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.
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