There’s nothing quite like the first taste of rhubarb in early spring. The tartness of winter slips away, allowing spring’s sweetness to creep into pies and desserts. The bushy rhubarb plant makes its exit as the weather warms, which makes its tangy flavor especially fleeting.
Although many gardeners are now nurturing tomatoes and pepper plants, rhubarb is still the star in Nan Chase’s and DeNeice Guest’s kitchens. These local gardeners and writing partners recently released Drink the Harvest, a book about preserving the garden’s bounty through beverages that capture the changing seasons.
Chase pops open a Mason jar of bright pink rhubarb juice in her Asheville kitchen. “Every time we say rhubarb juice, I start to salivate,” Guest exclaims from across the room. Chase pours the juice into glasses as she explains why they used juice to summon the essence of spring.
“It’s the idea that the garden becomes a drink supplier,” Chase says. A glance outside her window reveals leeks planted among cilantro and potatoes interplanted with garlic. But the real stars of her small yet productive garden are the fruit, which include everything from rhubarb and paw paw to grapes and crabapple trees.
“It just makes me uncomfortable to see fruit lying on the ground,” Chase says. “So this was a way to try to get people to take another step instead of just making jams and jellies. What else do you do after you’ve eaten five pints of jelly?”
The book includes recipes for everything from dandelion wine to pear cider, with special chapters on making mead and growing garden teas. It’s geared toward urban gardeners, farming families and anyone who values seasonal ingredients.
Drink the Harvest recommends using fresh fruits and vegetables, whether they come from the market or the backyard. The authors emphasize that there is no shame in buying bulk fruit from the farmers market or food co-op when the garden doesn’t cooperate. If you do grow at home, Chase says to avoid getting caught up in creating the perfect garden. Instead, focus on what your garden does best and try not to stress about the rest.
“We were more oriented toward a realistic approach,” Chase says. “If you have a lot of something, don’t worry about growing everything. Do what you can do really well and then make the most of it.”
Guest and Chase co-wrote the book, which was released this month by gardening and country living powerhouse Storey Publishing. The recipes were developed primarily by Guest, a former scientist for NASA who has been studying wild herbs and gardening for 30 years. Chase, an accomplished freelance writer and avid gardener, contributed the text.
“I would sit there, and she would yell out what she was doing and how much she was putting in,” Chase recalls. “Then we would taste things and see what we wanted to say about it.” The collaborative process included photos by Asheville-based photography and food stylist team Johnny and Charlotte Autry.
Chase and Guest will serve up some of their favorite beverages during a book-signing event at Malaprop’s on Saturday, June 14, at 7 p.m.