Root Beer, Homemade By Cajun Mamas
Hoorah for Spring! It’s my favorite time of year! I welcome the return of warmer weather, the sight of the outside greening up and blooming. With that comes the smell of fresh air after Spring rains and the sound of birds singing early in the morning. It’s also the time that begins the solemnity of lent leading us to the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Along with these celebrations of new life comes the to-doing like yard work’s planting, pruning, and watering. Other things to add to the to-do list is spring cleaning, year-end school events, baseball, festivals, cantatas, egg hunts, and cooking up new and old recipes to satisfy the hunger of what the to-doings bring. This Spring busy-ness makes me thirsty for something my Mama used to make and she must have made more of it in Spring because that’s when I really get thirsty for it. It’s home-made root beer.
Root Beer flavoring was a staple in our kitchen cabinet. A spoonful of the dark liquid concentrate stirred into a pitcher of water with sugar was our Kool-Aid before Kool-Aid was cool. Surprisingly, there are a whole lot of people whose mamas never made homemade root beer for them like our Cajun mama’s made for us. They were “The Root Beer Moms!” Originally, this drink came from sassafras roots served cold to refresh many in the hot climate of south Louisiana.
My husband (Mississippi Man) was one of those who was denied this treat until he met me. The first glass I served him was love at first sip. Thankfully our children like it and now our grandchildren. Some who taste it for the first time may not particularly care for it. I think it’s because they are expecting the fizz from a canned or bottled root beer they are more familiar with, but it’s not like that.
The sweet, non-carbonated drink that has a rich root beer flavor brings back memories when that ice-cold sip hits my tongue. Memories such as when I was a teenager and we’d go to those Saint David’s Youth Organization (SDYO) meetings at “The Little Chapel” hall near our house. The country Catholic church is still endearingly called “The Little Chapel”, but its real name is St. David’s Chapel. A faithful church lady served us homemade root beer at one of those meetings along with fresh lemons much like you’d serve iced tea. With it we ate homemade sugar cookies. At the time I had never had lemon in my root beer before and honestly I didn’t care for it at first, but minding my manners I kept drinking it along with bites of that sugar cookie. After a while, I didn’t mind the odd combination of those flavors. To this day, I still recall the complex taste of those refreshments and sometimes even crave them. I gladly added these pictures for you so I could satisfy that craving once again!
My Ma Ma Trahan used to purchase root beer concentrate from the Watkins salesman that visited her home years before running to the store was an easy option. Besides making a pitcher of the drink she’d also pour it into a rectangle baking dish and freeze it for several hours. Then she’d take it out and lay it on the kitchen table. After it thawed a bit we’d gather around to watch with anticipation as she scraped the top of the frozen block with a long-handled silver spoon serving the slush to us in small glasses. No need to drive ten miles into town for a snow cone treat on those hot afternoons, or was there such a thing as snow cones or Icee’s back then?
Even though this may be considered an old-fashioned refreshment since 1889 before sodas were readily available it is still worth serving today. I hope you venture out and give this drink a try or if it’s been a while since you’ve tasted it you’ll soon stir up a pitcher or even scrape a frozen block of it to enjoy during this busy spring time or anytime.
Home Made Root Beer
2 quarts water
1 tablespoon root beer concentrate
1 cup sugar (or sugar substitution in the recommended amount)
lemon wedges (optional)
Fill a pitcher with 2 quarts of water. Add root beer concentrate and sugar. Stir until well blended. Serve with ice and lemon wedges, if preferred. Keep refrigerated.
God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Saint Augustine