What if cookery writers told the truth? My honest recipe for “exploding rhubarb soda”

Guest post by Hannah Wernet
By: greg-urquhart – CC BY 2.0
By: greg-urquhartCC BY 2.0

Cookery writers want you to believe they were born knowing how to cook — that making mayonnaise from scratch was something they picked up in the womb, and they learned hollandaise roughly around the time they learned to walk. Some things took longer, like boning a duck, but they had still mastered cooking to a professional standard long before the rest of us could tie our shoes.

It’s like photoshopping, but for the kitchen…

We are starting to wake up, as a society, to the fact that the girls in the adverts don’t really look like that at all. And we’re get wise to the reality that it is simply not okay to raise our kids with the idea that there is some kind of über-human race that looks nothing at all like the normal people you see in the shops. And I don’t want to trivialize that issue at all. But cooking is important to me, and I’d like a bit more honesty please. I want Jamie Oliver to tell me that the first time he made the chia pudding it tasted like cold snot, for Gordon Ramsey to confess that one time his mixer broke down and it was a total shambles.

I’ve been guilty of it too…

About a month ago, I was visiting my husband’s family in France. I desperately wanted to impress with my cooking, and give them a taste of British-Asian Fusion cuisine. I overreached myself badly and was standing in the kitchen at five in the afternoon, with guests due at six, covered in flour and sausage meat, shouting at my poor husband. My aubergine samosas had exploded, and were a huge soupy puddle in the oven. My mother in-law came in and saved the day — scooping the gunk together into arty-looking little towers — and they tasted great.

I served them smugly and said nothing about the shouting. If I had then written the recipe up later, I would loftily command “be sure not to overstuff the samosas,” because of course, I’m a cookery writer, and I just know this.

I want to see a recipe that tells the truth for once…

Something along the lines of “well, I had this deadline looming, but I thought I’d try sausages. I’ve never done it before, and I totally f***ed up the first time. The second time was a little better, and the third time, I nailed it. Tah dah!” Because that is what cooking really is. Improvising, and staying cool.

This is important to me, because some things are difficult to make, and no one should feel like the failed because their galantine was a huge meaty mess. Scoop that s**t up and call it burgers.

So here’s my honest recipe for Exploding Rhubarb Soda:

My first honest recipe was adapted from Emma Christiansen’s book True Brews. It’s a wonderful book, and she totally warned me this would happen, but I ignored her…

What you will need:

  • 500g Rhubarb
  • 7 Tbsp sugar approximately
  • A pinch of yeast (Wine yeast is best, but baker’s yeast will do, although leave a slightly bready scent.)

You will also need:

An attractive glass bottle if you want it to explode, a normal 1.5 litre plastic soft drinks bottle if you don’t.


  1. Chop your Rhubarb, add just enough water to cover, and simmer it over a gentle heat until it falls apart.
  2. Strain the Rhubarb of its juice and add enough water to make 1 litre of liquid.
  3. Taste the juice. It will be very sour.
  4. Warm the juice up and add the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Taste after each spoon until you reach the level of sweetness that you like. You will then need to add one extra spoonful to give the yeast something to eat. You do not need to boil the juice, just warm it so the sugar dissolves, although it will not hurt if you do boil it.
  5. Let the juice cool, then pour into the plastic bottle. add the yeast, screw the lid well, and give it a good shake.
  6. There should be a lot of headroom in the bottle (1 litre in a 1.5 litre bottle). Put the bottle in a warmish place overnight.
  7. Come back and check it in the morning. There should be very little give in the bottle. If you can still squeeze it, put it back and leave it a little longer. As soon as the bottle feels firm, put it in the fridge.
  8. When it is cold, serve the soda. Open it carefully over a sink, allowing it to burp out some of the trapped air before opening it completely. If you want to serve it to guests, put it in a pretty bottle, but REMEMBER: put it back in the plastic bottle, store it in the fridge and use it within one week.

Honest alternative:

Don’t put the soda back in the bottle (as I did not), put it in the fridge and forget about it. BOOM! Glass everywhere.

Comments on What if cookery writers told the truth? My honest recipe for “exploding rhubarb soda”

  1. I tried making beetroot wine once; I’d got some beetroot in a veg box and didn’t fancy eating it, but the idea of a spiced fizzy wine appealed. The instructions said to put it in a barrel or wine making equipment to start with, then transfer to bottles after a couple of weeks. Since I didn’t have a barrel, I put it straight into the bottles and promised myself I’d vent them regularly to prevent explosions.

    Regularly turned out to be after two weeks.

    I turned the entire understairs cupboard pepto bismol pink. Even Barbie would have struggled with the luridness of that accidental redecoration.

    I didn’t dare open the second bottle to let it vent, so it spent another month under there and when it was in theory time to open it, I took it into the garden and opened it into a bucket. The force of the spray broke the bucket in half.

    In the end, we got maybe four glasses of pink fizzy wine, and you know what? It tasted of beetroot and cloves and carbon dioxide, and it wasn’t very nice at all.

    • Sounds like my husband’s attempt to make persimmon wine, only it was fluorescent orange goo, and he decorated the entire kitchen in one explosion. He did use proper wine-making equipment with one of those goose-necked things to let the wine breathe–but nobody warned him to make sure froth didn’t block it up. That valve shot past his head like a musket-ball and narrowly missed him!

  2. You need some Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen in your life, sister!

    They break down recipes and explain the science of food and cooking so that you know what to do but also, more importantly, why food behaves certain ways under certain conditions.

  3. ATK + Julia Child Programs + Alton Brown/Good eats and “Two Fat ladies” and I think you get pretty much all the techniques on video you need to succeed.

    The hardest part about cooking is the techniques that they use, which chefs learn and internalize.
    With Youtube now we can watch people make so much stuff, that makes it easier to practice the techniques in familiar dishes so that we can also learn to internalize all of these things.

    Another piece of advice I’ve always been told,”Never try anything new for people who would care if you messed it up.”
    Good luck with your cooking adventures!

  4. Last year, on NPR they had chefs telling stories about times they had messed up making important meals. It made me feel a lot better when the tops of the dinner rolls ended up a beautiful golden brown, but the bottoms were all coal black!

  5. My Great-Aunt Mame (yes, Auntie Mame, no kidding!) used to make root beer that was really beer. My Dad says that as a boy he lived in terror of being sent down to her cellar for anything because you never knew when a root beer grenade would explode, sending glass and fizzy drink flying everywhere in the dark. Now, who’s up for a cherry flamb`e?

  6. Man, I got on a soda making kick last summer from that book but my shit never got carbonated enough. Even after shaking it flattened out quickly. My next plan of action is to try force carbonation because some of those soda flavors were amazing. My favorite was a muscadine grape one I made late in the summer when they were falling off the vines.

  7. “…the first time he made the chia pudding it tasted like cold snot”
    Ha ha ha!
    Yeah I myself am a loser in the chia pudding wars.
    I think the trickiest thing to navigate about cooking is this : the recipe is a damn lie.
    The recipe represents food that is
    a) prepared the way somebody else likes it
    b) prepared in somebody else’s kitchen, using somebody else’s equipment.
    And don’t even get me started on the lies the recipe pictures are telling.

    The recipe is a suggestion and I don’t care who the author is. The times I have f***ed up the worst in the kitchen is when I was following a recipe against my own common sense. (Four cups of wine is too much for one small recipe, Martha.)

  8. I love this idea. It’d be nice if more people would give the real stories behind the creation of a new dish. Very rarely do I get something perfect on my first go, even when I’m following a recipe. And this recipe sounds super yummy! I love rhubarb, but it’s so sour I’m never sure what to do with it.

    I did want to point out, though, that this soda recipe will end up with a (really really low, like, 1%, I think?) alcohol content. I’m sure most people will know or understand that, and the percentage isn’t a problem for most people (probably even kids), but some people might not know and it might be upsetting or even possibly harmful to consume it.

  9. OMG exploding glass. I learned fermentation from The Art of Fermentation and there are lots of warning about exploding glass, so I have been way too scared for that to happen. XD Plus I got some tips from Alton Brown who recommended plastic from the start cuz, broken glass.

    I think this is why I love blogs, a lot of writers are honest about how often they tweak a recipe or when it has failed miserably. Giving tips and such. I grew up in a house hold where we were very honest about cooking so people hear from me about how things aren’t that good, or how it didn’t turn out right etc.

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