OK, is it just me or did we just leapfrog spring and go directly to summer with the recent high temperatures?
After mornings trying to wrangle the garden into shape or keep up with an energetic lab on a leash, I retreat to the comfort of my too-early-in-the-season air-conditioned abode and look for something refreshing to drink. Water is always best, but sometimes I want something just a bit more ... flavorful?
I’m taking soft drinks out of the equation. I’m in the too-long process of weaning myself off colas (first of all, they aren’t that good for you and, secondly, the price on a carton of soft drinks seems to rise every time I go the market), but I’m still craving the carbonation ... the fizz factor that sets the tongue a-tingle and makes me happy.
So I’m trying something new ... homemade sodas.
It’s not a new idea, just new for me.
You start with a simple syrup (one cup water to one cup sugar, heat until the sugar melts and the cool before using) and then add fruit (berries are easiest) or herbs in whatever your favorite flavor combinations, and finish with carbonated water (seltzer).
For this column, I made four flavors: blueberry from a stash I had in the freezer; I then substituted fresh strawberries from Cottle Farms in the blueberry recipe to make a strawberry syrup; a cucumber/mint/basil flavor and a ginger, red pepper syrup.
I set up a mixing station in the newsroom and tempted my coworkers to taste test the varieties.
The blueberry started out slow, not “berry” enough. I added a bit more syrup to the mix than the recipe called for and that did the trick.
Strawberry was “very good,” according to half of the testers. Not too sweet and “fresh.”
Some folks thought the cucumber/basil/mint combination was a bit odd ... until they tasted it. “Surprising” and “refreshing” were some of the comments.
The ginger/red chile pepper passed the “sniff” test. A couple of tasters said that it reminded them a bit of Blenheim, although not quite as strong. Still, it “has a bit of a kick” was the overwhelming consensus. Folks kept coming back for this one.
A few people mixed flavors.
Blueberry and strawberry “tastes like a fruit roll-up.”
Strawberry and ginger was a hit.
Now, these syrups can be used in ways other than soda. Imagine, if you will, the cucumber/mint/basil mixed with gin or vodka. Blueberry-tinis?
Anyway, try one of these or come up with your own. I hear that peaches are already ripening in McBee . . .
About 3 cups blueberry syrup, enough for 12 drinks
20 ounces (about 4 cups) fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
2 cups water
7 ounces sugar
1 lime, juiced
Place the blueberries and water into a medium saucepan, set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove saucepan from the heat and pour the mixture into a colander lined with cheesecloth that is set in a large bowl. Allow to cool for 15 minutes.
Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the skin and pulp.
Return the blueberry juice to the saucepan along with the sugar and lime juice.
Place over medium high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and transfer to a heatproof glass container and place in the refrigerator, uncovered, until completely cooled.
To serve, combine 1/4 cup of the blueberry liquid with 8 ounces of carbonated water and serve over ice.
Spicy Ginger Soda
Makes enough syrup for 12 drinks
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 3-inch pieces fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 cups water
12 lime wedges
6 cups soda water
Combine sugar, red pepper flakes, salt, ginger and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove pan from heat, cover and steep for 30 minutes.
Strain ginger syrup into a jar and chill.
To serve, fill a 12-ounce glass with ice cubes. Add 2 tablespoons ginger syrup, squeeze a lime wedge into glass and top with soda water. Stir to combine.
and Basil Soda
Enough syrup for 12 drinks
1 1/2 cups simple syrup (see recipe below)
1/2 large cucumber (about 8 ounces) thinly sliced, plus 12 slices for garnish
24 fresh mint leaves, plus 12 sprigs for garnish
12 fresh basil leaves
6 cups soda water
Bring simple syrup to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove pan from heat and add cucumber slices, mint leaves and basil. Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
Strain syrup into a jar, pressing solids in a strainer.
To serve: fill a 12-ounce glass with ice cubes. Ass 2 tablespoons syrup and top with soda water. Stir to combine. Garnish with cucumber slice and sprig of mint.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat, let cool then transfer to a jar. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.