On hot summer days, we must take care to stay properly hydrated. What did people do years ago, before electrolyte drinks, when America was mainly rural and summer meant laboring in hot fields? I was curious what people working all day in the sun drank to stay safe.
Switchel, also called haymaker’s punch, came up in my research. Considered more effective than water and associated primarily with the Amish and Shakers, switchel was made with lemon juice, ginger, vinegar and molasses, and sweetened with honey or maple syrup. I tried an old Shaker recipe, and though somewhat pleasant, it tasted different from today's beverages.
Hoping to make a simpler natural thirst-quencher, I thought of a tall, icy cold plum soda beverage served at Vietnamese restaurants. The ingredients are a kind of salt-preserved plum, sugar, club soda, and ice. On hot days, its salty and sweet flavors, while unexpected make it both delicious and effectively hydrating.
To find out about the plum used, I called my friend Wai Chu, who teaches Asian cooking in New York City. Wai explained it is a cherry-sized green Asian plum. Pickling in brine turns them yellow and tangy-tasting. For the drink, mash up one or two plums in a tall glass, add some of the salty brine, ice, and club soda, plus sugar to taste.
These salty plums are only available in Asian communities, so I developed my own drink with the same sweet, tart and salty flavors that refresh and rehydrate. It is lemonade with a kick because it includes heat, from cayenne and black pepper. Asians appreciate that pepper helps keep you cool, plus these flavors go well with the lemon. To sweeten this lemonade, I use agave, which eliminates waiting for sugar to dissolve, it includes a bit of salt too. If you find club soda more refreshing by all means use it in place of water.
*Kosher salt is used because has the cleanest taste of all salts; the minerals in sea salt affect its flavor, so every brand tastes slightly different.
Per serving: 80 calories, 0 g total fat, 23g carbohydrate, 0 g protein, 0 g dietary fiber, 240 mg sodium.
Recipe from American Institute for Cancer Research