Here in the north, the winter doldrums are upon us! I think this time of year all Michiganders struggle at least a little bit. We struggle with smiles and courtesies, with grey days, snow shoveling and just not being able to shake the desire to sleep all day long. Whether it's from a lack of vitamin D, a poor sleep schedule or just plain missing the gay days of summer, struggle certainly seems to permeate many of our lives.
So how do I beat the winter blues? Often I don't, actually. I spend a good deal of time grouching about, whining about not being able to get my hands in the earth. Sometimes, though, I remember that a great way to get through the blues is to simply indulge in things that make you go "Mmmm..." and "Ahhhhhh..." and during the winter these things are most often found in the form of food and drink!
Have you ever had an brown cow? It's kind of a strange name, but they're really delicious!
A brown cow is kind of like a chocolatey root beer float, but without the ice cream. I am a firm believer that ice cream is to be enjoyed only when wind chills are above -15ºF, and lately they haven't been.
Brown cows first came about at the height of the drugstore soda fountain rise in The States, in the late 19th century. Can you imagine scuffing into town down the long dusty roads to snag a brown cow at the local pharmacy? I can just see the stools neatly lined up beside the wooden bar top, now. Thick soda glasses, or even utilitarian metal ones, being stirred with a glass pharmacists stirrer and sipped from with paper straws.
Picturing stuff like that really makes me smile... Before the soda fountain, the only sweet drinks really available were ciders. (Unfortunately, the growth of the soda industry meant the apple industry hit some seriously hard times at the beginning of the 20th century.. more on that another time!)
So... I wouldn't use just any root beer for this drink. I'd insist on one that's complex with deep and subtle spices. I had a glass of root beer at the WAB in Ferndale the other day and it was strongly scented with anise. It was also served over ice, which is a serious pet peeve of mine since it severely dilutes the root beer and many of the spices used in good root beer are most complex and tasty at room temperature. Anyway, I digress... Some of my favorite bottled rootbeers are Boylan and Virgil's. They're both a bit dryer than your typical commercial root beer, and they both use natural ingredients.
Some people make their brown cows without chocolate, and some make them with loads. I prefer just a bit of chocolate in mine, and this last time I was without chocolate sauce and didn't feel like making any from scratch so I opted for the more tame version of the brown cow. Maybe we can call it a brown heifer (heh. homesteading jokes...)
Alright, here's the way I make my Black Cow Sodas:
- I take 6 oz (half bottle or so) high quality root beer (cane sugar is your friend!)
To which I add:
- 1/3 cup high fat milk (vitamin D milk, whole milk, raw milk, unhomogenized milk, cream top milk... go for quality, again! You'll thank yourself later...)
- 1/3 cup sparkling or seltzer water (if you leave this out, your brown cow will be considerably bolder flavored, but will lack some of the prickly carbonation)
- A squirt of your favorite chocolate syrup (quality, quality, quality... I've included a recipe, below)
Now, at the risk of coming off like a total snob (as if I haven't already), drink this classic baby from a glass, not a plastic cup. The crisp edge of glass helps the bubbles break and is a far more enjoyable way to drink it.
If you want to make this really something special, try making your own chocolate syrup to enjoy in your brown cow. It's really quite easy... in a sauce pan over medium heat simply stir together: 1/2 cup cane sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa powder and 1/2 cup water, as well as 1/4 tsp salt and (if you like) a few drops of vanilla extract. Stir it for 5 minutes over medium heat, until it begins to thicken a smidge and then allow it to cool. If it isn't thick enough for your liking, simply place it over heat again and stir another 5 minutes or so. It's that easy!
Now, I've just stumbled across this recipe for DIY root beer, where you're fermenting herbs and spices and sugar with ale yeast. This sounds like a spectacular spring project and I can't wait to give it a go! I'll be sure to post how it goes, here, and then I'll have my very own 100% made-from-scratch brown cow! (Of course, it'd be better if I were milking the cow myself... have I gone too far? LOL!)
Please note that there are several recipes out there that state a "brown cow" is actually a cola float. The name seems to really apply to any brown soda that you put a dairy product in, but this is what I've always called a brown cow!