Sunday, February 20, 2011

Our latest do-it-yourself project: Homemade tonic water

As many of you know, here at Canyon Creek Farms we are always finding new ways to be more self-sufficient. This naturally means that we are constantly learning, daydreaming, and brainstorming. One of the things frequently on our minds is improving the way we eat. For instance, we love cured meats such as pastrami and bacon, but do not wish to consume nitrates and nitrites. What to do? I'll talk about this more in another post, as it is its own large subject. This post is really about one of our latest ideas: making our own tonic water.

For years now, we have been doing our best to avoid products that contain high-fructose corn syrup. The label-readers among you know how difficult this can be; HFCS seems to show up in an incredible variety of places. Our one continuous bugaboo has been tonic water; we love our gin-and-tonics, but try to find tonic water that doesn't have HFCS. (I recently heard of a specialty shop in Seattle that does sell a sugar-sweetened tonic water, however.) So up till now, we've just decided to put up with it. It's not as if we're consuming lots of the stuff; G & Ts are more of a summertime drink for us.

Not long ago, my husband David came home from Sunny Farms (our local country store) with a 6-pack of Hansen's Natural Tonic Water. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered that it contained HFCS! Back to Sunny Farms it went. I began to question whether it might be possible to make our own tonic water. We talked about it a bit, but figured it would be problematic to find a source of quinine.

A month or so ago, I read an interesting article in Edible Seattle about "craft bartenders" who were making their own bitters, many with exotic flavors such as lavender and root beer. The article included one recipe for homemade bitters, and my eye was immediately caught by one ingredient: Cinchona bark, from which quinine is derived. Ha, I thought, it must be fairly easily available. Actually the article did mention two sources in Seattle, but later I found a web site that offered the bark in much larger quantities, which made it much more affordable.

Another Google search brought me to Jeffrey Morgenthaler's blog. Jeff is a Portland, OR bartender, and his terrific blog includes recipes for, among other things, tonic water. After receiving my first package (a full pound) of cinchona bark, I assembled the other ingredients and made my first batch. We haven't actually tried it yet as I am waiting patiently for the tiny cinchona bark particles to settle out first, but we are quite excited about this. I am also going to try different versions, such as a sweetened type and an unsweetened one.

Anyone ever make their own tonic water? What recipe(s) did you use? Please post your comments and questions; since I'm so new to this I'm sure I have a lot yet to learn.