Friday, 9 August 2013

Recipe: Rhubarb and Vanilla Cordial

Rhubarb and sweet cicely: BFFs
We're coming to the end of the time when you want to be harvesting any rhubarb; the plants can get exhausted if over-cropped. We took next to no stems from our five or so crowns last (their first) year, but have taken what we assume to be a prudent number this year. We'll be splitting the crowns this autumn and spreading them out a bit too, having fallen into the trap of judging the spacing based on when there was no foliage on the plants, rather than when they are in full flow. If you've still got a few stems going and fancy doing something a bit different, this cordial is a total winner. If you also like gin, then read on indeed, as this makes a sunnily gorgeous mixer for the stuff.

I saw a recipe for rhubarb cordial on Niamh Shields' excellent eatlikeagirl blog. I'd never made any sort of cordial before, but the recipe looked disarmingly simple, and so proved: 15 minutes after reading it I had rhubarb cordial. The only down side was the amount of sugar needed to balance the tartness of the rhubarb. On a WEA herb gardening course Kasia and I attended a while ago (I know, we're just so rock and roll) the tutor mentioned sweet cicely can be used to cut down the amount of sugar in a recipe by about a third. We still have some growing in a pot that was donated at the course - it just comes back every year with no fuss - so I thought I'd give it a shot, and also added a vanilla pod as the association of vanilla with sweetness would probably allow a further reduction in sugar, plus rhubarb and vanilla-laden custard is a familiar and comforting combo.

After a couple of attempts I think I've got the amounts just about spot on. This makes for a well balanced cordial that has some bracing tartness, levelled out with the warm sweetness of vanilla. It's super-easy and goes a bit like this:

You will need...


  • 500g Rhubarb, chopped into inch long pieces
  • A small handful of sweet cicely, roughly chopped. If you don't have sweet cicely, I'd add an extra 75g of sugar.
  • One vanilla pod, split down the middle, seeds scraped out. (Vanilla can be stupidly expensive in supermarkets. If you'd rather get some that's stupidly cheap, look on ebay. The Keralan stuff we got was great)
  • 125g light brown sugar.
  • 500ml water
  • Squeeze of lemon juice


  1. Bung everything (including the scraped out vanilla pod) into a decent sized pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes until the rhubarb has more or less turned to a mushy pulp.
  2. Strain through a muslin, although I reckon a very fine sieve would just about do the trick too.

That's it! The vast majority of the cordial will be through the muslin and in your chosen receptacle within the first few seconds, but if you leave it for a few hours or overnight, the later-coming liquid is more flavoursome and pinker in color, so this is worth doing.

All that then needs doing is to leave it to cool and then transfer into a suitable bottle, such as this antique decanter.

In the absence of such a vessel, an empty Robinsons bottle should be just the ticket. I kept some in the fridge for 5-6 days, after which time it still tasted great and produced no ill-effects.

I strongly recommend mixing this half and half with gin, in an ice-filled tumbler, topping off the last inch of the glass with soda water. For an entirely blissful experience, savour the resultant beverage in the garden, on a sun-lounger, with a copy of your preferred reading material (presuming you have reasonable taste in literature- no trash please) to hand and the Test Match Special on the wireless. Unbeatable.


  1. Martyn made elderflower cordial and blackcurrant cordial this year which we dilute with sparkling water - delicious. Does the sweet cicely work I have tried to source some but can never find it!

    1. Yep, it certainly does. On its own it has an anise flavour, but that doesn't cone through in a recipe like this. I've seen it growing wild in a few places (including my sister's garden, where it was growing like crazy as a weed), so maybe just keep your eyes open for fern-like plants when you're out and about.

  2. Sounds great, I may have to give this a try. Though I won't be mixing mine with gin....foul stuff!! I'll stick to vodka thank you!!

    1. I'm sure it would make a great mixer for a variety of spirits!


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