Food for Thought: Puttin' on the spritz | KNKX

Food for Thought: Puttin' on the spritz

Jul 31, 2019

Nancy Leson says her favorite thirst quencher is (in Philly-ese) "werter." Mine's just plain, unflavored seltzer.  Except on special occasions. Like when I make a pastrami. Then, nothing will do but the officially sanctioned pairing for deli-style pastrami, corned beef or pickled tongue sandwiches.

Nancy named it instantly. "Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Soda." It  debuted in 1868, marketed as "Celery Tonic" but eventually the FDA objected to the implied health benefit of "tonic" and it's since become Cel-Ray. You can read its fascinating history in Chris Crowley's 2014 Serious Eats article. But I digress. 

As I admit to Nancy there's not much middle ground about Cel-Ray. Either you love it or you're astounded that anyone would drink the stuff.  I'm firmly in category No. 1, but it's hard to find in Tacoma. So a few years ago, I started making my own. 

Stein's house-made Cel-Ray

1 Cup water (or "werter" if you're from Philly)

2 Cups granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons celery seed.

1. Bring water to a boil in a small pot.  Add celery seed and stir. 

2. Cover and turn off heat.  Let steep for 30 minutes.

3. Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds.

4. Return 'tea" to pot and mix in the sugar.

5.  Heat, stirring until sugar is completely absorbed and a light syrup forms.

6.  Let cool and pour into a plastic squeeze bottle.

7. Add to taste to a glass of cold seltzer.

Note: You don't really need a squeeze bottle, but it's more convenient than pouring it out of a jar. I'm not sure whether the stuff really needs to be refrigerated but I do anyway. Sometimes I'll also add some celery leaves to the steeping mixture.  I'm not sure if that actually helps any but it's fun and reinforces the illusion that this is a health drink.

Since making this latest batch of celery syrup I've also put up bottles of ginger- and mint-flavored syrups for mixing with seltzer.  

Soda soldiers await their orders in my fridge.
Credit stein / KNKX

Nancy has some interesting ideas for seltzer  flavorings.  She likes a few drops of balsamic vinegar in it. But her favorite fizzy drink is now Lillet, a French wine-based apertif, fortified with quinine from Peruvian cinchona bark.  She mixes it with tonic water and a slice of cucumber. That's it in the picture above.

Sounds good, but how does it compare to Cel-Ray and gin?

"Genuineness only thrives in the dark. Like celery."  — Aldous Huxley