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Lately I’ve been having fun with simple, quick, refreshing and naturally bubbly drinks. These “pops” or “sodas” are inspired by fruit and vegetable versions of  Kvass as a kind of fermented infusion, traditional to Eastern Europe and Russia, which uses rye bread as its most basic component. But the name has come to be inclusive of many delicious home-made soft-drinks.

Lots of people in Britain understand wild fizzy sodas with reference to Elderflower Champagne, an anarchically gassy refreshment made by steeping foraged elder blossom in a sweet, lemony (sometimes with oranges) water bath, possibly with additions of citric acid or vinegar for preservation, and a little baking yeast.  But if you leave the flowers soaking in a bowl for a few days–just covered lightly by a cloth– you can leave out the addition of yeast because wild yeasts will begin to proliferate — hence the idea of “wild fermentation.”

Once you strain out the solids and bottle and cork (cap) your Elderflower “Champagne,” you leave it for a week or more and the fizz develops– sometimes so passionately that when you open the bottle you lose most of the contents in a volcanic eruption of sweet fragrant froth.

Notice that you could think of this as a naturally carbonated soda–yeasts feeding on sugar and in turn burping gas. Of course the ideal is to figure out how much sugar and how long to store to get the optimum fizz and the least danger.  I haven’t gotten to that point, because my mind doesn’t work that way.  But yours might! Elderflower Champagne is a good blueprint or basic method.

I’ve really been inspired by Rebecca Wood’s easy-to-follow and inspiring guide to making fruit kvasses.  I recommend this piece to you; it helped me to put some disparate ideas together in my head and moved me to make Rhubarb Kvass, Fermented Lemon-Barley Water, and a fizzy Apricot Nectar.  All these drinks are creative responses to ingredients on hand, and once you get confident you’ll be off with a thousand more fabulous flavours.

RHUBARB KVASS

Following Rebecca Wood’s method above, I made this Rhubarb Kvass with 5 stalks of rhubarb, chopped, a small splash of orange juice, a tablespoon of berry jam instead of sugar or honey, covered it all with water, and let the flavours steep.  (Oh, and I threw in two apple cores.)

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When I strained out the solids three days later, the rhubarb had given up its taste to the liquid. (Understanding how the chunks of both rhubarb and beetroot are evacuated of flavour helped me see kvass to be a kind of infusion, which then can be lightly or intensely fermented, as  you like.)

I put the strained and gorgeously pink liquid in a glass jar, and capped it for a day, to bring out the bubbles of natural carbonation.  Rhubarb Kvass is really refreshing and tastes like a cousin to grapefruit, surprisingly or not.  It’s the easiest and possibly the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done with rhubarb.

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APRICOT NECTAR

Recently I’d made an apricot nectar just by covering fresh apricots in water, and letting them soak.  I’d splurged on some gorgeous organic apricots which were completely battered on a bumpy bike ride home– so I decided to make scrap vinegar as I’d done with pear pulp from overripe pears last winter.

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But on Day 2 the concoction tasted so sweet, vinegar seemed a kind of travesty, so I strained the solids out and remembered those small cans my mother used to buy which I loved as a child.

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Apricot Nectar is velvety, thick, and sweet. We drank some and decanted and capped the rest, waiting for another day or two, for a kind of “second ferment” as the Water Kefir and Kombucha people say, which creates bubbles.  Making nectar, flat or effervescent, feels like  a great way to salvage fruit that’s lost it’s form or is slightly overripe– I’m thinking kiwis and pears and even perhaps apples with a bright taste but unappealing texture.

LEMON-BARLEY WATER

My friend Sarah had pointed out to me this Indian healing, fermented barley drink, now high on my list to make. It brought to mind Lemon Barley Water, which in mega-processed and not inexpensive form is everywhere in the UK as a “squash”– a sweetened concentrate for children’s drinks.

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I’ve been curious to make my own since reading a this description which takes ya back to Mrs. Beeton and over the hills to Wimbledon.

It’s extremely easy to cook a handful of barley (with or without lemon zest) in water until soft and silky, then strain out the solids.  (The cooked barley is great thrown into soup or bread dough, no need to chuck.)  Add a few tablespoons of sugar, and juice of two lemons. Really it’s a sweetened, lemony barley-water broth, this Lemon Barley Water of yours.. (Here’s a recipe with specifics if you like.)  If you are thinking fermentation, you put this in a bottle and keep it closed for a few days, and it gets fizzy.  And then you’ll have a delicious and truthfully much more exciting version of a very old-fashioned libation.  (Note 26 June 2016: a bottle 3/4 lemon barley water, 1/4 waterkefir, capped for one day, is a love light ferment too.)

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(I also did an experiment making a Salty Lemon-Barley Water using preserved lemons and following the success of Salty Lemonade from Garden Betty as described here.  Was not wowed but maybe there’s further exploration?)

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Water Kefir and Ginger Bugs are also great ways to craft lightly effervescent, pro-biotic, natural “sodas” (“Thumb Your Nose at Big Soda,” as Zero-Waste Chef tells you) — but I like the purity and ease of “harvesting” “wild” yeasts for straight-forward naturally carbonated infusions.  Kvass seems the great model.  Let us know all the delicious concoctions and flavour combinations you come up with. Cheers!

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