Raise a glass to summer

Homemade rabarbrasaft (rhubarb cordial) is a sweet way to enjoy the season

a pitcher and two glasses of pink rabarbrasaft (rhubarb cordial)

Photo: Synøve Dreyer/Mat Prat
Rabarbrasaft, rhubarb cordial, is a drink concentrate that’s easy to make and easy to enjoy!

Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American

I am an enthusiastic student when it comes to food preservation of summer produce. I’ve got a cabinet dedicated to my small-batch jams and preserves, and the back of my refrigerator is lined with jars of lacto-fermented sauerkraut. Throughout the year, I check out books on canning, fermenting, and cider-making from the library. It’s an ongoing education for me!

Though I have recipes that I return to every year, I love to find new techniques to celebrate summer’s abundance. Last year it was liquors: I picked solbær (black currants) for the first time in the garden of my friends Laurie and Howard, and I made a couple quarts of crème de cassis (black currant liquor). I gifted a few jars of it for Christmas gifts, and the first sip took me right back to their sunny garden.

This summer, I am excited to experiment with making homemade cordial, which is known as saft in Norwegian. 

A cordial is a syrupy drink concentrate made from berries, fruit, or flower blossoms. (Technically a fruit-based cordial is called a squash, but it’s easier to keep them under the same umbrella of cordials.) Cordials can be prepared two different ways: simmering fruit in a sugar syrup on the stovetop, or infusing blossoms overnight in a syrup. The syrup is diluted to one part syrup to four parts water for a refreshing, light beverage.

Cordials are much more common in Europe than they are in the United States, but I think we should change that.

In Norway, rhubarb and different types of bær (berries) are common flavors, but I am also bookmarking recipes for by hylleblomstsaft (elderflower cordial, one of the most enchanting flavors!) and geitramssaft (fireweed, which I discovered last summer in my own neighborhood). To change up the flavor, you can add different whole spices or herbs. Whether harvested from a garden or foraged in the wild, cordials offer a wonderful technique for capturing summer’s flavors in a bottle to use all year long.

Beyond beverages, cordials are also quite versatile in the Norwegian kitchen:

A base for fruktsuppe (fruit soup)

Drizzled on cake layers in bløtkake or a trifle

A sauce for riskrem or puddings

The base for a hot toddy to soothe a sore throat

I present to you my recipe for rabarbrasaft, rhubarb cordial. Rhubarb is the flavor I anticipate the most in June, and this cordial comes together in mere minutes. Its hot pink hue will brighten your summer!

If you prefer something with a bit more spunk, I have also included my crowd-pleasing recipe for Rhubarb Shrub, with apple cider vinegar. 

Are you a cordial fan? I’d love to hear from you! Write to me at food@na-weekly.com.

Rhubarb Cordial
By Christy Olsen Field

Makes 1 quart

4 pounds fresh rhubarb stalks

2 cups water

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 tsp. citric acid* 

Specialty equipment:

Fine-mesh strainer

Pourable container with a spout

Quart-size jar or swing-top bottle, sterilized

Here’s how you make it:

Thinly slice the rhubarb. If your rhubarb looks tough, you can peel it if you want. If the stalk is really thick, I cut it in half lengthwise.

In a small saucepan, stir together the rhubarb, water, sugar, and lemon. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until the rhubarb is tender and starting to fall apart. 

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pourable container. It will take some time for the liquid to drain away from the rhubarb solids. Discard the rhubarb, or save it to enjoy with yogurt, oatmeal, or ice cream.

Add 1 tsp. citric acid to jar or bottle and pour in the cordial. Store in the refrigerator for up to six months.

*Citric acid is used for safe long-term food preservation. It can be found in the bulk or canning section of many grocery stores. If you plan on enjoying your saft in the next month, feel free to skip it. Otherwise, the citric acid doesn’t affect the flavor and will keep it safely in the fridge for up to six months for a taste of summer in the winter. You can also freeze your cordial in an ice cube tray for long-term storage.


Rhubarb Shrub
By Christy Olsen Field

This is not a Norwegian-based recipe, but I make a few jars of this utterly delicious vinegar-based cordial every June! The apple cider vinegar complements the rhubarb’s puckery bite, and it is a no-cook recipe. Dilute to one part shrub concentrate to four parts water. It makes for a tangy treat with sparkling water or as a mixer for cocktails or mocktails. It’s a crowd pleaser, even for those who don’t like rhubarb or vinegar!

4 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s brand, with the vinegar mother)

Here’s how you make it:

Stir together rhubarb and sugar in a small bowl until evenly coated. 

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 4–5 days. Stir every 12 hours or so. This will create the syrup without cooking it.

Strain out the liquid with a mesh strainer, lined with cheesecloth, into a pourable container. Discard the rhubarb solids, or enjoy them stirred into yogurt or ice cream.

Add the apple cider vinegar and stir.

Pour the mixture into a lidded jar and keep in the refrigerator. You can use it right away, but I like to let it sit for a week or two to let the flavors meld. The longer it sits, the deeper the flavor will be.

To serve, pour 1 part shrub to 4 parts sparkling or still water. You can also use it as a mixer with cocktails.

This article originally appeared in the June 4, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Christy Olsen Field

Christy Olsen Field was the Taste of Norway Editor from 2019 to 2022. She worked on the editorial staff of The Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012. An enthusiastic home cook and baker, she lives north of Seattle with her husband and two young sons.