Beverages are not typically something I put a lot of effort into for the holidays – we usually have homebrew (okay, that takes several hours of effort, but my husband is the one doing it), wine, and we’ll pick up a few bottles of commercial sparkling cider as a special drink for the kids and alcohol-free adults. I figure that so much effort goes into the meal planning and prep, I don’t need to add one more thing to my holiday cooking agenda. This year, however, I’ve decided to make a soda (or two – I’ll probably do a batch of my tarragon soda in addition to this cranberry soda) for those who don’t want to drink wine or beer with their dinner. It would also make a great pre-dinner drink, with a bit of vodka mixed in! And the beauty of this soda is that it can be made up to a couple of weeks ahead, so all you have to do on the big day is pop open the bottle and pour.
This soda is made using a ginger bug. Not actually a “bug”, a ginger bug is a culture of beneficial, wild bacteria produced by mixing ginger, a sugar source (this must be real, caloric sugar – low-calorie sugar substitutes will not feed the bacteria and therefore will not work!), and water. This mixture is fed daily for a short period of time in the beginning while the bacteria “captured” from the environment grow and proliferate, and after this period can be kept in the refrigerator and revitalized periodically (I use mine every couple of weeks). When the ginger bug is used to create homemade sodas, the bacteria in the culture feed on the sugar in the soda and create carbon dioxide, which creates the fizz in the soda.
If you don’t currently maintain a ginger bug, but you start one today (the process takes about 5 days or so to get going), you should be able to make this soda in time for Thanksgiving (though if made with a freshly-produced ginger bug, the drink will be less fizzy than if made with an older, well-fed and well-established ginger bug). You can learn how to make a ginger bug here.
I make my sodas in 1/2 gallon batches, but the recipe could easily be cut in half to make just a quart. In addition to basic kitchenware (mason jars fall in this category, right?), you’ll also need a fine-mesh strainer (or cheesecloth), a funnel, and (if you want your soda to be fizzy), a couple of swing-top bottles for secondary fermentation (you could reuse Grolsch bottles if you buy Grolsch, or could probably reuse a screw-top glass bottle that originally held sparkling water). Do take care not to forget about your soda during secondary fermentation – if it sits too long, enough gas could build up in the bottles to cause quite a dangerous (not to mention messy) explosion! If you’re worried about the risk of explosion, a good precaution to take would be to wrap your bottles in a towel and then place them in a box or pot for secondary fermentation.
- 2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen and thawed
- The zest (grated rind) from 2 oranges and 1 lemon
- The juice from 4 oranges and 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup sucanat, honey, or other sugar (don’t use stevia or artificial sweeteners – real sugar is needed to feed the fermentation!)
- 1/2 cup ginger bug (learn how to make one here)
- filtered or de-chlorinated water
- Chop the cranberries (the finer the better – I use a food processor for this step).
- Combine the cranberries, orange and lemon zest, orange and lemon juice, minced ginger, and ginger bug in a 1/2 gallon mason jar. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve sugar, adding water as necessary to allow sugar to fully dissolve.
- Add water to the cranberry mixture to fill the jar, leaving one inch of headspace above the mixture (as fermentation occurs, bubbles will form and cause the level of the mixture to rise – this headspace helps keep it from bubbling over and onto your countertop!). Give the mixture a quick stir to combine.
- Top the jar with a cloth napkin (what I usually use), tea towel, or coffee filter secured with a rubber band. Let sit to ferment at room temperature for two days.
- After two days, use a fine-mesh strainer or a couple of layers of cheesecloth to strain the solids out of the mixture, and pour into your swing-top bottles. Cap the bottles.
- Let these filled bottles go through secondary fermentation at room temperature (mind the safety precautions I discussed above!) for 1-2 days: 1 day if the room is on the warmer side (as fermentation will occur more quickly at higher temps) or if you prefer a slightly sweeter, slightly less-fizzy drink; two days if the room is on the cool side. After this period, place the bottles in the fridge.
- Once chilled, you can drink at any time! Do take caution when first opening the bottles – on occasion, I’ve lost nearly half a bottle at a time due to the excess carbonation creating a soda geyser all over my kitchen. I like to burp the bottles before opening, just in case: crack the swing-top open just slightly to release some gas, then quickly close and let settle, repeating a couple of times if necessary.
This recipe is part of the 7 Days of Homemade Thanksgiving Recipes with the Homestead Blogger’s Network.