It’s official. Summer has arrived, and I couldn’t be happier. In celebration of the long days, balmy nights, and a kitchen full of tomatoes! corn! strawberries! apricots! that awaits me (yes, they all deserved individual exclamation points), I thought it would only be appropriate to celebrate with something cold and bubbly. Prosecco and champagne normally come to mind, but I was inspired by some comical children I ran into this weekend to make something kid friendly that gives a nod to the summer abandon that can only truly be enjoyed in childhood. You know what I’m talking about.
Hot and tired on my way back from a long, lazy stroll on Sunday, I caught sight of twin blondie boys strapped into a dual stroller. They must have worn themselves out in a water fountain, as they were slumped over, shirtless and shoe-less, with matching shorts and wet heads, and identical looks of exhaustion on their faces. They weren’t whining or crying as that would have expended more energy than they had left in their tiny bodies, but their expressions and body language were so clear: I’m hot. I’m cranky. I want to go home. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
A few blocks south, a little girl caught my attention immediately. She really was a doll, in her lacy sundress and tiny strappy sandals, a pouf of tight ringlets adorning her head. But it was her repeated cries—“I so ‘cited, I so ‘cited, Daddy!” in combination with her frantic little feet pounding the pavement in glee that really captured my attention. I have no idea where they were going or what they were about to do—I was headed south, they headed north, although my curiosity almost got the best of me when I contemplated for a moment, a mere moment, to change directions and follow the pitter patter of anxious, dancing toddler feet to the unknown and the very exciting.
Doesn’t it just kill you how children are so unknowingly honest and uninhibited? I love that. Given my own excitement upon the very first day of summer, I too, wanted to dance around in a pretty sundress screaming “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!” Being the mature adult that I am, I refrained from doing so. At least until I was in the safety of my own curtain-drawn apartment.
And so these scratch-made sodas are dedicated to all those adults who really just want to be a kid again. The marvelous thing about homemade soda is that you really can’t mess it up and you can use just about any fruit, herb, or other addition you can think of. All you need is some sugar, water, and your flavoring agent of choice to make the simple syrup and some bubbly water to make it soda. I chose to use up what I had in my refrigerator: rhubarb and a pint of blueberries. But feel free to be inventive. The simple syrup ratio is usually one-to-one: one cup of sugar, one cup of water. A quick simmer until the sugar dissolves and your fruit permeates the liquid is all it takes to make the syrup.
The rhubarb syrup I made was a no-brainer and turned out such a beautiful watercolor pink. Because rhubarb is so tart, it makes an excellent, not-too-sweet soda that is very refreshing for summertime. And because blueberries are so sweet, adding something to counter that flavor is the way to go. I thought of basil but upon seeing my empty herb bin, decided to go with ginger instead. That ginger; it’s a sneaky one. When I first tasted my gorgeous blueberry syrup, I couldn’t detect the ginger. And then it hit me, slowly, stealthily igniting my palate with sweet spice. This made for an intriguing and yummy drink, but I also think it would make an excellent addition to pancakes or waffles, or you know, rum or vodka, if that’s your thing.
On second thought, perhaps being an adult isn’t so bad after all. Cheers to that, and to the glorious summer ahead.
Spicy Blueberry Soda
1 pint blueberries
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 c sugar
1 c water
sparkling water of your choice
Combine water, sugar, blueberries, and ginger in a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer until sugar is completely dissolved and blueberries begin to break down. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the syrup into a glass bottle or container, discarding the blueberry and ginger or repurposing it for something else.
Here is where your personal preference comes in. Add syrup to a glass of sparkling water to taste. I prefer less sweet, myself, so I didn’t use much syrup per serving. Mix lightly with a spoon to combine, add ice, and enjoy.
2 cups rhubarb (cut into pieces)
1 c sugar
1 c water
sparkling water of your choice
lemon wedge (optional)
Combine water, sugar, and rhubarb in a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmering and stir until sugar is completely dissolved and rhubarb has broken down. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the syrup into a glass bottle or container, discarding the cooked rhubarb or repurposing for something else (ice cream topping, anyone?)
Again, here is where your personal preference comes in. Add syrup to a glass of sparkling water to taste. I also enjoyed a squeeze of lemon in mine! Mix lightly with a spoon to combine, add ice, and enjoy.
TIP: Once syrup cools, it can be stored in the refrigerator in a glass container for a couple of weeks. Plain simple syrup (strictly sugar and water) will last somewhere close to infinity. I like to use bottles made for dispensing oil and vinegar as they come with pour spouts and allow you to better control the amount of syrup with no mess.