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Cookbook review: The Artisan Soda Workshop

Andrea Lynn offers more than 70 ideas for classic soda fountain to agua fresca recipes in 'The Artisan Soda Workshop.'

By Kitchen Report / September 15, 2012

Prickly pear syrup is added to a lemon-lime seltzer for a refreshing, homemade soda.

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Forget about buying the same old boring bottles of soda from the supermarket. There is a much better and creative way – with a little bit of effort –  to bring a bit of sparkle to your next party. The Artisan Soda Workshop by Andrea Lynn (Ulysses Press, 2012, 127 pp.) has more than 70 recipes that will help you to make your own sodas at home using fresh fruit and the real flavors of spices and herbs.

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Staff editor

Kendra Nordin is a staff editor and writer for the weekly print edition of the Monitor. She also produces Stir It Up!, a recipe blog for CSMonitor.com.

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With sections ranging from “Homemade Soda Copycats” (Natural Golden Cola Syrup, Root Beer Syrup), to “Soda Adventures with Herbs and Spices” (Sea Salt-Lime Syrup, Mango-Chile Syrup), to “Seasonal Suds” and “Agua Frescas and Shrubs” there’s a lot here to explore and enjoy.

“Soda didn’t start out as a mass-produced uniform product,” Lynn writes in the introduction to “The Artisan Soda Workshop.” “A hundred years ago, soda could be enjoyed at local shops that offered it in a wide variety of house-made options. Now, more people are looking back to the history of soda and recognizing all the possibilities; they’re applying modern ideas about food to make new and exciting soda recipes.”

While homemade sodas may seem like a chore, when one could simply twist off the cap of a mass-produced drink, there are some added benefits. Homemade sodas are made with real fruit, not artificial flavoring, and you can control the sugar levels to your preference. The syrups just need to be stirred into seltzer water, and Lynn says purchasing your own seltzermaker is worth it. (She likes www.sodastream.com.) There are also plenty of other uses for your fruit syrup, such as drizzling it over pancakes or atop big bowl of ice cream.

We had a Cowboy Chili Cookoff at work this week, and instead of trying to compete among all the other chuck-and-beans creations I decided to go another route and bring homemade soda punch. It was a good decision I think – there were 19 crockpots of chili but only two homemade sodas: Prickly Pear Agua Fresca and Sparkling Watermelon-Jalapeño Agua Fresca.

“Agua fresca” simply means “fresh water” and its a common practice in  Mexican, Central American, and Caribbean cuisine to serve “fresh water” blended with a bit of fruit. There are almost endless combinations, as Lynn points out in her book, and once you get down the basic knack of boiling down fruit to make simple syrups you can quickly experiment on your own.

For instance, with the Watermelon-Jalapeño Agua Fresca, I bet adding a cup of freshly chopped mint to the simple syrup would add yet another level of taste to the sweet-then-heat flavor of this sparkling pink drink. Even without the mint, it was a big hit at our Cowboy Cookoff.

As with most drinks, “to taste” is completely subjective. Lynn does offer some basic measurement guides at the back of the book, but the yields were hard to translate (for me) into a large-punch-bowl size. So I simply puréed and strained one small, seedless watermelon, which resulted in about 4 cups of juice, squeezed in the juice of two limes, and used the entire 1/2 cup of the jalapeño simple syrup (see recipe below) combined with 2 liters of sparkling plain seltzer. The combo was perfect, with only the slightest hint of heat. Someone else thought you could get away with eliminating the sugar from the simple syrup altogether, since the watermelon is already quite sweet. As I mentioned, “to taste” is completely subjective.

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