Suddenly Sauer: Preserving Food and Tradition in a Modern World

The Great (Mint Soda) Debacle
July 26, 2010, 2:11 pm
Filed under: beverages, Pickled Anything

For the last month or so, my soda making has been at a standstill.

Those who’ve innocently inquired as to “how it’s going” have been greeted with an earful about my insufficient scientific method, my failed attempts, confusion, research, lacto-bacilli, CO2, whey, and so on and so forth.

what was holding me up, in truth, were the 12 bottles of MOROCCAN MINT TEA SODA, idly fermenting away in one of my kitchen cupboards.

I had put up the soda at the beginning of May.  12 bottles (roughly 1.5 gallons) and a week later, then another week later, and ultimately a full month later, their bacterial activity was for all intents and purposes dead as a doornail.

With each increasingly anxiety filled unveiling, I would hold the cobalt blue bottle to my face and gently pop the lid, cursing under my breath (and, finally, very much aloud) as only the tinniest whisper of CO2 escaped.

The mystery of the non-fermenting-nor-spoiling soda was heightened when one out of twelve bottles popped open with a perfectly fermented fizz and a fantastic flavor to boot!  Why would one in 12 bottles successfully carbonate while the others were all, with certainty, dudds.

Cursing the gods, I poured the unfermented sodas into ice cube trays and popsicle molds and defeatedly sucked on them through the hottest days of summer.  I left one jar in the cupboard, however, and when it had still failed to come to life 6 weeks later, I decided to top it off with a bit of extra whey.

two weeks later, I returned from a road trip, popped the top, and was delighted, yes overjoyed, to find that the soda had finally carbonated!

it is thus my pleasure to report the following lessons:

1) I think the whey settled a bit out of solution and the one bottle’s success was a result of its containing more whey than the other bottles.

2) I think some simple syrups, particularly those made with potentially anti-microbial ingredients (green tea? mint?) require more whey than others.  Knowing exact amounts will take some experimenting… but it’s good to have the variable at least pinpointed.

3) Moroccan mint tea soda is yummy.  I think I’ll give this one another go WITH the extra whey from the start.


1 gallon water

3 cups sugar

1/2 lb fresh mint

2 Tbs gunpowder green tea

1/2 gallon cold water

2 cups whey (note** this is an estimate of what i think might be a more accurate amount.  I’ll update this recipe once I’ve made another successful batch of soda)

IN a large pot, bring the water to boil with the sugar.  Once the sugar is dissolved and the water has boiled, turn the heat off and add the fresh mint and green tea.  Cover and let steep for 15 minutes.  Strain the mixture into a large bowl.  add the cold water and let cool (cover with cheesecloth to keep it clean).  Once mixture has cooled, add whey, stir, and bottle!  Should take 1 week to ferment*** again that is subject to further experimentation.


Hibiscus Soda Floats
March 31, 2010, 11:57 am
Filed under: beverages, Pickled Anything

In the slow uphill climb toward realizing my dreams, I made progress today akin to landing on the moon.  I tasted the first of, hopefully, many truly delicious cultured soda and cashew based ice cream floats.  Sound strange? I wish you could taste the goodness for yourself.

Cultured Hibiscus Soda and Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream

I photographed this with one hand while pouring, hence the stylized angle

The finished product.  Yum.


30 hibiscus flowers
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
1/2 gallon water
1 cup whey

First I brought the water to a boil, then I turned off the heat, added the flowers, and let them steep for 15-20 minutes.  Then I strained out the flowers, allowed the mixture to return to room temperature, added another 1/2 gallon of water, and 1 cup of whey.

I poured the mixture into my lovely new blue glass grolsch style bottles (see image below) and then set it in the fermentation cupboard.  After 4 days, it wasn’t carbonated, but I let it sit through the weekend (a total of 6 days I believe) and then refrigerated it.  When I opened it, it was perfectly fizzy and pleasantly tart. yum.

Non-Dairy Vanilla Ice Cream

6 medjool dates, soaked in water
1 cup cashew pieces, soaked in water for 1 hour
1/2 Tbs coarse sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the ice cream, I blended the cashews in a blender with some of the soaking water from the dates, gradually adding more water as the mixture became smoother.  Then I added the vanilla, salt, and dates, and I kept adding water until there were 4 cups of goodness.  Then I threw the whole thing in the ice cream maker and voila…  Ice cream floats!

I used hibiscus flowers from Honey Bee Market, a grocer in mexicantown that sells all manner of latino stock grocery items.  The birth of my hibiscus tea love affair began at Pilar’s Tamales in Ann Arbor, an amazing business (food cart and shop) run by a woman named Sylvia who makes inspired tamales and traditional El Salvadorean food.  Her hibiscus tea is sweet, citrusy, and tart, and I was hoping to capture that same essence in the soda.  Mostly, I made the hibiscus soda because my friend Hannah requested/suggested it.  Any requests and/or flavor ideas are always appreciated!!! I’m a firm believer that just about anything can be made into soda, or ice cream, or both.  bring it.

Celery and Grapefruit Soda
February 27, 2010, 7:56 pm
Filed under: beverages

First: the picture

Next: the story

I decided to make celery soda for two reasons.  1) we talk about celery production a fair amount in my vegetable production class (Michigan has these soils called “muck soils” that hold nutrients and moisture really well, making them ideal for celery production) and it reminded me of how intriguing the salty bitter taste of celery can be, and 2) My friend offered me a taste of his Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda and it got me thinking that a cultured version would be good, maybe even better… (but I’m not going to take sides just yet).  So I set out for Eastern Market one bright Saturday and bought myself a bunch of celery (organic but not local… making celery soda is a lot more relevant in the summertime, but I couldn’t wait!) and two juicy sugar sweet grapefruits.

I juiced the celery and the grapefruit (peeled), which added up to 4 cups of juice.  Then I added 1/2 cup cane sugar and 2 cups of water, and heated it on the stove until the sugar was dissolved.  After allowing it to return to room temperature, I added 1/2 cup of whey and poured the mixture into two bottles–one, the functioning grolsch style glass bottle I’ve been using, the second, a smaller grolsch bottle that is ceramic instead of glass.

I let both bottles ferment for 9 days in a dark cabinet, then I refrigerated them.  When I finally popped the cap on the large bottle last night, I was shocked and delighted to watch detachedly as the brew explode up and out of the bottle, champagne like, drenching my cloths, my ceiling, my floor, and even some of my house guests.  The flavor was pretty uniformly deemed delicious, but interestingly, the two different bottles had very different flavors.  The uber carbonated glass bottle was much more acidic, more earthy (strongly celery), with less sweetness and less grapefruit flavor, while the ceramic jug had more of the flavor I was expecting the get out of the brew: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

I now need to figure out why two bottles poured from a uniform mix, underwent different fermentation processes.  any suggestions/thoughts are welcome.  In the mean time, I’ll keep experimenting.  And for the record… celery grapefruit soda definitely made a splash.

Cultured Root Beer Floats
February 14, 2010, 2:46 pm
Filed under: beverages, Uncategorized

Oh yes, you read that right… the cultured root beer (made with local sassafras from Holtz Farms, vanilla, molasses, and whey) was a rip-roaring success. I’ve been testing the same batch for the past three weeks, and I couldn’t figure out why one bottle had carbonated and the other had not–even though I actually had the same problem with my lavender soda. I finally got smart and poured the un-carbonated batch into the bottle that had carbonated, and viola, two successful batches of root beer later, I have problem solved myself to the point where one thing is now clear– I need to buy myself some reliable bottles.

But the flavor was delicious, more tangy than folks are used to, no doubt, but also deep and full bodied. like good beer, only it’s soda!

How to Make Cultured Root Beer

Brew a simple syrup: sassafras root, 1 1/2 cups sucanat (or organic cane sugar), full vanilla bean, and 1/4 cup molasses in 2 quarts of water

Allow the brew to cool to room temperature, add another 2 quarts of water and 3/4 cup of whey

***the whey is the starter for this fermentation, it contains the lacto-bacilli, which will convert the sugars (sucanat in this case) into lactic acid and CO2. This is how we get carbonation.

Pour the mixture into sealable bottles: bottles must be made of thick glass, and lids should be grolsch style, to reduce risk of explosions.

Allow to ferment in a warm place (around 70 degrees) for about 1.5-2 weeks. normally the ferment takes less time, but I think the bacteria takes more time to digest sucanat (a whole cane sugar with it’s molasses content still intact) than it take to digest refined sugar.

When you can shake the bottle and see LOTS of bubble activity, its a good time to stick it in the refrigerator, and pop it open when you’re ready for a taste. I would caution you about two things: 1) don’t forget about your fermenting soda, it could build TOO MUCH pressure and become dangerous. 2) don’t bring your soda to a party, promising root beer, only to then open it and discover it’s flat as anything and a little bit sour (the sourness will happen no matter what, but without the bubbles, it’ll be a hard sell for people who are expecting soda). Try to test the batch before you bring it around promising root beer. I’ve made this mistake a few too many times by now, always a disappointment.

For the float party, I made a batch of plain vanilla ice cream, my first time ever using fresh dairy. I always opt for non-dairy or fermented dairy bases because my body is much happier when I feed it cultured dairy. I’ve been making nut, rice, yogurt, etc. based ice creams for about a year now, and I think they’re spectacular and far from a compromise; the non-dairy cream base lends complexity to the ice cream, and the flavors you can create are adventuresome to say the least. BUT for a cultured root beer float party, something a bit more classic was in order. So I made a vanilla custard ice cream base (full fat organic raw milk from Hampshire Farms, vanilla, and egg yolks) and I sweetened it with agave. not only because I can’t leave my health food instincts behind completely, even when making heavy cream ice cream, but also because agave is a natural sweetener with the same syrupy quality of corn syrup, which makes for a wonderfully smooth ice cream.

And when it was time to crank out the Ice Cream, we procured our ice by breaking chunks off of the frozen 5 gallon bucket ice lanterns on the porch, with a hammer and chisel, which I observed was much more contemporaneous with the circa 1925 hand crank ice cream maker than buying a bag of ice from the corner store would have been anyhow.

When the cranking was complete (about 25 minutes) I scooped the creamy goodness into cups, crossed my fingers as I popped the top on my experiment for the 3rd time, and was greeted by the incredibly satisfying pop of a carbonated bottle of soda releasing its pressure. Yum. Cultured Root Beer over ice cream and some satisfied company… I love this city.