If someone were to ask you to name your earliest food memory, what would it be?
Don’t think long on it. In fact, try not to think at all. Go with what first comes to mind. See where that takes you.
This intriguing prompt at a food writing workshop I attended stirred up an unexpected taste and memory for me: Ginger Ale.
As a young child, I loved Ginger Ale. No matter how I felt, a glass of it always embodied something good. It could have been served over ice in a pretty glass with a maraschino cherry, aka The Shirley Temple, marking a festive occasion. It could have been my birthday or a holiday gathering.
Or it could have been as simple as a visit to my grandparents in Queens, New York.
If I ate a good dinner, and the weather was nice, we’d go up onto the flat tarred rooftop of their apartment, a 5 story walk-up. Nana would gather ice, glasses, and the jar of maraschino cherries. Poppop would grab a bottle of White Rock or Canada Dry and the dessert of the moment. That could have been chocolate chip cookies, or brownies, or a quivery Jello with whipped cream. I’d bring along my beloved stuffed animal, a big curly haired silver-grey poodle that I had named, not surprisingly, Ginger Ale.
We’d sit around a card table on folding chairs amid the upper private world of chimney stacks, pipe vents, and t.v. antennas. We’d drink our special beverages, eat our dessert, and listen to the sounds of cars and people below. I’d ask about the neighbors in other apartments; had they ever used the fire escape? did they have poodle dogs, or parties on the roof?
We’d linger until just past dusk, watching as distant bridges became strands of lights .
It was the best party ever.
But if I was sick and feverish, holed up in my bedroom, Ginger Ale took on another meaning. Mother would bring me a small lukewarm glass, along with a triangle of dry toast. She’d carry this remedy on a tray, and place it on my bed. She’d caution me to sip very slowly. And take tiny bites of toast. Which I did, with diligence.
It always made me feel better.
As an adult, I rarely drink Ginger Ale. But recently, I was asked to make a special cocktail for a Farm Dinner/Wedding Celebration I was catering. I concocted this fresh ginger-grapefruit zest syrup.
Crisp, citric, with refreshing bite, a splash in an inexpensive champagne elevated it to an ooh-la-la cocktail. Stirred into a glass of Perrier transformed it into a sophisticated version of my childhood delight. Worthy of a wedding celebration,
Or of one of those rooftop parties.
GINGER-GRAPEFRUIT SIMPLE SYRUP
2 cups Water
2 cups Sugar
Zest of one large Ruby Grapefruit
2″ piece of Ginger root, peeled and sliced
a few whole Peppercorns
In a saucepan on medium heat, add water and sugar. Stir well.
Add grapefruit zest, slices of peeled ginger, and a few peppercorns.
Bring to a boil, stirring so that sugar is well dissolved.
Remove from heat, and allow ingredients to steep into the simple syrup.
Splash 2-3 Tablespoons into icy fizzy mineral water, like Pelligrino. Garnish with strip of ginger, or slice of grapefruit.
Pour 1-2 T. into the bottom of a fluted champagne glass. Add champagne, garnish and serve.