I want to thank Vera Badertscher again for her post yesterday--I got lots of traffic here, and she, apparently, got lots of traffic for my post over at A Traveler's Library on William Dalrymple's book City of Djinns. It was also fun to read everyone's guest posts (including the switch that Lisa and Debi did, writing two sweet posts on the origins of their friendship).
We're in day two of our brief heat wave here, and it's making me think of fresh lime sodas. The heat wave will hopefully done by tomorrow, but in the meantime, it seems appropriate to write about a cool refreshing drink.
Fresh lime sodas saved me in India in the early years. Back then, there were not 17 different kinds of mineral water at your disposal, or Aqua-Gard water filters (now standard in many middle class homes and in restaurants as well). And there were definitely times when you needed to drink something cold that came out of a bottle. As I mentioned before, there were many fewer soda options in those pre-Coke and Pepsi days--Campa Cola, Thums Up, Orange Mirinda, Limca (which was the best of the bunch but we heard rumors about it being carcinogenic, so it was a bit scary to drink it). I'm not much of a soda drinker anyway, so there were times when having to drink soda was more of a burden than a pleasure. But what was almost always available was a fresh lime soda--a simple mix of lemon or lime juice, soda water and sugar or salt to taste. Sometimes the whole thing would come to the table pre-mixed. Sometimes, the waiter would bring a glass with the lemon/lime juice at the bottom and then ceremoniously open, then pour, the soda water in. Sometimes, you got to do that part yourself. My friend Annie--with whom I drank many, many fresh lime sodas--and I discovered the hard way that once the soda had been poured in, you could not add more sugar unless you wanted to risk the whole thing bubbling up and spilling all over the table (as happened more than once). Easier was when the sugar arrived as sugar syrup, which could be safely poured into a full glass without causing undue damage to the tableware.
I don't know why it took me so long to figure out that I could make my very own fresh lime sodas at home. It might have been that I knew but was just less inclined to make them before I had my fabulous lemon juicer. Now, in the summer, I try not to be without a little jar of lemon or lime juice (I particularly like a mix of both) and a jar of simple syrup in the fridge. (Simple syrup is truly simple--1 part sugar to 1 part water. That could be one cup of each or two cups of each or four cups of each, depending on how many drinks you'll need it for. Just dump the sugar in the water in a saucepan and heat up until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool, pour into a jar, put it in the refrigerator, and you're all set.)
If you want exact proportions, you can follow this recipe in Saveur--I was entertained that fresh lime sodas were number 35 on the "Saveur 100" list for 2008. But I'd rather be flexible--sometimes I'm in the mood for something more puckery and sometimes something sweeter. I usually use plain seltzer and then lots of ice. (I think some flavored seltzers could work too, though it wouldn't be a true fresh lime soda.)
I have to admit as well that this recent NY Times article on making homemade ginger ale has me intrigued. I don't have a juice extractor so would have to buy pre-squeezed ginger juice (who knew there was such a thing?), but the recipe sounds appealing. The other thing I wonder is whether you could just add a slight gingery flavor to a fresh lime soda by, say, putting a piece of ginger in the simple syrup when it's cooking or something along those lines. After all, when you make ginger tea, plenty of ginger flavor gets in just by putting some chunks of ginger into the tea water as it boils. It's still May, and summer is still fully ahead of us, so I think I'll have ample time to experiment. If I come up with anything brilliant, I'll be sure to let you know!