When i was a child in the 60’s and early 70’s, there was a road that lead past our miner’s shack in my little home town that meandered through the woods to the rear of our property. The “road”, by that time, was little more than two worn tracks, weeds poking through the middle and over-shadowed by saplings that stretched their spindly limbs out from the original edges of the road.
My family liked to take walks along the railroad tracks that crossed the highway just north of our house or take a leisurely stroll up that old road. A few hundred feet up that rapidly disappearing path was a small clearing. Turns out that clearing was a baseball field in my grandparents younger days.
As I would stand there in the middle of that shrinking clearing with nature rapidly encroaching on this ball field from the past, I would beg my mom to “tell me the stories”. So familiar with the field she frequented in her youth, ‘Mom could still point out the location of home base.
in my child’s mind it was very easy to conjure up the vision of rows of simple wooden bleachers filled with happy fans. I would close my eyes and feel the breeze carry the long gone cheers of town-folk who gathered at the field to watch local teams compete.
I knew my Pappy (Mom’s Dad) loved baseball; he was always watching it on TV. What I did not know until I found an old photo of him one day was that Pappy was a pretty good baseball player. Very good according to Mom.
The local small towns took their baseball seriously and had “real” uniforms and everything. Now, my Pappy was a humble Anthracite miner; his love of the game was limited to local weekend forays into the sport, but the hometown team actually turned out one gent who went on to a professional career in America’s beloved sport.
During these baseball games in the field behind our house, attendees were quite welcoming of refreshments, especially given the season of the year in which the games took place. Not ones to miss out on an opportunity, my Mom and her sister would brew up and bottle homemade root beer which they hawked at the games.
Mom never really went into details concerning their success — or lack thereof — but i suspect they did rather well in their sales because they kept up their endeavors for years. I never determined if the demise of the team, the ball field or Mom’s entrepreneurial efforts came first, but she always spoke of the field, her Dad’s talents, and the soda making ventures fondly.
The field had long grown completely closed in the years before I moved from the family homestead in 2000, but the memories of the people that made it come to life live in my heart forever.
Family friendly fun
Making homemade root beer can involve an extensive list of herbs, spices, and aromatics not readily found in most pantries such as sassafras, ginger, and licorice root. This results in a very “old-fashioned” taste, but it is not a flavor always embraced by many who try it, including children and folks who grew up with the flavor familiar to them of commercially bottled root beers so prevalent in the marketplace today.
Sadly, my Mom has long since passed away and I made the terrible mistake of not getting her to give me the recipe and process she and my aunt used “back in the day”. Even though I am positive Mom’s root beer making involved quite a bit of ingredients and work, this easy recipe using root beer extract, sugar and yeast pays homage to my Mom’s root beer enterprise and my Pappy’s days of playing baseball.
Using root beer flavoring to brew up a batch simplifies the project turning it into a family-friendly event and results in a final product with a flavor much more akin to the root beer most people are familiar with today.
Tips and where to buy supplies
- Root beer “extract” and “concentrate” are not the same. They cannot be substituted one-for-one in a recipe. Concentrate is just that — stronger than extract. Use the type of root beer flavor called for in whatever recipe you ultimately use.
- I believe any soda tastes better in glass than plastic, so I recommend using a glass gallon jug with a tight fitting lid. Don’t use the vessel if there are any cracks or chips. Sanitize all equipment involved in making the root beer prior to use.
- Placing the jar containing the root beer in a warm place or in the sun starts the fermentation process which develops the carbonation .
- Root beer extract is available online, in grocery stores, and in cake- and candy-making supply shops as well as in many Amish markets.
Homemade Root BeerCourse: BeveragesCuisine: General, Amish, PA Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon active dry baker’s yeast or brewers’ yeast from a beer-making supply shop.
4 teaspoons Root beer extract
3 1/2 quarts filtered or spring water, plus 1/2 cup
- Sterilize all equipment prior to use.
- Heat 1/2 cup water to warm (90 to 105F degrees). Dissolve the yeast in the warm water; stir then allow to sit for 15 minutes.
- When yeast mixture has rested for 15 minutes, place the sugar in the gallon jar, stir in the 3 1/2 quarts room temperature water and root beer extract. Mix well, stir in the yeast mixture then cap tightly. Turn jar on its side and set it out in the sun for a day ( or a warm spot that is 70 to 80 degrees for 24 hours) then store upright in refrigerator (approximately 40F degrees) for an additional 3 to 4 days to develop carbonation. Store refrigerated, consume within one week.
- Recipe and process adapted from Amish Country Cookbook Vol. 1 – Das Dutchman Essenhaus