Pam Corbin’s wonderful book called Preserves, part of the River Cottage handbook series (just published in an American version called The River Cottage Preserves Handbook), contains a recipe for ‘beena, made from various fruits throughout the season. It’s basically a fruit syrup to which you can add brandy to make a cordial… or in my case…seltzer to make a spritzer. If you have an abundance of fruit, you can make enough to can. Tigress of Tigress Can Jam made beautiful Rhubeena in Weck jars for the May canning and blogging event. At that point in the season, I was being pretty stingy about the rhubarb, but as more became available after I was satiated with making rhubarb sauce, jam, ketchup, “rhu-barbecue sauce,” and chutney, I made “rhubeena” and then rhubarb butter from the pulp. As it turns out, rhubarb can have a long season! The ‘beena is typically used with fruit that’s past the point of jam-making, so waiting was a good thing.
Since making the syrup is akin to the start of a jelly, I also used strawberry syrup in my spritzers since I had started a jelly-making experiment and didn’t finish it. Both the rhubarb and the strawberry version were very sweet, so cutting them not only with seltzer but also with lime turned out to be a refreshing drink on a hot day at the beginning of summer.
I used the method that Corbin calls for but reduced the amount of sugar in the rhubarb by a lot! She used about about 11/3 cup sugar for every 2 cups of juice and I used 2/3 cup. And we still found it pretty sweet. The strawberry version was closer to her proportions (3:4) since it was originally intended to become jelly, also too sweet for the purpose.
Basically, you cook a pound of rhubarb (4 cups cut up) or strawberries (about a quart) in 3 tbsp of water per pound of fruit and cook gently until the juices are flowing, mashing the fruit as it cooks to release the juice. This can take 10 minutes or less for strawberries or longer for rhubarb. I cooked the rhubarb for about 30 minutes and kept it covered to preserve the juice instead of evaporating it. The mixture was then placed gently into a jelly bag and left to drip overnight. The next day, sugar in the proportions mentioned above was added and the mixture gently heated to dissolve it. That’s it.
This can be kept in the refrigerator or canned using a water bath method. Ours disappeared in a matter of hours.