1776 / Rhubarb Sour

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This week’s recipe: Rhubarb Sour

1776 is the second-greatest musical ever written about the American Revolution. Yes, we all know what the first-greatest is, but Thomas Jefferson is the only character in 1776 to overlap with Hamilton. (Mostly: George Washington appears frequently by missive in 1776, and John Adams appears in the lyric, “Sit down John, you fat mother******” in Hamilton—a lyric that is in fact an homage to 1776.) But 1776 has much to recommend it. It has Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World as John Adams, unsung hero of the Continental Congress. It has dirty jokes. It has, to my knowledge, the longest-ever break between songs in an American musical. It has a truly chilling villain song about the hypocrisies inherent in the Triangle Trade. It has Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom in an incredible dress that I want for my wedding. It has what is maybe the best summation of our politics today in the line, “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.”

But most importantly, it deglazes the mythology from the Founding Fathers. The movie ends with the Congressional delegates posed similarly to the famous John Trumbull painting, as the Liberty Bell rings. But by that point, you know that the men posed like heroic statues at this solemn historical moment are just humans, with all the human weaknesses and pettiness. They’re snobs and insult comics; brawlers and cowards; horndogs, fatties, and alcoholics. (Even the brilliant Jefferson can’t get it together to write the Declaration of Independence until Adams arranges a conjugal visit for him.) And that’s just the protagonists. The movie’s main villains are more sinister, evincing a deeply cynical attachment to the privileges afforded to them by the status quo. To work with them, the heroes have to sacrifice and compromise, and the stuff of those sacrifices and compromises— racism, state’s rights, regionalism, who qualifies as an American—are the seeds of so much of what is wrong in today’s politics.

Still, I come back to a memorable exchange where Adams tells Benjamin Franklin that if they strike a reference to slavery from the Declaration, posterity will never forgive them. Franklin replies, “What will posterity think we were, demigods? We’re men, no more, no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed. First things first, John. Independence, America. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?” 241 years later, what difference has it made, if we’re still fighting over the same shit? It feels like our country is very sick. We have self-styled “patriots” calling the Declaration of Independence trash because the references to King George remind them too strongly of their Dear Leader. We have TV personalities filming commercials that call for true lovers of liberty to gun down their opponents in the streets. Things feel less safe and less stable than they have in my lifetime. It’s nice to think that the Founders went through the same struggles and arguments that we’re going through today – hopefully we can come out of it as well as they did. Happy July 4th 5th.

So anyway, here’s a cocktail. Every year, a friend and I watch 1776 on or around Independence Day, and since she doesn’t like wine, I take it as an excuse to try a cool new cocktail. There was some nice rhubarb at the farmer’s market last week so I decided to make the rhubarb sour recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Date Night In. It was the perfect mix of sweet and sour, and the nutmeg adds an unexpected twist. I liked it so much that I told my sister about it, and we tried to make it at our aunt’s house on July 4th, except our ingredients were limited and we had to substitute vodka for the gin and Newman’s Own pink lemonade for the lemon juice. It made rather a different sort of cocktail, but still yummy!

Rhubarb Sour

From Date Night In

Serves 2

Rhubarb Sour

  • 3 ounces of gin
  • 3 ounces of rhubarb syrup (recipe below)
  • 1.5 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Lemon peel (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

Rhubarb Syrup

  • 1 pound chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Additional flavorings: cinnamon stick, freshly grated nutmeg, vanilla bean, or citrus peel

For the syrup: Place the rhubarb, sugar, water, and your choice of flavorings into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly so the mixture continues to boil gently for 15 minutes, or until it is reduced by nearly half. The rhubarb will break down and the liquid will get syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat and let the syrup cool to room temperature. When cool, strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve. Transfer the syrup to a storage container with a lid. It will keep covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

For the cocktail: Combine the gin, rhubarb syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into two glasses and garnish with lemon peel and nutmeg, if desired.

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