San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 16th, 2008
The cream rises to the pop

The Devil’s Clack Dish: A Column
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Salvador Dali claimed that he remembered life in the womb. My memory does not extend back that far, although I have noticed that I remember my youth with more clarity as I get older.

It’s almost as if the brain keeps memories in cold storage waiting for when you have the patience to retrieve them. Patience is one of the blessings of aging. I might also point out that I am more tolerant of my stupid mistakes, so I can remember my life without harsh judgments about my idiotic choices. It’s all pretty funny now. Yet another blessing of age: the ability to laugh at oneself with some compassion.

Most of my earliest memories are of candy. The thick, pink wintergreen pastilles in my mom’s candy dishes. The soft, chalky red and white striped peppermint sticks in my Aunt Mabel’s pantry. The various sticks of gum (Beeman’s Pepsin, Teaberry, Clove and Doublemint) my grandma would extract from her little red purse. The black jellybeans my father ate by the handful. The rolls of Pep-o-mint Lifesavers my grandpa would peel down and share with me. Hence, I have always loved the taste of herbs, spice and sugar, most particularly mint.

In my various love affairs with assorted mints, whether it was the ubiquitous pastel “wedding” mint or York Peppermint patties or mint M&M’s or mint-flavored Turkish Delight, I have always fantasized about a beverage that would give the same kind of flavor kick. Mint tea is lovely but it has no teeth. It’s a quiet, soothing minty-ness. A mint julep has a full set of teeth but one couldn’t drink mint juleps all the time and maintain any kind of working relationship with sobriety.

In my early teens, I had the idea of mint soda pop, but I had no idea how soda was made. It was just a passing fancy.

Off and on throughout my adult life, I have mentioned the mint soda pop idea to people and the reactions I got were mostly disgust. Mint is one of those “either or” flavors; either you really like it or you hate it. It’s similar in this way to licorice or anise, and yes, I also think a licorice soda pop would be good. (It’s a waste of fine, potent potables but two of my favorite drinks are of my own invention: Tab with anisette – a “Tabisette” – and grappa with soda.

My lament has always been that no soft drink company has ever considered mint soda pop profitable enough to make. Think of what a great mixer it would be for a variety of beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Think of a good chocolate egg cream made with a peppermint or spearmint seltzer. What about a delicious wintergreen margarita? (Well, I think it sounds good anyway.)

For some reason, Christmas is a minty time, maybe because of the bracing cold weather, but, whatever the rationale, Christmas candies are awash with minty freshness. While chomping on a mint Almond Roca (they’re good!) I was musing on all this and it dawned on me that if I really wanted mint pop, I’d just have to construct it using another carbonated beverage as the base.

My obvious choice would have been plain soda or mineral water (mint Perrier? Maybe.) but I’m one of those people who often miss the obvious (this often makes me look really stupid and it just as often makes me look brilliant – it sort of evens out in the end.) So what did I think of? Cream soda.

I used A&W Diet Cream soda, but regular works just fine. Now, cream soda is a wonderful vanilla flavored carbonated beverage all on its own. You don’t have to be a Texan to be enamored of the red stuff (barbecue and a red pop is an essential) and many beverage makers have concocted delicious creamy (and expensive!) bottled varieties of the stuff. But I went with plain, old A&W cream soda – try find cream soda in a twelve pack and you’ll end up with A&W, too. It’s a good choice because it is not heavy with Madagascar vanillas or imported spices. I imagine their recipe is akin to just dumping cheap vanilla extract into some super-sweet carbonated water. This was perfect for my purposes.

What I discovered was nothing short of amazing, at least to me. A drop of peppermint extract in a cream soda makes peppermint cream soda. It’s delicious. More than a drop or two yields up a beverage that is like peppermint schnapps with less alcohol (although there is some alcohol in peppermint extract; my mom and I once got slightly tipsy making Christmas candies one year through our persistent sampling.) This may be too bracing for most taste buds. But I found the peppermint cream soda to be delicious when the extract was cautiously applied.

As I was happily drinking my peppermint-ed cream soda, I had a flash of carbonated lightning: one could use cream soda with a variety of extracts to make a custom cream flavor. I went to the cupboard in search of extracts and found an old bottle of almond extract. I put a cautious drop into an 8 oz. glass of cream soda and got an amaretto like soda. Wow!! I am the inventor of soda pops extraordinaire! What else did I have? Banana extract, an essential for a really good banana bread. Banana cream soda? Hell, yes. I loved it.

By now you are either chomping at the bit to make your own cream flavors or you are laughingly glad you are not a nut case like me. In which instance you will miss the wonders of walnut cream soda, pineapple cream soda, and lemon cream soda. Admittedly all of these extracts were from my mom’s kitchen and she passed away three years ago and I don’t believe she used them for at least five or ten, so the extracts were old and cheap. My mother never spent more than $1.59 for a bottle of extract – perish the thought! Each of these extracts made a very acceptable and unique soda pop.

Since this cream soda beverage-making discovery, I have been fevered by the thought of new flavors. The list of extracts available online is amazing: maple, orange, pear, pecan, spearmint, strawberry, lime, burnt sugar, coconut and anise are just a few of the flavors I’d like to try. The ones I’d really like to try are violet and rose. I think violet cream soda sounds wonderful. But the extract is spendy (seven bucks!) and my mother’s depression era frugality is well represented in me.

If you want to try this cream pop making at home, I will caution you that a little extract goes a long way; a drop should suffice. You can always add more to taste but you can’t add less, as my grandma used to say about almost everything cooking-related.

You can add extracts to other flavors of soda pop as well. When I was a kid (back when Lincoln was president) you could get a Coke in many different flavors at the drugstore soda fountain: cherry, vanilla, lemon and chocolate. The Coke varieties were done with syrup and you could conceivably use any syrup used for drinks (like those used in coffee drinks in trendy coffee places) for a really great cream soda or Coke. Root beer-almond is not bad, and neither is strawberry-peppermint. Coconut-pineapple is downright delicious, but you need to live in an area that sells pineapple soda (like Texas or California) or coconut soda (like Mars or Venus). Once you make all these sodas, you can make unusually delicious cocktails with rum or vodka and the like, if you so choose.

Now, I used diet cream sodas for all my concoctions because I never waste calories that can be used for candy or cheeseburgers on my beverages. I cannot, therefore, tell you what regular cream soda will taste like with the extracts, but I can pretty well guarantee that it will be tastier.

As far as the extracts go, you can find a plethora of them at your local supermarket. I found lemon, maple, banana, almond, and orange at my local H-E-B (One of the great grocery stores of our era – if you don’t live it Texas, it’s a pity. Best grocery store ever; local produce, great variety of ethnic foods, good variety of vegetarian stuff and freshly made tortillas.).

Once you shop online, your choices become legion. When I was a little girl, my mother used to listen to a radio show out of Decorah, Iowa called Kitchen Klatter. The radio show hosts (led by Leanna Driftmier) were homemakers who talked about their families and cleaning and recipes. Kitchen Klatter was also their brand of an assortment of extracts that my mother owned in profusion.

Kitchen Klatter is long gone, but in its place is Xtra Touch, a small company in Decorah that I assume took over the Kitchen Klatter line. If they are anything like the originals, I highly recommend them. Their product line features apple, blueberry and peach — all have great cream soda potential. McCormick-Schilling has the tantalizing vanilla, butter and nut extract that sounds like a fascinating base for a cream pop. They also have raspberry for those not blessed with daring taste buds.

If you put chocolate syrup into a cream soda, you’ll end up with a very satisfying sorta egg-cream-like chocolate and vanilla soda. A teaspoon will do, so, of course, I used a tablespoon. Very, very good for dieters with chocolate cravings, if you use, as I did, the diet cream soda I used Hershey’s dark chocolate syrup. The sugar-free syrup has the right spirit, but, if you can afford the sugar, use the regular stuff.

I don’t think red cream soda works as well in all these “recipes” by the way. It often has a drop of cinnamon in it that will cloud your mix. I would caution you not to spend a bunch of money on a fancy cream soda because the vanilla will just get in the way of your mix. Also, putting root beer extract into a cream soda is a long way around just buying the darn root beer. You can put vanilla extract into your cream soda, also, if you want, but that’s gilding the lily, don’t you think?

You may think this whole idea is rather silly. I guess you’ve never dreamed of a peppermint soda pop, which is either brilliant or stupid. Take your pick.

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