Superman had his kryptonite, Achilles his heel, and me and my soda makes three? I admit it, soda is my guilty pleasure. I have a sweet toothache and I’m not afraid to chomp with it. Except I’m not really a fan of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as recent studies have shown an association between HFCS intake and the development of metabolic syndrome (a pre-disease state consisting of elevated blood sugars, elevated blood pressure, elevated triglyceride levels, and central obesity with a significantly increased risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke). So while I love me some soda, I really don’t want to be fat, with heart disease and diabetes and hypertension awaiting my next stroke. Nope, nope, nope. And then there’s all the extra perks found in commercial sodas cuz we all want to slurp down some brominated vegetable oil on a hot day–apparently not only can it be used as a a flame retardant in foam cushioning but also as emulsifier for citrus flavors in soda. Potential toxicities aside, the thought of drinking oil is for lack of a better word icky. I know, I’ll eat olive oil but I won’t drink it. What’s wrong with me? Apparently if you’re low in fiber just reach for Ruby Red Squirt (ah, how I loved thee) and you can gulp down a soupçon of wood rosin also labeled as “ester gum” which like brominated vegetable oil acts as an emulsifier allowing the citrus oil flavorings to meld happily with water and not separate out. Don’t get me wrong, I lurrve how the advances of science have allowed me and the average person to have a longer life expectancy and clean living conditions but I find it concerning that it’s getting to the point where you need to have an organic chemistry degree to understand what’s in your food. [hops off soap box.]
M’kay, so where were we? Oh yeah, guilty pleasures. So while I wanted to give up HFCS and the emulsifier du jour I still cling stubbornly to my berry soda addiction and thus was born berry syrup! Besides the obvious perk of being to adjust the sweetness and berry-ness of your drink according to your mood this also is the Swiss army knife of my pantry good not only for flavoring carbonated water but also topping scones, adding oomph to Sunday brunch’s æbelskivers, making vanilla ice cream taste juuust that much better and can we say berry martinis? Still working on world peace so stay tuned😉
This very simple recipe contains just 5 ingredients: berries, cane sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and Cointreau. The last two are really just flavorings as they’re in such small doses and while you can easily omit them and still have a tangy refreshing flavor, they turn a simple greeting into a Helloooooo. Also, after simmering for 30+ minutes only 40% of the original 3 tbsp of alcohol remains leaving you mainly with the orange flavor but you can also easily substitute orange zest if you like. Truthfully I can see people going all out with the flavorings and adding in star anise for you licorice lovers out there to ginger to cardamom once they get over how easy peasy it is to make. While 4 lbs of berries seems like a lot, you can fill up some glass bottles pretty quickly and store them for later or gain instant popularity and give them out as gifts or simply halve or quarter the recipe to your needs.
Psst, tips for an even easier, peasier time:
1) To strain or not to strain, that is the question. At first I was painstakingly straining out all the berry carcasses and seeds to achieve a true syrup to recreate my commercial soda experiences. While the pure syrup definitely tastes delicious, I actually prefer chomping on all that juicy, berry-flavored goodness, my reward as it were at the bottom of the glass. It also makes a delicious condiment or jam on baked goods or dessert topping–you can still spread out the strained syrup on your bagel but it will end up resembling a thin jelly instead of a jam.
2) I like to use swing bottles like these from Bormioli which can be sterilized and form a hermetic seal keeping your preservables preserved which is always a good thing.
3) The sugar syrup can get very hot while simmering, hotter than boiling water, so when mashing the berries, hold onto the pot with one hand and mash with the spoon against the side of the pot that is away from you. That way if those hot juicy berries do squirt, it will be away from your body.
4) If you do decide to get wacky and use ginger or dried spices place them in a tea ball or infuser and take pictures cuz I want to see! I like infusers because they have a convenient hook to hang them from the lip of the pot so that when you’re done you can just fish the whole thing out in one swoop instead trying to dig around in a dark, thick liquid haystack for your flavoring needle.
5. Yes, I really use 1 lb of sugar per pound of berries, it sounds crazy until you realize you’re only using about 2 tsp of syrup (depending on how sweet you want your drink) per 12 oz glass of carbonated water. And if you’re using it for jam or syrup over waffles, it’s about as sweet as maple syrup so all is good in the end.
4 lbs frozen berries (feel free to use fresh if your 401K can handle it ;))
4 c sugar
1/2 c lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp Cointreau or orange flavored liqueur such as triple sec or Grand Marnier
In a large (at least 8 quarts) stock pot on medium heat simmer berries, sugar, lemon juice, and liqueur until 2/3 of original volume ~ 30-40 minutes. Gently mash the berries that are still intact against the side of the pot to release their juices. Using a ladle pour the hot syrup into your pre-sterilized jars or bottles. Using sterilized containers is very important with foodstuffs that will be used over time as opposed to consumed at one sitting. Botulism is a deadly health risk associated with consumption of canned goods, primarily low acid canning like meats and some vegetables. While jams and berry syrups have both citric acids and a high sugar content which act as preservatives, why run the risk when it only takes 5-10 minutes to make it safe? I sterilize my empty canning jars and bottles using the sterilization cycle on my dishwasher but you can also use a boiling water canner or place them in a cold oven and then heat at 200-250F for at least 20 minutes (I would just keep them there until you’re ready to use them cuz rapid heating and cooling can crack or break the glass). When you’re ready to fill the jars/bottles pull out your sterile empty containers, fill to the “fill line” which is usually 1-1 1/2 inches below the opening to allow for expansion during the final processing or sterilization stage. Jams/syrups only need to be processed for 10 minutes per pint (if you’re at sea level) in a boiling water canner or 5 minutes in a pressurized canner. Processed containers if stored at 50-70F in a dark place will keep for up to a year. I just keep mine in the fridge cuz I really like my berry syrup😀. USDA canning guidelines can be found here. Makes ~ 3 quarts depending on how thick you like your syrup, I like mine to have the consistency of a thin jam. Bye-bye HFCS, hellooooo berry syrup!