It was a long while ago now, that our friend Alex Lewin came by the store, on tour promoting his then-new book, Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond: A Fun and Flavorful Guide to Fermenting Your Own Probiotic Beverages at Home. He gave a talk in the greenhouse, and when I recently came across my notes from that day, I laughed aloud. There were some gems in there, for sure, some humorous and some just plain wise. (Sorry, Alex, I don’t want to make you blush. Your hair looks great, by the way.) He talked about fermentation in terms of seducing microbial beings to do our biochemical bidding, which just rolls around the tongue like switchel on the palate. And he spake: "I am like a terrarium. Microorganisms are living inside of me. This microorganism called Alex is made up of millions of cells, not many of which are human cells.”
This recipe for switchel, a probiotic beverage made in less than 5 minutes, is a great way to introduce beneficial microbial populations into the terrarium of your self. But wait, what is switchel?! My dears, it is a vinegar-based drink that was popular here in the United States during the colonial era. Its roots go further back than that, however, back and back to Classical Greek times, or even before. Vinegar, after all, is the destiny of even the finest wine. If it is not heated or pasteurized, it is a probiotic tonic in its own right, full of lactic acid bacteria that benefit the gut and stimulate the digestive system. It has been used in refreshing beverages for centuries, though its use as such had fallen out of favor before the recent-shrub-craze. Viva the shrub, and viva the switchel! This recipe uses molasses as the sweetener, though maple syrup is also traditional. Molasses, however, is so full of minerals, and we are a sadly mineral-deficient society, so this is a great way to get your minerals, wake up your taste buds, and stock your microbial terrarium, all at once. A little ginger keeps it spicy, a little lime keeps it spritely.
Makes about 4 8 oz servings
Place all the ingredients in a half gallon jar.
Top with sparkling water.
Close the lid tightly and shake well.
Refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld.
Serve over ice, if you like the sound of it clinking in its glass.
Variation: Mix in all the ingredients except the water. Store the syrup in the refrigerator for a week or more. When ready to serve, pour 1 ounce of the syrup into a glass over a few ice cubes, and add 7 ounces of sparkling water. Sip, and be refreshed.
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