When I was a kid, I loved “projects.” Back before we had the term “DIY,” we just called it a project — an art project, craft project, cooking task, or whatever. During our lakeside family reunion last summer, we came up with a few natural projects for the kids to take part in. One was to harvest the fruit from four or five red currant bushes and make syrup for a refreshing beverage. When we lifted that bright red soda to our lips, we knew the effort had been worth it.
Red currant, or Ribes rubrum, is called ribizli in Hungarian and is much more common there than in the US. Apparently they are native to Western Europe, so I guess this is not surprising. I did taste them this summer in Massachusetts — a family friend had bought some at the Needham Farmer’s Market. Eating fresh currants can be nice, but they are quite tart and full of seeds. The recipe I’m about to share here is a good way to make the most of these nutritious fruits.
Got a soda maker? You need Szörp. (Syrup)
Szörp, or syrup, is also much more of a “thing” in Hungary than in the States. We don’t usually have a syrup aisle in the grocery store in Seattle, but in Budapest you’ll find orange, cherry, raspberry, and – one of my favorites – elderflower (bodza) szörp lined up on the grocery store shelves. Szörp, of course, is used for making soda. It’s also very common for people to make szörp at home when their friends or family dump buckets of cherries, sour cherries, raspberries or other messy, juicy fruits at their door. It always kind of make sense, because people love to drink fizzy water in Hungary, either straight or as homemade soda where you control the sugar content.
These days, we have soda makers more and more in the States, so people have started buying syrup. I actually found some elderflower syrup in a beautiful green bottle at DiBruno Bros. in Philly years ago, and I bought hibiscus stuff recently at the Lake Forest Park farmer’s market near Seattle. But garden-fresh pressed fruit is the best, no? So here’s how to make soda syrup from your garden.
- Pick & Wash the Fruit It was cute seeing 1- and 3-yr-olds picking these berries. The bushes are at the perfect height, they are not thorny, and some adventuresome little ones will eat these super-sour things right off the vine, or at least smash them in their little fists. You’ll want to get rid of any stems and wash off the bugs, cobwebs, and other unappealing matter. Don’t forget to put that wash water to good use afterwards – your tomato plants will thank you!
- Extract juice We used this ancient food mill that was my grandmother’s. She died in 1986 and I don’t know when she bought this, but presumably in the 1940s or 50s. I’m sure she’s smiling down on her great-grandson using it with enthusiasm. I think you could also use a food processor and strainer in a pinch, or some contraption you bought for making baby food. Or perhaps someone in your neighborhood has a 65-yr-old food mill you could borrow for the day? The important thing is to get the juice without too much of the seeds and stuff in there. Most people aren’t too fond of seeds in their soda. If you’re making a big batch, you’ll need to remove the seeds from the mill periodically with a spoon so it doesn’t get all gunked up.
- Add Sugar So, if you’re using really sweet raspberries or something, I’m not even sure you’d really need sugar, but for red currants, yeah, it’s necessary. I think we had about 2-3 cups of juice, and my uncle said he put 10 dkg of sugar in there, which is less than half a cup. I asked him if we should cook it down, and he said if we’re going to drink it right away, we don’t need to, but if we wanted to bottle it for later, we should. With temperatures soaring and 5 kids, 7 parents, and 4 grandparents hanging out, we figured it would be gone within a day or two, and it was. After a fun round of wooden-spoon sniffing to find a utensil that was not too savory-smelling, I just stirred the juice up to dissolve the sugar, and voila! – it was ready to mix with carbonated water (szúrós víz, or literally ”stabby water”) for a refreshing summer beverage. Enjoy, and stay cool!