Six years ago, in a post I’d almost forgotten about, I talked about our sweltery summertime heat. And that’s where we’re at again: heat and humidity. Well? It makes the corn and the tomatoes grow!
But it makes me wilt. And it, with all the rain we’ve had, makes the watergrass, crabgrass, or whatever-it-is grow like crazy. So I’ve gotta mow the lawn it again. I’m going to wait until the sun starts to set tonight. Ugh! I’m dreading it. (Compared to this heat, my hot flashes seem cool!)
Revisiting that older post I did about “Heat,” I recalled John Madson’s description of an old-timey lemonade-like beverage that farmers used to gulp when they had to thresh wheat in the hottest part of summer. It must have been hell on earth. That’s how Madson describes it, anyway.
Madson called this beverage “stichel,” but from what I can see online, it’s more commonly called switchel, switzel, swizzle, ginger-water, haymaker’s punch, or switchy. It’s an incredibly old concoction, a centuries-old thirst-quencher, an antique equivalent to today’s “energy drinks” or “electrolyte beverages.”
Wikipedia’s entry on “Switchel” notes that the beverage is also mentioned by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book The Long Winter. In it, Laura’s mom tells her to make up a bunch of the stuff to take to the laboring men, explaining that cold well water, alone, would make the overheated men feel sick, while the ginger-beverage would quench their thirst better.
Today it’s a super-trendy hipster beverage! Who knew? All the cool kids are drinking it!
You can find plenty of different recipes online, but here’s the one I tried. It seemed simple, basic, and it seemed to fit what Madson described Iowa farmers drinking “by the gallon.” (Sorry, but I can’t remember where I got this particular recipe.)
Use this recipe as an idea starter, and mess around with it until you get it just right: try pure maple syrup instead of brown sugar, as they do in Vermont, here and here. Molasses and honey were probably popular in some areas, too. Or try using the juice from fresh ginger instead of powdered.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ginger (powdered)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 quart cold water
Dissolve together the first three ingredients, then shake with the cold water. Serve chilled.
The recipe, wherever I got it from, also suggested you could mix it with equal quantities of ginger ale. Or, I would suggest, mix in some club soda or seltzer, if you wanted it bubbly and less strong.
How does it taste? Well—Sue and I think it’s actually pretty darned tasty! The hardest part is the first sip, because you can smell the vinegar, and the immediate thought is: This is going to taste like something you’d dip Easter eggs into. Or: “Ugh! pickle juice!”
But despite that initial panicked thought, it really does taste very good, and it goes down easy, and I’ll probably be making it again. The vinegar does the same thing that lemons do in lemonade. (Hey, remember the Greek lemonade recipe I shared with you a while back?)
I hope you’ll give switchel a try! When you do, let me know what you think of the flavor. Bonus points if you report on its efficacy as a thirst-quencher during these beastly hot days!