Secret Garden Rhubarb Fizz

Pen and Palate rhubarb gin fizz

illustration: tram nguyen

A couple of years ago, my boyfriend Rob bought this house in Pennsylvania. It’s near his parents, and a lake, and it’s relatively close to New York City, and it has these gorgeous glass windows that, in addition to letting in lots of sunlight during the day, have the added benefit of being very terrifying at night, because the house is in the middle of the woods and when it’s dark outside the murderers can see in but you can’t see out. It’s spooky in a lightly thrilling way, which I consider a real plus.

Another perk about the place is that it has this really fancy garden. The people who owned it before us were apparently seriously into gardening, because their setup included a fence (to protect it from local bears, duh) and a homemade irrigation system. When we bought the house, the garden was divided up into neat plots of thyme and tomatoes and lettuce and lavender and all sorts of other exotic ground-dwelling things.

The problem with gardening, however, is that it requires constant vigilance and care. And Rob and I live mostly in New York. Because we’re at the house so sporadically, I knew it was only a matter of time before everything shriveled up and died. (Also because I am incapable of keeping any plant alive for more than 2 days, as I learned when I was a fashion assistant who killed multiple of my boss’s $725 orchids.

Rob and I made plans to spend a few weeks at the house this summer, and despite the fact that we’d done not a single bit of weed upkeep in the two years since we purchased it, I had visions of myself in a miraculously lush garden with a trowel and a watering can, possibly also wearing one of those chic straw hats, and cheerily plucking away at various fresh fruits and vegetables which, of course, I would store in a quaint little basket. And then I would make pies with them! Of course! Because when you change cities, you also change personalities, right?

We got to Pennsylvania, and after a few days of laying about and snacking on chips I finally got around to going up to the garden. It turns out certain things do indeed continue to grow in soil, even if one does not tend to them. But those things are not, say, juicy, red tomatoes, or fluffy stalks of kale. Mostly they’re weeds. The garden was completely overgrown, with ugly vines crowding what had once been straight, even paths, and useless flowers popping up where there had had formerly been clearly-labeled herb plots. I saw no survivors. I had failed, yet again.

I went down to the kitchen, hanging my head in shame. “Everything’s dead,” I called out to Rob. This was not precisely true. I had found a patch of what might have been chives, but I was afraid to taste them and verify their identity due to a traumatic childhood experience involving azaleas, Ipecac, a school talent show, and a New Kids on the Block song.

I told my mother about the failure, and she started referring to Rob and me as Colin and Mary, from “The Secret Garden.” “Wasn’t Colin her crippled cousin?” I asked. Pause. “Well, that’s not really the point.”

A few days after my pathetic initial jaunt, we had some friends out to visit. We took them up to the garden to show them just what we’d squandered. “Look, there’s even a whole irrigation set-up,” I said, pointing sadly at the little white tubes which, for the record, I have no idea how to work. “We could have really made something of this place.”

I was being embarrassingly dramatic, and in an effort to divert attention from my antics, our guests started examining the surrounding vegetation.

“Wait, that’s rhubarb,” my friend Amanda said. There was a huge patch of perfectly ripe, bright pink rhubarb sitting there in the sun, practically waving its oversized leaves in our faces. Amanda’s boyfriend came over and examined the plant next to the rhubarb. “Hey look, raspberries!” he said. Sure enough, nearby bushes were dotted with green raspberry buds, not yet ripe but definitely on their way to being edible. As we walked back down to the house, Amanda spotted several beautiful mushrooms dotting the pathway. Two days later, my sister Devon arrived in town and promptly uncovered thriving plots of mint and thyme. The point is, not only am I the world’s worst gardener; I am also apparently blind.

Be that as it may, I do love to brag about using “ingredients fresh from the garden,” and that rhubarb was not going to turn itself into the delightful summer cocktail of my dreams. Devon and I marched up to the garden and started procuring some legitimately garden fresh ingredients. I did not have a trowel or a straw hat, and in place of a cute little basket I was using a plastic grocery bag from Wegman’s, but the cocktail turned out very nicely anyway.


Serves 3


2 shots gin
15 mint leaves
1/2 cup rhubarb, rinsed and diced
3/4 cup water
3 Tbsp. sugar
18 oz. prosecco

In a small bowl, muddle the mint in the gin. Refrigerate for several hours.

Combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water in a sauté pan. Bring water to a boil, and then turn the heat to low and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, covered, until the rhubarb is soft and there’s a reserve of approximately 2 oz. of syrup.

Strain the syrup, discarding the solids, and refrigerate for an hour or more.

Once the rhubarb syrup and gin are ready to use, strain the mint from the gin and discard. Combine the gin and rhubarb syrup and shake. In three champagne glasses, evenly divide the resulting syrup. Add 6 oz. of prosecco to each glass. Stir and drink.

2 Comments Write a comment

  1. This post is nearly uncanny…my brother and I are currently house hunting in Pennsylvania, near our parents, where I want to have a vegetable garden that I imagined only having to tend “when I’m in town”. Damnit.

  2. Emily, ha, amazing! Good luck with the house hunting–and look for a garden with rhubarb, apparently the most resilient produce ever.

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