Monday, July 9, 2012
My dad dug up a lot of smilax tubers in the yard recently. He gave them to me thinking I might be able to do something with them, and so we made some sarsaparilla soda (it's not ready quite yet).
First of all, they are incredible. I love the strange way they look once they have been washed off and trimmed. I've tried making it before, and the first mistake I'd made was trying to grate the tubers. Don't try it. They are so tough, it is impossible, you can't really even cut them with an extremely sharp knife. Perhaps with a hatchet. At an herbal conference I heard someone say the Native Americans used to boil them until they were soft, mash them and dry them as a survival food. So this time I snipped off the roots and put all the tubers in a pot, covered them with water and cooked them for two days. After two days, they were still as hard as a rock.
They turned a deep red color, and the water became a reddish broth with a good flavor, so I poured it off into a 1 gallon glass jar and mixed it with:
1 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup rapadura
I ended up separating it into two 1/2 gallon jars, to give it more room to ferment (somehow, this works out, even if it doesn't make sense.) Then I added the culture--I just use the commercially available powdered kefir culture for sodas like this--it's convenient, I can use it for something experimental without ruining it and I don't have to feed it all the time--although a home made ginger bug would be really good, too. I use it instead of yeast in brewing to make things be lacto-fermented rather than alcoholic. Of course, if it goes for too long it will be alcoholic, but then it has the beneficial yeast from the kefir culture.
After mixing in the kefir powder, I leave it on the counter for a few days, to let it ferment. This was very sweet, and it's warm, so it will probably only need maybe 3-4 days to ferment. We tasted it before I added the culture, and it actually did taste surprisingly like sarsaparilla soda (uncarbonated, of course).