Thirst Buster

Simple syrups and soda water provide a counter to summer's heat
Cherry soda, house-made at Mystic Treats in Ashland, also can be made at home with fresh fruit.Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

Soda has taken much of the heat for Americans' poor health. But beating the heat with a cold, fizzy beverage doesn't have to be a "bad nutritional choice," says one local restaurateur.

House-made sodas are a mainstay at Mystic Treats, which is slated to move from Talent to Ashland next week. Owners Michael and Erika Lowe flavor simple syrups with organic extracts, adding soda water to craft cola, ginger ale, root beer, cream ale and orange, cherry and strawberry sodas. Each is made to order and can be adjusted to customers' preference for sweetness.

"I can have an infinite number of flavors," says Erika Lowe, explaining that her sodas aren't just free of the high-fructose corn syrup in most mainstream sodas; they also lack preservatives and other chemicals.

The same old-fashioned style of soda, says Lowe, can be made in the home kitchen, either with extracts available at Black Bird Shopping Center and Grains, Beans & Things in Medford, or with the season's fresh fruits.

"You cook 'em down and then strain 'em," she says.

Summer's cherries, blackberries, peaches and more can be distilled into syrups and stashed in the freezer. The sugar content keeps the mixture from freezing hard, so it's always ready to mix with seltzer.

If firing up the stove seems too burdensome, concoct a "chiller" from 3/4 cup soda water with 3 tablespoons fruit puree. For peach puree, "The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen" recommends combining 1 pound ripe peaches, peeled and pitted, with 1/4 cup lime juice (three limes), 1 teaspoon sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Puree the ingredients in a blender. For each drink, pour 6 ounces seltzer water over ice into a highball glass, stir in 3 tablespoons peach puree and garnish with a peach slice.

Other whimsical and flavorful garnishes include cinnamon sticks or sprigs of fresh herbs. Layer more flavor into homemade sodas with custom ice cubes containing bits of rosemary, lemon verbena, basil, lavender, chamomile, saffron threads or sweet fennel seeds. Serve or store the elixirs in glass bottles available at local outlets for home-brewing supplies, says Lowe.

Extracts, rather than fresh ingredients, make for more consistent-tasting sodas at Mystic Treats, says Lowe, explaining that a flavor as iconic as cola actually contains lavender, cardamom and anise. The pastry chef and pizzeria co-owner says she would add grapefruit soda to the lineup if she could find a good, organic extract.

"We have a surprisingly loyal soda group," she says. "We're pretty happy with our selection."

Mystic Treats' selection of food will grow in its new Tolman Creek Plaza digs, formerly home to The Old Farmhouse, to include veggie burgers and hot dogs with gluten-free buns baked on site, as well as french fries and house-made potato chips. Closing their Talent location last week, the Lowes say they plan to reopen Friday, July 12, in Ashland. Hours of operation are from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.

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