Saturday, August 27, 2011
Nutrition-wise, one of the few things I have going for me is the fact that I don't much care for soft drinks. The most popular pops, in particular, leave me cold. Pepsi? Eh. Coke? I probably average one serving every two or three years.
When I do indulge in sweet, fizzy drinks, they tend to have a more old-fashioned bent. I enjoy root beer--with or without ice cream--and birch beer, when I stumble across it. I like ginger ale and love ginger beer, the hotter the better.
And it turns out that I'm a big fan of a drink even less likely that these to appear on grocery shelves or in a gas station cooler: switchel. Flavored with molasses, ginger, and vinegar, it's spicy, stomach-settling, and weirdly refreshing. And luckily, it's really easy to make.
Like so many soft drinks, switchel has historic and utilitarian roots. It first appeared in the 17th century in the Caribbean, where molasses was a plentiful by-product of the sugar refining industry. A couple of centuries later in America, switchel was a kind of proto-energy drink, providing electrolytes and hydration to sweaty laborers doing the hot, heavy work of making hay.
I based my own attempt on a recipe in Ellis Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation, which was in turn adapted from Stephen Cresswell's Homemade Root Beer, Soda, and Pop. I reduced the amount of sugar and chose not to dilute the syrup to drinking strength right away; the mix stores well in the fridge, so I just make it up as needed, adding a few tablespoons to a glass of cold soda water or a mug of hot water.
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c molasses
2 inches grated fresh ginger
1/2 c water
Heat all of the ingredients until just boiling, then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Let cool and strain to remove the ginger. Store, refrigerated, in a jar. Dilute to taste with hot water, cold water, or seltzer.