Post #492 A Switch(el) on a Summer Drink

July 15, 2016 at 11:53 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #492 A Switch(el) on a Summer Drink

Where I grew up in the southwest desert staying hydrated wasn’t just important; it was a necessity.  When you’re drinking copious amounts of water, it can get very boring.  And some people don’t like the taste of water.  So we came up with alternatives.  My parents were inveterate coffee drinkers.  They even had the automatic coffee pot that would start brewing the sludge before they woke up so it was waiting for them.  My brother used to drink tea like it was his job.  I spent an entire summer drinking tea until I couldn’t stand the flavor anymore.  My preferred drink at the time was lemonade.  Still love that stuff.  Once I started getting more active in tennis, running, and cycling, I switched over to just plain water and still drink it mostly today.  People around my town drink all kinds of things, from homemade power drinks to sports drinks to whatever was handy.  When I’d get home from work and parked my bicycle, the first thing I reached for was the pitcher of orange juice.  Two glasses would hold me until dinner was ready.

Fast forward several years, and in the early days of marriage, my ex and I wanted to do homemade and rustic stuff.  I was constantly reading very old cookbooks, and reprinted accounts of life during the 1700s and 1800s.  I learned how to make a fruit concentrate you could add to water to make your own fruit drink.  At one point I had eight bottles of different concentrates, but I don’t remember actually drinking any of them.  I learned at least half a dozen ways to make lemonade.  I learned about a drink called Mormon’s Tea made from bush indigenous to Nevada.  I even learned out to make homemade root beer with a fizz to it, although I never tried it.  One drink I did make once I learned of it was switchel.

Switchel is a drink best served chilled, and it’s surprisingly good despite what the ingredients lead you to believe.  I first read about it in one of those “historic” pamphlets you can find at national parks.  It kept popping up as I was doing research for another project in one of those mysterious coincidental situations.  So I started paying attention and found out a little bit about it.

Switchel is also called Haymaker’s Punch because it became popular for those working in the hayfields many many years ago.  It is a thirst quencher, not like sodas of today.  When you drink switchel, your thirst goes away.  It also adds nutrients to your body much like the sports drinks today.  It’s made by the gallons because it’s so tasty.

It was the favored drink of Congress back in the early 1800s.  There was a large bowl that was constantly refilled as members replenished their cups during long sessions.  Visitors could actually be on the floor of Congress at that time and would help themselves, as well.

Switchel was considered a summer drink, but was also popular in every other season of the year.  It was heated during winter months, but was never served hot, just warmed.  It never really was as popular warmed.  People preferred the stronger drinks in winter, like hot toddies.

The first time I made it, I didn’t want a whole gallon of it.  I wasn’t sure I’d like it.  I cut the ingredients in half and it was a pleasant, sweetly tangy drink.  I decided to make it for a family gathering and made the gallon recipe and it was transformed.  There was something about the larger quantities that made it taste better.

Here’s the basic recipe:

  • One gallon water
  • 1 1/2 cups molasses
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp fresh ground ginger

Mix and chill and serve, traditionally in mason jars.

HOWEVER, you know there’s always a ‘however’, right?  You can make switchel as unique as your own personal tastes.  You can add citrus flavors by floating slices of lemon, lime, or orange in it.  You can make it fizzy by adding sparkling water just before serving.  You can make it stronger by adding your favorite alcohol (rum seems to the preferred method for the early Congress members).  You can adjust the sweeteners to what you have on hand and use honey or maple syrup or sugar (brown or otherwise.)  Just adjust the amount you use.  You can cut back on the vinegar, but I’d suggest not a lot since that helps overcome the sweetness.  The primary ingredients you shouldn’t touch are the vinegar and the ginger.

Switchel has been making a comeback recently.  I saw a jar of it on a grocery store shelf (not the one I work at) which brought back the memories of making it at home.  At one time, it was so popular it was mentioned in popular novels of the time with no explanation as to what is was.

On a hot summer day, there’s not much better than switchel.


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