Good For You: Soda

On my list of things that are good for you, soda doesn't usually make an appearance. But thanks to a recent post at A Moderate Life, it's going to appear on my healthy list a lot more around our house. No, I haven't become convinced that HFCS is suddenly wonderful. She shared a simple easy recipe for creating soda out of fruit juice - and not only does it work, it tastes great.

I know, you think maybe my taste buds must be a whole lot different than yours if I'm saying this tastes good... The one thing no one ever describes adequately about fermented foods is "What does it taste like?" I'll tell you: This soda tastes like whatever juice you make it from. None of the ingredients change the juice's flavor, so don't worry about that. The kids will like it, heck, my husband even liked it. I'm sipping on my orange-tangerine soda right now, and the closest thing I can compare it to (besides just the juice..) is a mimosa! The gentle carbonation adds a sophistication to this beverage; it really would be perfect to serve to company. This will be my choice for summer instead of the hot/iced tea I normally serve. It's soda, grown up.

I followed the proportions of the recipe but not the type of citrus. Here's my version:

8 organic oranges
6 organic tangerines
1c. granulated sugar
1 c. whey (drained from plain yogurt)
1 generous T zest from one of the tangerines

Juice the citrus. I threw the zest into the juicer too. Add sugar to the juice, stir to dissolve, add the whey & mix. Using a funnel, pour into two 32oz. bottles with wire-bail closures. Allow to sit at room temperature 48 hours. If no fizz has developed by this point, open the bottles and add more whey, I had to do this and I didn't measure the whey, just added til the liquid in the bottle rose almost a quarter inch. Rock the bottle gently to mix, let sit again.

When it's working, you'll see a layer of foam start to build at the top and it will get thicker as it sits. Refrigerate the bottles when the soda tastes right to you. Definitely open it in the sink; there could be a celebratory fountain of soda when you pop the seal.

This post is linked to Gnowflin's "Probiotics at Every Meal" series - check it out!

Eat your probiotics!

Used to be, moms would admonish their delightful offspring to "Eat your vegetables!" and while that still stands, I encourage you to take it up a notch and switch to "Eat your probiotics!"

No, I wouldn't really say that to my teenager (the little ones, however, are used to it), but incorporating living probiotic food into your life is a great way to help the family stay healthy. The easiest food to do this with, I think, is dill pickles. They are the most widely accepted and thus a good first choice when you begin to choose probiotic foods for your family.

The dill pickles found at a grocery store aren't what we are talking about here - those are soured by modern methods using vinegar, then canned at high heat - they have no live probiotics in them. Originally, in our great-grandmothers' day, pickles were never done that way - they were fermented. This is the secret of developing not only the live, healthy bacteria we desire, but that delicious sour flavor. Fortunately, making our own real, old fashioned dill pickles at home is very easy and low tech. Here's my recipe.

Real Dill Pickles

Start with the freshest cucumbers you can get. If you can grow them in a container or in your garden, great. If not that's ok, you can buy some - first choice is organic baby cucumbers (in my area, Costco carries them), if you can't get those just use the slicers at the grocery store. One pound of small cucumbers will make two quart jars full of spears, or one half gallon jar.

1lb cucumbers
2qts. filtered water (not tap water)
6tbs sea salt
6 large cloves of fresh garlic
2 sprigs of fresh strawberry leaves (can use fresh grape leaves too) this is a required ingredient, it keeps your pickles crisp.
2 handfuls fresh dill

Make the Brine:
Mix two quarts of water in a container with six tablespoons of sea salt til dissolved.

Prepare the Cukes:
*Rinse the cucumbers well, then cut the ends off.
*Slice into spears
*place spears, leaves, garlic and dill into two quart-size canning jars or one half gallon jar
*Fill the jar with brine up to one inch from the top

Place a small jar or glass (half pint widemouth canning jars work perfectly in larger widemouth jars) into the larger jar. This will weigh the contents down and keep them under the brine so that no mold can grow. In the photo below I have used two half pint jars in two half gallon jars.

Put the pickle jars in a cool dark place like your pantry cupboard. I set them into a tray to catch the overflow that can happen when fermentation gets active. Leave them for four to six days. Before they are fully fermented, they may not taste that great so don't judge them til they are "done". Note that "slicer" cucumbers will be softer in the middle - I often scrape out the soft seedy portion while I am slicing them up, because I find that part always gets soft.

As the fermentation begins, you will see bubbles start to rise to the top. At the surface of the brine, a white foam will develop - this is good and normal. Make sure no cucumbers or anything else rises above the surface. I start tasting around day four or five depending on how warm it is in the house. When they taste like dill pickles, remove the small jar, put a lid on the quart jar and store your pickles in the fridge. They will keep for months, but usually don't last that long!