Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Celery Soda

New York Jews love it. Everybody else hates it. Celery Soda is not just a name- it really IS a celery flavored soda.

Now, before you run screaming into the night, let me give you some background. First, the taste. Many people, when thinking of the flavor of celery, imagine old celery which has a very pronounced flavor, its stalks dark and heavy. There's a certain muskiness to them. This is not the flavor of celery soda. In fact, this recipe calls for celery seeds. Not salt, seeds.

In fact, celery seeds come from a particular variety of celery which is cultivated for the beautiful flavor and aroma of its seeds, while the stalk and roots (celery and celeriac, respectivly) are pretty much ignored. In terms of smell, it is rich, a little spicy, very aromatic. The taste when home made can most closely be approximated by ginger ale, with a little more aromatics and almost a hint of something like licorice. Real licorice, not the red stuff.

That said, before getting any further, a serious health warning. No, not allergies- if you're allergic to celery, I presume you're smart enough to avoid this. No, what I mean is that there are two kinds of celery seeds. There are celery seeds for eating and celery seeds for growing. DO NOT MIX THESE UP. Celery seeds for eating, as I mentioned before, are specifically cultivated from a different plant. Celery seeds for growing grow the other type of plant. Celery seeds for growing also tend to have other things mixed in with the seeds like tiny twigs and such. Most importantly, they are often sprayed with an anti-fungal compound which is toxic. So don't go to your local hardware store to buy these. Buy them from spice selections. They're good and they're cheap. If you're lazy like me, I bought three 1 pound bags from Amazon for $13. Yea, it's overkill, but it's really cheap stuff and lasts a really long time. The company I got mine from is really good, and worth taking a look:

When I've lived outside of New York, I miss it so much. I know how much it drives my poor mother and sister crazy that they can't get it. Celery soda has a pleasantly light sweetness combines with an aromatic astringency that cuts through fat and grease. As such, you can always tell the real Jews at places like Katz's and Carnegie because we're the ones with the celery soda to go with our pastrami (not corned beef) sandwiches. Also: hot pastrami is not hot because you stuck a refridgerated hunk on a meat slicer then microwaved it- it's hot because it's kept hot after the smoking and hand sliced. Damn, I could go for some pastrami....mmmm. Anyway, it really cuts through it nicely.

So, this recipe is dedicated to my benighted family members who can't get it.

Okay! Do yourself a favor and get a coffee mill/spice grinder. I have a mortar and pestle, but with the tiny seeds it would be a nightmare dealing with them in the mortar.

In a small saucepan, combine one cup of sugar with a half cup of water. Heat over a high heat until the sugar is mostly dissolved, then turn heat down to medium. While it is heating, grind 1 and a half heaping tablespoons celery seed. You don't need to powderize it, so a few seconds should more than do the trick.

Once all the sugar has dissolved and the sauce pan is clear and colorless, remove from heat and add the ground celery seed. Give it a good stir, then set aside, covered, for one hour. After an hour has passed, filter through a fine mesh. Don't use a coffee filter. The simple syrup will be too thick to filter properly, and it's possible that it will pick up a flavor along the way, while a mesh won't. If you're like me, the only fine metal mesh you have around is a tiny little egg-sized powdered sugar sifter, bent 3 ways from sunday. God, it's like making coffee at my grandfather's all over again. Alternately, you can use that french press sitting around that you never use.

Anyway, filter into a small mason jar (or something sealable) and stick it in the refrigerator to chill. You can use it immediately too, of course. You now have your celery syrup. Add a tablespoon to a glass, then add seltzer to taste. I find letting the syrup sit overnight is best before use.

This recipe is scalable, so feel free to double or triple it as you like. The syrup will keep in your fridge for practically forever, so you can easily make a small batch and just whip it out to make yourself a glass whenever you like. I'd be really curious to try making some cocktails with it actually. Asti- I think I have our next group activity planned!