Alcohol · Beverages · Challenges · Vegetables

Just when you think you’ve got it figured out

burdock rootWe have started getting a farm box.  The boxes come from a farm a small amount of distance from us, who utilize the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) method of providing good food to those interested.  Once a week a “share” of the farm is brought to our drop off point, none of which was selected by me, and let me tell you that has been a fun eye opener!

At the grocery store, I have my tried and true “normal” vegetables and other than the jicama which my grandmother taught me to love, it’s a pretty bland mix.  Enter the mystery box of vegetable goodies.  On at least 2 occasions I have had to call my sister, who has been receiving farm boxes for a couple of years, to describe to her what it was I might be trying to ingest.

“Lynn,” I would ask, “I’m just working on an Asian soup and I started peeling the ginger from the farm box, only it doesn’t smell very gingery.  As a matter of fact, I’m not sure it is ginger.  Any thoughts?”

When she stopped laughing (because of course she had been through the same process, only earlier), she would kindly inform me that what I was peeling was a Jerusalem artichoke, and it probably wasn’t going to bring any authentic Asian flavors to my soup.  That would be my cue to grab James Peterson’s “Vegetables” book to get the definitive skinny on this pantry interloper.  Best suggestion:  cube in in a salad.  Really delicious and great crunch.  Don’t peel until right before using because it will brown.

burdock cutLast week my phone call described a carrot looking item which was brown and had a well defined lighter core.  Burdock root.  Of course.  Why didn’t I …. well because I’d never seen one before.  My British husband had been no help in the identification process, but when I reported back to him it was burdock, he achieved the facial expression of someone who is briefly somewhere else in space and time.

“When I was young,” the explanation began, “we used to drink burdock and dandelion soda.”

Hollywood would have treated that statement with someone spraying a mouthful of water out in disgust and amazement.  Really?  That’s what you give your children to drink?  No wonder the Beatles came to America – they wanted to get away from dandelion juice.

But I love my English husband and while occasionally still surprised by the ways in which our upbringings differed, try to make him as happy as possible.  And so, I did my best to construct a beverage which served the dual purpose of reviving nostalgic happiness and at the same time making my lawn a less weedy place.

There are in fact recipes for Burdock and Dandelion soda, noting that as odd as it sounds, they are both roots and similar in final form to its American cousins Root Beer and Sarsaparilla.  My challenge was the recipes called for the powder of the roots, and I had the real McCoy.  I like challenges.

Burdock and Dandelion Soda

  • 5 cups cold water
  • 1 1/2 tsp dandelion root, peeled and either chopped very fine, or ground.  If you don’t have them in your yard, check with a neighbor.  You’ll get root and a new friend.
  • 1 tsp burdock root, peeled and either chopped very fine, or ground.  If you don’t already have a source, burdock can be found in the produce section of most Asian grocery stores.
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (not Jerusalem artichoke)
  • 1/2 vanilla pod
  • 1 whole star anise, ground
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid (found with canning supplies or from cheese making suppliers)
  • pinch cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp yeast (preferably champagne yeast, although regular bread yeast will do)

Add all ingredients except sugar and yeast to a saucepan and cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool.

Strain the mixture through a tea towel, butter muslin or several thicknesses of cheesecloth (in descending order of desirability).  Mix the cooled, strained liquid with the sugar and yeast and stir till the sugar is dissolved.

Ideally, you would now pour your liquid into bottles and cap them.  Supplies of this sort are carried at wine and beer making stores or online.  If those are not available to you, beer bottles with attached flip caps are a wonderful alternative and I suggest you begin acquiring a collection of them.  Whether they arrive at your house empty or full of beer is entirely up to you.  Last alternative – empty plastic gallon milk containers.

Pour your liquid into the containers, leaving ample head room.  Your yeast wants to grow and it needs to consume the oxygen in the head space.

PUT THE CONTAINERS IN A BATHTUB OR SHOWER YOU DON’T USE MUCH.  Hey, why the yelling?  Because here is what is going to happen.  Natural fermentation, as opposed to SodaStream’s carbonation, is dependent on a variety of factors.  Heat, how much sugar, how much oxygen, etc. will give you varying results and if something explodes, you want the liquid to go down the bathtub drain, not all over your Persian rug in the family room.

Depending on the temperature, you may only need a couple of days to achieve fizzy bubbly.   Open a bottle cautiously and test.  If it is not ready, re-seal and repeat the next day.  When you have a, “this is perfect” moment, put all your soda into a refrigerator. The cold will stop the yeast from growing, and also from d’sploding, as my kids would say.

Enjoy your cool, refreshing trip to a slower, friendlier time.

But I don’t want to drink sugar

Sweetie, I have got you covered.  Make the recipe as outlined above INCLUDING sugar.  Instead of bottling it, go to the wine and beer store and buy an airlock.  Here’s the beauty of it.  While it’s making fizzy bubbly, the YEAST is eating all the sugar, getting sick and dying, so you don’t have to.  The death throes of yeast leave behind a chemically altered beverage, changing the sugary into the alcoholy.  After about 10 days, you have a rooty beer which does take your beverage to a whole different level.


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