June 14, 2013

Book Review - Make Your Own Soda: Syrups Recipes by Anton Nocito and Lynn Marie Hulsman

from Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House
Available from Amazon, (also on Kindle), Barnes and Noble, (also on Nook)

From Clarkson Potter Publishers comes yet another do-it-yourself soda syrup book that is geared toward those using the Sodastream or similar techniques.  It contains upwards of 40 recipes for homemade soda syrups using natural ingredients and how to use the syrups for soda plus another 30 or so recipes for other beverages such as cocktails, mocktails, shakes, egg creams, and hot drinks using the syrups.  Author Anton Nocito is the founder of P&H Soda Co. which sells some of the very syrups for which recipes are contained in this book.

Overall, the recipes are simple and easy to follow.  None of them have more than a handful of ingredients.  The instructions are clear and concise and it has some helpful hints for the best carbonation and getting the best out of your ingredients.  This is the book that Andrea Lynn's Artisan Soda Workshop could have been.  If you were disappointed by Lynn's book or felt like it was just too small, check this one out and see if it's more your style in content and quantity.  It's bigger and has more recipes, yet it has the same simple and easy technique that Lynn uses in a clean presentation.

Somehow, the quality of the book is not hindered by it's down sides, though it does have a few.  Absent is any mention of the possibility of fermenting these recipes or using them for a straight carbonation technique.  It never purports to be anything more than a recipe book for soda syrups, so it is not trying to be anything more than it is.  However, the beginning sodamaker may find some challenges in adapting sodas for different techniques.  Another downside is the same beef I had with Lynn's book, the availability of ingredients.  I have to remind myself that the "artisan" moniker usually means more expensive.  Maybe my complaint is that I just simply don't have access to some of the fresh ingredients Nocito uses.  I don't know where to find lemon verbena,  anise hyssop, or quince.  Maybe I'm not looking in the right places.  The syrup recipes are divided into two sections: Syrups From the Farm, and Syrups From the Pantry.  I don't see a definite distinction between the two sections.  I don't know anyone off the top of my head who has fresh lemongrass, guava, or huckleberry on their farm, (attempts to domesticate the huckleberry have turned out to be blueberries) and I don't know anyone who has lovage in their pantry.  I would guess that from the farm means you can grow your own ingredients with ease and from the pantry means you're better off purchasing them?  To me this would make more economical sense, and economics is partially what led me to sodamaking, but then there's that economics and availability thing again.  Nocito is kind enough to list some of his source for ingredients in an appendix, though.  Since all are web pages, they are virtually accessible by all which makes availability a moot point.

The recipes are simple and have good flavor, given you use good ingredients.  I used cheap dried cherries for the dried cherry syrup, and the resulting soda tasted like cheap dried cherries.  It could definitely use some citric acid.  The variety is nice, even with simple recipes.  The Golden Raisin Shrub makes for a tasty beverage, though according to my 8-year-old daughter, it made the kitchen smell like moldy ketchup.  Granted she's not used to smelling apple cider vinegar in a syrup, but I don't think she really knows what moldy ketchup smells like.

Some of the things that I really like about this book are the various beverages that use the syrups.  The thing that sticks out the most are the mocktail recipes scattered throughout the book.  To quote Nocito, "sometimes a cocktail is called for, and sometimes so is a clear head..."  Being one that doesn't drink, I find his recipes for Lime Rickey, Rockaway Beach Club, and Lucy and Ricky Rickey among others a welcome inclusion in a mixed beverage world where all the really tasty looking stuff has some form of alcohol in it.  Not to worry though, there are a number of cocktail recipes as well for those obliged to imbibe.

Nocito's nostalgic flair shines through from the "Fountain Facts" found frequently in the sidebars to the entire section on egg creams and floats reminiscent of the glory days of drug store fountains and soda jerks. Included in this section are also a handful of recipes for ice creams for your floats for a complete DIY experience.  From the ordinary vanilla ice cream to lemon verbena ice cream, there's something for everybody.

Though most of the syrup flavors are basic single flavor syrups with simple and easy to follow instructions, I find Nocito's book a good read and a handy reference for flavor base inspiration.  Not too big, and not too small, this is a definite must have addition to any sodamaker's library with recipes for the novice as well as for the experienced.
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