Thursday, August 27, 2009

Flirting with Flora: Bubbles, pt. I

If past articles here are any indication to you, good reader, I've got something of a fond place in my palette for exotic or unusual taste profiles. Not the least of these are floral or botanically-derived flavors; examples of which I am constantly seeking to incorporate into (or play off of already-existing elements in) my drinks. For inspiration (in all things, not just this particular flirtation), I often turn towards ideas hailing from culinary cultures outside of my own or from days long-forgotten. I reason that I couldn't possibly be the first half-clever (and that's a generous evaluation) git to realize that A plus B with a dash of C tastes great, and then acts upon this notion to mix it up...

Take my favorite floral ingredient – Hibiscus - for example. As I've discussed here in past articles, this lovely tropical flower (which apparently grows quite well in New Jersey, go figure) is often compounded into a tisane. The same beverage is made just about wherever Hibiscus grows - in the Middle East its called Karkade, North & West Africans refer to it as Bissap or Tsobo, while natives of Hawaii & the Caribbean islands know it as Red Sorrel. Sometimes the resulting infusions are spiced to add an additional character, sometimes not.

But note what our clever friends in Mexico have done with the traditional agua fresca: carbonate the already-refreshing brew into a soda. To be frank, all they've really done is integrate a floral ingredient into the ranks of the modern (sugar & soda-saturated) palette; to re-introduce to younger generations ingredients & flavors which their parents, grandparents (and earlier relations still) were wont to compound into something delicious with fair regularity.

In much the same vein, observe a centuries-old European floral ingredient which has only recently become widely-celebrated (again) for its considerable virtues: the Elderflower. Similarly, an uncommon (and uncommonly tasty) blossom hailing from the same regions: Meadowsweet - while still (occasionally) a botanical constituent in Gin, it was once also a component in tisane recipes of all stripes. And what of Honeysuckle - the delicately-sweet perfume of spring & summertime evenings? Finally, the bane of suburban gardeners and amateur winemakers alike: Dandelions, whose slight bitterness is often offset by coupling with yet another all-too common meadow weed: Burdock.

In some way, all of these edible flowers (and many others too) were well-regarded in the kitchens of days gone by. A primary reason for this is that, in certain proportions, all five of them play off of or highlight the other ingredients with which they are mixed in a multitude of fascinating ways. Such blending, to say nothing for these ingredients' already marvelous flavors on their own, allows for the creation of wholly-unique flavor profiles.
Such is certainly the case with the following three homemade sodas (& the delicious libations made with them), so dust off your soda siphons and meet me in the middle...

Strawberry Fields soda
2¾ Cups: Water
1¾ Cups: fresh Strawberries, hulled
½ Cup: superfine white Sugar
¼ Cup: dried Meadowsweet flowers
¼ Cup: dried Honeysuckle flowers
2 oz. Elderflower cordial
Scant ⅛ Tsp. Pectic Enzyme (optional)
Clean, hull & halve the Strawberries. Place in an airtight container & toss with Pectic Enzyme, if using. Freeze for several hours.
Bring Water, Meadowsweet & Sugar to a light simmer over low-medium heat in a non-reactive saucepan. Simmer very gently (the volatile oils in these flowers are a bit delicate) for approximately two minutes until sugar is dissolved; add frozen Strawberries. Simmer very gently (again,
do not boil) for five more minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature & add Elderflower cordial. Fine-strain several times by preferred method (cheesecloth, chinois, &c.) to remove any particulate; pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
Pour into a soda siphon (should fill a standard iSi exactly). Carbonate, shake & chill according to your model's instructions
, then give the following libation a try (©):

Morango Campo
1½ oz. Boca Loca Cachaça
½ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
½ oz. fresh Lemon juice
5-6 oz. Strawberry Fields soda
Build ingredients in an ice-filled Collins glass. Stir gently; garnish with a slice of fresh Strawberry & an edible flower.

If you happen to be out camping (as in the picture at left; by Ken Cleary) a pair of brandied Cherries will probably do just fine for garnish.

When creating new recipes, or even fiddling with established ones, there is a concept which chefs & sommeliers often espouse. Having seen it spawn more than a few delightful combinations, I also tend to agree with said notion, wherein "things that grow together, are often best served together". Examining this thought a bit more broadly, flavors (or combinations thereof) which are popular in a given locale often blend beautifully with other ones enjoyed in the same general area.

Again, take the delightful agua fresca known as Jamaica; a refreshingly-tart, floral beverage well-suited to the climate of Mexico. Even better for our purposes (and in line with the aforementioned theory), it blends wonderfully with Tequila. Particularly a smooth, grassy - almost sweet - example of the category like Tequila Ocho's 2008 Plata. Better still, certain of this artisanal spirits' component spice notes - a pleasant blend of Cinnamon & Citrus-y flavors - are themselves a common addition to a glass of Jamaica; like so:

Jamaica soda
3½ Cups: Water
¾ Cup: dried Hibiscus flowers
¼ Cup: raw Sugar
2 oz. light Agave nectar
1½ oz. Cinnamon syrup
¾ Tsp. Citric Acid
¾ Tsp. fresh Lime zest
Bring the Water & dried Hibiscus to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan before stirring in the Sugar & Citric Acid. Reduce heat & simmer for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in Syrups & Zest, cover & cool to room temperature (~3 hours). Fine-strain by preferred method (cheesecloth, chinois, &c), pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
Pour into a soda siphon (should fill a standard iSi exactly). Carbonate, shake & chill according to your model's instructions
, then give the following libation a try (©):

Paloma de Flor
1¾ oz. Tequila Ocho Plata (2008)
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
5-6 oz. Jamaica soda
Build ingredients in an ice-filled Collins glass. Stir gently; garnish with a twist of fresh Lime & an edible flower.

As an optional touch, two sprays via an atomizer of good-quality Mescal into the glass prior to building lends a further agave complexity.

For our final homemade soda we turn to the aforementioned bane of many an amateur winemaker (I’ve never seen an old home vintning guide that didn’t include one such recipe): Dandelions.

The moderate vegetal bitterness (think Mesclun) that the green portions (which won't be used below) of this ubiquitous weed impart is offset considerably by its roots and flowers, which provide a vaguely-honeyed sweetness. Furthermore, the addition of another common aromatic wildflower, the dull purple Burdock, rounds out the bitterness with a complex (almost like a fruity take on star Anise) herbal flavor. This combination has been a popular flavor in British sodas for many years, and quite rightfully so. When blended with a bit of rich sugar and offset by a touch of citric acidity, the resulting ‘fizz is delightful - particularly with a measure of flavorful Gin tossed in. But don’t just take my word for it:

Dandified soda
3¼ Cups: Water
1 packed Cup: dried Dandelion (½ root, ½ flowers), cleaned
½ Cup: dried Burdock (½ root, ½ flowers), cleaned
½ Cup: light brown Sugar
2 Tblspns. white Sugar
2 Tblspns. golden Raisins
1½ Tblspns. fresh Ginger, minced
2 Tsp. Cream of Tartar
¾ oz. fresh Lemon juice, finely-strained
Peel of 1 Lemon, pith removed & julienned
Bring the flowers, roots, Raisins, Ginger & Lemon peel to a boil over medium-high heat in a non-reactive saucepan. Slowly stir in the Sugars & continue to simmer for about fifteen minutes. Remove from heat & cool slightly (10 minutes or so). Strain once by preferred method (cheesecloth, chinois, &c.), pressing gently on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in the Lemon juice and Tartar, then set aside & cool to room temperature. Strain again if necessary.
Pour into a soda siphon (should fill a standard iSi exactly). Carbonate, shake & chill according to your model's instructions,
then give the following libation a try (©):

Posh Dandy Cooler
1½ oz. Hendrick’s Gin
¼ oz. blended Scotch (Yamazaki 12yr)
¼ oz. Honey syrup
1d Fee’s Cherry bitters
1d Peychaud's bitters
5-6 oz. Dandified soda
Build ingredients in an ice-filled Collins glass. Roll once to mix; garnish with a Lemon twist & brandied Cherry.

Something Completely Different
As I indicated in my last post, the past month or so has been full of experiments and the fine-tuning of a great many new recipes, ideas, etc. One group of these, inspired by conversations at ‘Tales and carried out primarily at my portable bar, has involved the use of a soda siphon. Good thing you dusted it off, no?

The conversations in question pertained to carbonation, both in long drinks as well as some speculation about a new gadget which is appearing in certain circles – the Perlage/PERLINI system. Seems some clever folks cobbled together a device which (in addition to preserving Champagne) is capable of efficiently-carbonating spirits; causing, as Robert Hess put it, “[Tequila] to drink just like Champagne.”

An interesting if very scary proposition, I think. As for the long drinks, certain aspects of the (hazy – this was ‘Tales after all) discussions in question centered around the problem of incorporating a carbonated mixer into the remaining non-carbonated ingredients, say a Tom Collins, without losing an undue amount of the ‘bubbly…

Stirring gently, rolling, allowing the roiling carbonation to blend everything (as in a French 75). Even the old Fizz-maker’s trick of adding a spoonful of sugar at the last moment; all of these work reasonably well. But I couldn’t help but feel that sometimes a given drink would benefit from having its ingredient combined and well-incorporated, then carbonated together; especially when a homemade soda (in particular those made with heavier syrups) gets involved. The presence of an additional siphon (lent by a friend; in which I could keep Seltzer while carrying out my trials) at the bar only helped to facilitate these experiments.

In short – it works brilliantly. Every single sip positively pops with the fat, roiling bubbles a good siphon creates. The components blend seamlessly with no separation of flavor and the introduction of carbonation into ordinarily-still ingredients such as juices and spirits makes for a delightfully-smooth, fascinating textural component that I daresay even improves upon old standbys.

After compounding five beverages - Singapore Sling, (Morgenthaler's) Dark & Stormy and the three already listed above in this fashion, the results were positively fantastic. The Singapore Sling in particular – a drink which I make with more than passing regularity – was one of the best I think I’ve ever had.

As for how this is done – in short, very simply – merely total up the volume of your recipe, determine how many ounces your siphon will hold and do the math. The only point on which one should be cautious is in fine-straining your mixture, particularly if citrus or other juices are included, as you wouldn’t want to clog your siphon up with particulate. For instance, the drinks I’ve already discussed thus far are prepared in my siphon (which comfortably holds about 32 oz.) like so:

Morango Campo (via Siphon)
6 oz. Boca Loca Cachaça
2 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
2 oz. fresh Lemon juice, fine-strained
22 oz. Strawberry Fields soda
Combine ingredients in a pitcher and stir well to incorporate (or just combine in the siphon & shake well). Pour into siphon, carbonate according to manufacturer’s instructions & chill. Serve & garnish as above.

Paloma de Flor (via Siphon)
7 oz. Tequila Ocho Plata (2008)
1 oz. fresh Lime juice, fine-strained
23 oz. Jamaica soda
Combine ingredients in a pitcher and stir well to incorporate (or just combine in the siphon & shake well). Pour into siphon, carbonate according to manufacturer’s instructions & chill. Serve & garnish as above.

Posh Dandy Cooler (via Siphon)
6 oz. Hendrick’s Gin
1 oz. blended Scotch (Yamazaki 12yr)
1 oz. Honey syrup
4d Fee’s Cherry bitters
4d Peychaud's bitters
23 oz. Dandified soda
Combine ingredients in a pitcher and stir well to incorporate (or just combine in the siphon & shake it well). Pour into siphon, carbonate according to manufacturer’s instructions & chill. Serve & garnish as above.

Cheers & Enjoy!

In the spirit of full disclosure, samples of both Boca Loca Cachaça and Tequila Ocho Plata (2008 bottling) were generously provided for my use. And bloody fine acquisitions both of them were...


camelia said...


We bumped into your blog and we really liked it - great recipes YUM YUM.
We would like to add it to the

We would be delighted if you could add your blog to Petitchef so that our users can, as us,
enjoy your recipes.

Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal. Several hundred Blogs are already members
and benefit from their exposure on

To add your site to the Petitchef family you can use or just go to and click on "Add your site"

Best regards,

sailaja said...

Bookmarked Jamaica Soda Recipe. Thanks for sharing.

Sailu @ Indian Recipes

Arthur said...

Great new ideas for me to try out, nice one!

Arthur @ Canvas Art Print said...

Indisk Mad

Roger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger said...

Sorry just messed up a bit, was meant to say I cant wait to try this recipe!
triptych canvas

ethan said...

Awesome, great news!
modern canvas art

Jay said...

Good love, good love! Love this click here and find out why!