This is the year of housemade everything, and I have succumbed.
This past weekend saw me straining wild crabapple mush through cheesecloth in a mostly failed attempt to make wild crabapple jelly, as well as cooking down garden tomatoes for ketchup -- a much easier and more successful venture, by the way. This summer I have made basil ice cream and wild mint ice cream. And now, I am making my own sodas, thanks to Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss (Storey, $19).
The sodas we drink out of cans from supermarkets and machines are much degraded from the birth of such concoctions at soda fountains at pharmacies back in the 19th century. Leaving aside such concerns as exactly replicating the formula for Coca-Cola, an obsession for some, there's a world of other flavors that can be mixed with seltzer water.
These range from brewing birch beer with actual birch bark and sassafras root to making simple syrups from a variety of easy-to-obtain natural ingredients and just adding them to your fizzy water source. (Most recipes have instructions for using either seltzer water or carbonation with a siphon.) You can make pretty much any commercial drink yourself, even your own energy water.
The book is divided into chapters devoted to sparkling waters, fruit sodas, root beers and colas, herbal sodas and healing waters, fizzy juices, sparkling teas and coffees, ice cream drinks, and "shrubs, switchels and other vinegar drinks."
Certainly fruit sodas are an easy way to get started, combining ingredients into a sweet syrup on the stove, sometimes straining, cooling, then fizzing. An easy one is the raspberry lime rickey, with mashed raspberries, juice of a freshly squeezed lime, and seltzer. Black lemonade comes from lemon juice and zest, nutmeg, cloves, sage and Kitchen Bouquet. Blueberry cinnamon soda is nothing you're going to find in any can.
With 200-some recipes here, there's no way to mention everything, only that there's probably going to be some blend to pique your interest. I'm going to skip to "shrubs, switchels and other vinegar drinks," the type least familiar to most contemporary soda consumers.
Yes, these are soft drinks "spiked with vinegar," and were popular as "temperance" beverages before and during prohibition. A honey shrub is a quick way to see if vinegar sodas appeal -- a very simple syrup of honey and sherry vinegar is mixed with seltzer. Molasses and malt vinegar, a couple more ingredients you might already have in the cupboard, combine with seltzer to make malted molasses switchel, or you can really strip down with black vinegar water -- balsamic vinegar and seltzer water. Whether you like these drinks will have a lot to do with, say, how you already feel about Mountain Dew versus kombucha. If you like super sweet pop, you might gravitate to the cordial, a sweeter version of vinegar sodas. That said, a little riff I did on a honey shrub, with balsamic vinegar, was plenty sweet.
Most of this stuff is not difficult. It will take a little time. And you will be doing a lot of straining, that's true. But for a peach habanero soda, isn't it worth the fuss?