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We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other. - E.H.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cola Magic

I visited some good friends in Toronto recently, where one of them (who is a kitchen genius, really) served me a drink that rocked my world.

She had made a cola syrup - from scratch! on her stove! - and after taking my first sip a number of miraculous things occurred. (a) COLA! and (b) woah. Because after the first second, the resemblance ends. Suddenly it tastes like vanilla and lavender and cloves and .. all of those things combined. It's incredible. It kicks Coca-Cola's ass. It's like learning what coke could be, and maybe once was, before artificial flavoring and high-fructose corn syrup came and ruined the party for everyone. This drink is complex. And it is good. 

Recipes like this really typify all that I love about doin' it yourself. Every recipe, every project feels like a chance to rediscover everyday objects, everyday foods that are otherwise taken for granted.  Suddenly, cola goes from a somewhat trashy indulgence to a culinary revelation. (I mean really, who cooks with lavender?)

Using vanilla beans was another new one for me. I loved that I had to ask for them behind the counter at my local bulk food store - I felt like I had ascended to new culinary heights. At $5 for two they felt like a seriously expensive addition my basket at first.. until I found out that vanilla beans are a kind of rinse-and-repeat miracle item. When they are done adding their vanilla-ness your cola, you can rinse them and throw them in a jar with a cup of vodka or rum, forget about it for a month or so, and bam! You never need to use artificial vanilla flavoring again. And even better? When it starts to run low, you can top it up with more booze, and repeat the whole process. Magic.

Cola Syrup - originally adapted from Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
I doubled the recipe, because you're going to want to share this one. 

You'll need:

Zest of 2 medium oranges
Zest of 1 large lime
Zest of 1 large lemon
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1 section of a star anise pod, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 one-and-a-half-inch piece vanilla bean, split
1/4 teaspoon citric acid (I got some in the canning section of the bulk food store)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon (packed) light brown sugar.

1. Combine 2 cups of water in a pot with zests, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, lavender, ginger, vanilla and citric acid. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
2. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves.
3. Line a sieve or colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place over the bowl. Pour the contents of the pot through the sieve. Squeeze out the cheesecloth to get all the liquid.
4. Stir the syrup and let cool.

Add to soda water to taste and enjoy.



  1. Love this idea. Just wondering where to find the dried lavender flowers. I have lavender stems still viable in my herb garden. Would they work? Any ideas on where to find dried flowers this time of year? Definitely sounds delicious and gonna give it a try!

  2. Looks incredibly delicious! How do you store it? In the fridge & how long will it keep? Or can this be canned & stored on the shelf? I'm thinkin' Christmas presents :) In a basket with soda water & organic popcorn? Yummy!

  3. Hi Kate
    what a nice surprise to run into you on this blog! btw, if you start really liking vanilla pods, you can mail order them really cheap - I do that to make vanilla extract.

  4. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    I have been searching for a way to make my own cola for ages because I don't eat refined sugars. I could only find recipes that used gums to mix oils and it seemed way too involved.

    This sounds AMAZING! I have almost all the ingredients on hand, just have to get some citric acid, lavender, and star anise. I going to use coconut palm sugar as the sweetener.

  5. @Joan: I found dried lavender at my local bulk/health food store - some places sell them for tea, or to add to your bath.. but it turns out they're delicious to cook with as well! Who knew?

    @MoonWillow: I stored mine in a mason jar in the fridge, and it seems to store for a long time, several months at least. I would love to know if you could can it - I would suspect so, but I can't say for sure. This is definitely on my Christmas list too!

    @Myra: Hi! Great to run into you virtually!

    @Rach: I'm so glad to help! I would love to hear how it goes with the coconut palm sugar, it sounds great.

  6. Can't wait to make this. Found lavender in full bloom in every planter surrounding our local mall. Helped them out with a bit of trimmimmg.

  7. Very nice. I love a good ol' urban forage.

  8. Do you know if this is high enough in acid to preserve in a water bath?