Friday, March 21, 2008

Real Root Beer and Coca Cola

During my childhood in the 1950’s, the consumption of beverages was completely different than it is now. The most common beverages were coffee for the grownups, milk and Kool-Aid for the children. The coffee was just plain old percolated coffee, no decaffeinated or Starbucks, no espresso or cappuccino, no latte or mocha. The milk was good old whole milk, pasteurized but not homogenized, no 2% or skim, no chocolate unless you added Hershey’s chocolate syrup yourself. Of course we drank water, but it was simply water straight from the kitchen tap or well, not bottled unless you poured some into a big glass bottle to keep cool in the refrigerator. Life was much simpler then.

Once in a blue moon, we might be treated to a Coca Cola instead of Kool-Aid on Saturday evening when we had company. Mom would bring home a six-pack of Coke from the store, not in liter bottles or even 16-ounce bottles, but rather in the standard 6-ounce bottles, in glass no less! Each precious bottle had to be shared with at least one sibling (if not two) and poured over ice to make it go further. That one little six-pack would serve all seven of us kids, plus Mom & Dad and perhaps four to six guests.

One Sunday we went to visit some cousins on another farm. In the late afternoon when it was time for “lunch” (which was defined as a snack in mid-morning, mid-afternoon or evening), we kids received the ultimate treat: one whole bottle of Coke (6-ounce, of course) for each of us, with a soda straw! Life was so simple then that I relished experiencing three complete burps instead of the customary single and ineffectual burp from a small glass of Coke with ice.

A staple when I was growing up was Kool-Aid, which was a fruit-flavored beverage powder to which you normally added a cup of sugar and two quarts of water. It was very cheap at five cents or less per packet and easy to have on hand. My favorite was always cherry, but we also had grape, orange, lemon and a few other flavors. Sometimes we would get a bit more creative with the Kool-Aid and add a sliced orange or freeze cherries inside the ice cubes. Once, we even added club soda instead of water to make our own soda. Martha Stewart would have been so proud!

One summer we decided to make our own root beer soda and bottle it ourselves. I don’t remember the exact process, but we carefully blended the root beer syrup extract with water and other ingredients. We washed, scrubbed and sterilized old bottles, then lovingly filled each of them with exactly the right amount of soda. We used a manual capper to seal a bottle cap onto each bottle and stored them neatly in the cool cellar. Now all we had to do was wait until our tasty brew was ready to drink.

Some days [weeks?] later, we heard a muffled noise from the basement. As we ran down the stairs, we heard more popping and crashing. The corner section of the cellar where we had so carefully stored our root beer bottles was now an oozing disarray of glass, bottle caps and syrupy soda. Our much anticipated fizzy root beer had morphed into a fizzled mess instead. Oh well, back to the Kool-Aid.

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