sandy Lentz

    Loved that sentence that sounds as though “the paper sacks…will be served”! How are they garnished??
    Great use for my burgeoning rhubarb.

  17. Jeannine

    I’ve been loving David’s Instagram tv episodes…a little happy respite from my mostly solitary days. His book, Drinking French, is marvelous. I will be trying this cordial as soon as I can get my hands on some rhubarb. (Thank you, my gorgeous German Shepherd boys who happily destroyed my thriving rhubarb patches years ago😬)
    I just listened to your wonderful talk on Cherry Bomb…I hope you and your family are doing well. Your cookbooks and blog are a happy companion in my kitchen!
    Enjoy the day!

  18. Rudi R Scherff

    Was the month time of “cooking” the product arrived at by trial and error? I just made some while waiting for a snow storm and am already grwoing impatient. Happy Mothers’ Day!

  19. Judi

    So excited to try this as my rhubarb plant is going to town! As much as I would like to make it with gin, will using vodka. And just found your strawberry rhubarb pecan loaf, which I will also make today. Thank you for all your great recipes!!

  20. MaryP

    Will definitely be trying this. Rhubarb + gin = great flavor combo
    I make rhubarb syrup. Just cook down a bunch of rhubarb and strain out the liquid with cheese cloth or an old, clean tea towel. Reheat with sugar to taste. Simple syrup is 1:1 water to sugar – that’s the ratio I use. I do not add sugar when cooking down the rhubarb so I can better control how much I’m using. I use it to make cocktails with gin or vodka (think gimlet) and it’s wonderful. Can also use it to make rhubarb soda, rhubarb lemonade, etc.

  21. Michelle

    Yum!! I’m in a summery, boozy mood lately, so I prepared a batch of this through the first step; it’s sitting in my pantry. I bought a bottle of French gin for it: something called Esme, which I’ve never had before. It smells pleasantly juniper-forward and has a beautiful bottle. Waiting for a month will be hard, but hopefully worth it.

    In the meantime, I also made rhubarb syrup, so I can get my rhubarb fix with rhubarb-lime-gin cocktails. Honestly rhubarb is so good. Best seasonal spring food.

    1. Cindy Williamson

      If I can find more rhubarb I’m making another batch tomorrow – fantastic Mother’s Day drink with champagne – finished the entire bottle between the four of us! Gotta love the immersion cooker!

  22. Sarah

    Having a healthy rhubarb patch for the first time in a few years, I (too) quickly started in on this! I chopped up my pound of rhubarb and placed it and the whole amount of sugar right into my largest Ball jar that I was assuming was 2 quarts, but then could only fit 1 1/2 cups of gin in! Turns out it was just a 1 quart jar! Should I try to split it up into another jar and get the full amount of gin in? Or would it be ok with just half the gin?

  23. Renee LeBlanc

    Hi!

    Do you know if this could work by putting it in 2 smaller jars? I don’t have a large airtight jar. Let me know! looks delicious!

  24. Lauren

    this looks ah-mazing. i have a bottle of navy strength gin that i need to kill – this seems like the perfect way to do it!

    i was wondering – does the cordial need to be tightly sealed when steeping? i have a pyrex container i can keep this in, but sadly only with a plastic lid. and is there any harm in storing this in a metal container (like a swell) once it’s fully ready? I don’t have a glass carafe but i do have an unused s’well that’s looking for a proper function…

  25. Deb

    I have had rhubab a bunch of times, but for some reason, never thought about making it at home. After reading the article, I managed to make it. And it looks good so far. The thing is I don’t know if I can wait for a month. Can I just have it say in two weeks?

  26. Hannah

    I want to make this so so bad, I bought some gin and a big 2 liter jar to put it in. Now I cant find any effin’ Rhubarb!! I have checked several stores and none is in stock. My question is, when is rhubarb season (perhaps this is a silly question)?

  27. Mona

    Hi Deb,
    Listened to your Cherry Bombe podcast episode. Re: sourdough starter and discard, I only make enough so I never need to discard the starter (I use 90g in my loaf and I always have 30g left over every week) and I keep it in the fridge and feed 1x a week (I bake weekly).
    In case you wanted to make sourdough without messing about with making discard crackers. :)

      1. Rachel

        Not Mona, but this is how I would do it with an established starter. Begin with 120 grams of starter, use 90 grams in the loaf, and put the other 30 grams in a jar. Add 30 grams of flour and 30 grams of water to the starter in the jar (which now contains 90 grams), and put it in the refrigerator for the week. The night before I planned to bake, I would take the starter out and “discard” 45 grams, then add 45 grams of flour and 45 grams of water to the jar (total 135 grams) and leave it unrefrigerated. Use the “discard” to make overnight waffle or pancake batter. The next morning, use 90 grams for your bread, and 30 of the remaining 45 grams to start the process over. It won’t be the most active starter ever, but I’m sure the bread will still be delicious, just may need to be a little patient.

  28. Lucy

    Does the quality of the gin matter? I have a handle of Gordon’s in my freezer “for emergencies.” It’s quite dry and definitely cheap, but the only other gin I have (Barr Hill) is too good to be mixed with anything but tonic.

  29. Christian

    I struggle to get hold of rhubarb where I live but I’d love to make this. I drank rhubarb cordial on a hot day at by the river in Regensburg, outside a restaurant founded in the 12th century (to feed workers at the site of the nearby bridge), alongside a meal of sausages on warm sauerkraut with caraway-seed rolls. It’s only my second-favourite place to eat in Regensburg (1st place always and forever belongs to Dampfnudel Uli) but it’s pretty excellent. I wish I could get back there this summer! My boyfriend’s parents live a little south of there and we visit them every year. Anyway, a beautiful drink for a beautiful place.

  30. Micka

    This is a timely post! I’ve cut 4.5 lbs. of rhubarb already from my plant. I’ve made the Big Crumb Rhubarb Coffee Cake, and gave 2 lbs. of rhubarb to my family and still more coming. Just for fun I’m going to try this cordial. I just happened to have oranges, a 2 qt. Ball jar and a bottle of gin 1 cup shy, so I supplemented with Spiced Rum. We’ll see what happens! It’s an interesting way to use rhubarb!

  31. Noa

    I make a cocktail with the same flavors, but no waiting a month. Make a rhubarb simple syrup, then add gin, lemon and club soda or tonic water (I do a mix). Garnish with a strawberry or the cooked rhubarb. Same rhubarb flavor, and you can eat the rhubarb after.

  32. Rachel

    I’m in the midst of making this (day 5, but who’s counting), and the rhubarb remains all the way at the top of the liquid. I only had a 1.5 Q jar, and everything just fit, so I can’t add any more gin, but even if I did, it wouldn’t change the degree of submersion. Will the fruit sink eventually, or does it not matter? I was so enchanted by your description that I immediately ordered the book (desperately need the fantasy travel to Paris right now), and I noticed that with some of the other infusions the fruit is supposed to be weighted down. I suppose I should just relax, and perhaps try another cocktail!

  33. Jess

    I have an enormous rhubarb bush but the stalks are green, not red. Will this just look/taste like pale green gin? I assume that the beautiful blush color of this cordial is really the star, not whatever flavor rhubarb imparts. Any suggestions?

    1. deb

      It will not have the pretty color (and mine is very pale too because my rhubarb was very “preseason”) but it should otherwise be fine.

      1. Justin

        I just finished aging mine, made with green rhubarb, and poured some to drink. Not only is it delicious, I think the green color fits the vegetal flavor better than pink. (Or maybe I’m just sore that my enormous rhubarb plant is almost entirely green.) Anyway, I hope you went ahead with the green stuff because this is really tasty.

  34. Helen

    Have you ever tried to speed up the infusion process by putting in in a sous vide below the boiling point of alcohol? I’ve done this to make herbal bitters before but never tried with a fruit infusion – wondering if anyone has

  35. Camille

    Hey everybody who says they don’t like gin–my cordial has been sitting for 2 weeks, I tasted it today just to see how it’s coming, and it doesn’t taste at all like gin, just rhubarb! Can’t wait for the finished product.

  36. A

    WOW this tastes AMAZING. Dangerous for something so boozy to go down so easy. I let it sit 20 days so far. Tasted at 14 and today at 20 and to be honest, I don’t taste *much* difference so I think the shorter go of it would be fine. I used Prairie gin, and I think any mild gin like that is particularly suited to this task. For those wondering about the sinking–my rhubarb didn’t sink until day 16, lol. Mine is also MUCH pinker than Deb’s–maybe because I used blood orange rind? I also used a touch less sugar than she did, but I like my booze barely sweet. Regardless, it’s awesome.

    Loving it in these applications:
    – by itself, on ice
    – stirred with a spoonful of Grand Marnier
    – in a spritz with some sparkling wine

    Can’t wait to try the boozy rhubarb compote Deb mentioned that David does post-brew. I’m sure it’s going to be awesome.

  37. Monica S

    Made mine two weeks ago and checked it today and noticed that it might be fermenting. The rhubarb is still floating and it appears to be a bit bubbly. We’ve had a heat wave the past few days (no central AC in my home in Northern CA) so maybe it’s gotten too warm? Can I salvage it if I put it in my fridge? That’s a lot of Hendricks gin that will go to waste if I toss it!

  38. vadisimus

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  39. Jennette

    My best friend lives on the West Coast of Ireland and brought me that same Dingle Gin! It is delicious! I have found that my local liquor store can get it for me from his distributor, too! Which is wonderful , because we won’t be going to Ireland this year :-(

  40. Jesse

    What happens if this is stored at warm room temperature? My kitchen runs warm, too, but I don’t want to wait the extra few weeks you recommend adding on if you store in the fridge!

  41. Amanda

    This recipe came at the perfect time as I’d just gotten a deal on a ton of rhubarb at the farmer’s market. I made this gin, and your rhubarb snacking cake (which was also *incredible*). After a very long (and historic!! #BLM) month, my gin was finally ready today! I eagerly made the cordial and it was amazing. So refreshing, I look forward to drinking it all summer. Highly recommend!

  42. Renee

    I made this a month ago, and strained it today. It was the most gorgeous dark pink color, and very very delicious. I was going to give some as a gift, but I think I’ll have to find more rhubarb for that, because we’re keeping this first batch. I made it as written (so easy) but also liked it served mixed with some white desert wine. I would go get the book like you recommended, but the last thing my 2020 needs us more delicious drinking options!

  43. Meera

    Do you need to store the cordial in the fridge? Or outside still okay? And ideas on how to use the rhubarb? Mine just finished steeping, can’t wait to have it. Mine looks more amber than pink.

  44. Hannah

    Holy moly this is delicious! We put a little mint in with some sparkling water. It’s also great on its own. I’ve already started another batch!

  45. Kbee

    The recipe says grand marnier to serve, but in the description you add it to the cordial when bottling it. I’m sure it is great either way – but curious which one Lebovitz does. Thanks for another great recipe!

  46. I started my jar on May 8th and just strained it today, July 2nd. It is DELICIOUS (tasted a bit last week, heh heh). An aside about floating vs sinking fruit in other comments: mine floated pretty much the whole time, only starting to sink this week. Anyhow, I’m glad I came here to check and see what to do with the boozy fruit…it is simmering with sugar on my stove as we speak. Thanks for a fabulous recipe, Deb/David!

    1. Just wanted to come back and say the jam is delicious. Added a scoop of sugar & juice of one lemon. Simmered covered. Still pretty boozy and a bit dry (I reeeeaaally squeezed the rhubarb for max liqueur, lol) so added a bit of water and a few of last year’s raspberries (from freezer). Simmered til mush. SO GOOD!

  47. Christine

    Finally decanted ours that started out on May 15, strained on June 15, and then has “aged” with the grand marnier added since then. It’s delicious as a tall spritzer with seltzer and lime, but I couldn’t handle how sweet it is just on its own. Thoughts on how much one could get away with reducing the amount of sugar next time?

  48. Carrie

    I just couldn’t toss the rhubarb after straining out the liqueur so I put it in a pot and stewed it with some water and coconut sugar to make a lovely dessert topping and “jam”. Great with ice cream and almond butter sandwiches. No waste. 👍

  49. Suzanne

    Sipping my first rhubarb cordial and tonic and it’s delightful! I also bought the book as soon as I read about it here and have been making many delicious cocktails and aperitifs. Yesterday I sampled my first cocktail with Lebovitz’s homemade creme de cacao recipe. I highly recommend the book.