I muttered my lame excuse over and over again in my head. I supposed it was more believable and certainly more original than the age-old, “my dog ate my homework” bit. It was Friday. The school day had ended with bells on, ringing throughout the building … letting us know that yet another day had drawn to a close. The hallways were emptying at the typical fever-pitched speed, as hoards of teenagers filed out of the building and into the awaiting weekend. Not me though. No, at that exact moment to which I refer here – on that sunny, Fall Friday afternoon – I was standing awkwardly in the doorway of my high school History classroom, nervous and panicky, my sweaty hands gripping the pitiful remains of what was supposed to be my big term paper – of what HAD been my big term paper, prior to the unfortunate incident in the cafeteria that afternoon.
Oh hi, Lauren! Come on in. Got a paper for me? You can just put it there on the edge of my desk …
Oh, I like you. I thought to myself. You’re nice. Please have mercy on me. He was one of the nicest teachers I’d ever had, actually. With oversized glasses and an impressive collection of sweater vests, I’d been amused by the way he tapped his knuckles on the blackboard when he was really enthused about a particular bit of information that he was sharing with us, me and the rest of my 2nd period classmates. The tapping would start slow and then build up to a veritable frenzy by the time he’d finished explaining whatever it was, and it was both endearing and distracting all at the same time. I looked down at the grayed and somewhat sticky pile of stapled papers I was holding, and instinctively loosened my grip so as to not crumple or crease the edges. Silly me, I thought. The papers had already met their unfortunate and premature demise when I’d clumsily knocked over a can of Coke right on top of them in the lunchroom that day. Soaking right though all 10 pages, the soda had caused the ink to run, fade and smear all over the place, rendering the whole thing useless. It looked more like a Rorschach test than a paper on the Franco-Prussian War.
When I was in high school, we couldn’t just magically beam our files up into the cloud, sending them to anyone anywhere in the world in an instant … free of staples and paper waste. I’m not saying the internet didn’t exist yet – I’m not that old – but no one did those kinds of things yet. You typed up a hard copy of your work and turned it in, live and in living color … right on the edge of your teacher’s desks.
Unless, of course, you spilled an entire can of soda on them. Then things got a little more interesting.
“Well when I was in high school, Lauren, if I’m being honest … I rarely did any homework. We didn’t have much assigned to us though, so that worked in my favor,” he’d said with a wink and a sly smile. I watched in anticipation as my teacher took my crumbled mess of papers and surveyed them, taking great care to review every page as if he was looking for some semblance of proof that I’d really done the work. He was messing with me, but my nerves had temporarily paralyzed my sense of humor … I didn’t quite get it at first. He patted me on the back and perched on the edge of the desk then, pushing aside the pile of pristine, stain-free term papers that had previously been deposited by my classmates.
“No, when I was your age I wasn’t really anything like you. I didn’t do all the work on time, every time – heck, I often didn’t even make it to classes on time …”
A compliment! This is good. My nerves eased up a bit then, and I felt the tension start to fade away. He’s not going to fail me!
“Do you know what a soda jerk is?” he asked then. Huh? I figured I’d missed something while I was basking in my reverie of relief, and nodded my head. “I think so.”
“That was my job in high school. Phosphates, rickeys, fancy sundaes – I was pretty good at making all of them.” I nodded again, but didn’t recognize half of the list he’d just rattled off. “I worked at a small, family-owned place that never changed as the years rolled by – not a bit. They stayed true to their roots and kept things in the shoppe vintage and authentic, just like it was in the 20s and 30s when soda fountains were more popular. I loved it there … never got a drop of soda on any of my homework, though. Not a drop!”
He winked at me and I laughed. Once a history teacher, always a history teacher, I thought, amused at how the discussion of my paper had morphed into a small history lesson. I glanced at the clock.
“Well you probably have places to go and people to see, don’t you? How about you turn in a fresh copy on Monday morning and we’ll call it even. Just say no to soda!” he said, his index finger pointed high in the air. He chuckled at himself then.
I promised to get it to him first thing on Monday and then made my way down the long, now empty hallways and out the double doors toward the parking lot … relieved, happy, and making the mental note to ask my parent’s what the heck a rickey was.
Fresh Grapefruit, Blackberry and Vanilla Bean Soda RECIPE
Craft soda making seems to have joined the ranks of craft distilleries, breweries and wine-making in the world of trendy libations and I find that it’s really fun and easy to craft homemade sodas right in your own kitchen. They are very little more than flavored soda water and the sky is really the limit so far as the flavors are concerned. This recipe is simple, beautiful and absolutely delicious. You can easily tailor the proportions to suit your preferences, as I’m always careful to note in so many of my recipes. If you like things sweeter, then I’d advise adding more of the syrup. You can swap out the grapefruit for lime if you want a variation and maybe try raspberry instead of the blackberry. I actually don’t even like grapefruit but when sweetened and paired with vanilla – I can’t get enough.
1/2 pint blackberries
The juice of two large pink grapefruits
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (you can sub vanilla extract here)
1 liter club soda
Puree the blackberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. Push the puree through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds, and set aside. (You should end up with around 1/2 cup of usable puree)
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the sugar and two cups of water. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 minutes. Add the grapefruit juice and the vanilla bean paste to the simple syrup. Cool completely/refrigerate until use.
To make the soda, add half of the blackberry puree to a pitcher/container followed by 1 cup of the grapefruit/vanilla simple syrup. Top with your desired amount of club soda, stir, and taste. Adjust the ingredients now to suit your preferences – if it’s not sweet enough, you can add more syrup. Too sweet? Add more soda water. If you want more blackberry flavor, by all means add the rest of the puree! This is where you make it your own. Refrigerate or enjoy right away over ice.