Summer, oh glorious summer. So many memories. Here’s a special one from the 1940’s, early ’50’s: my father’s home-made root beer.
It might have been the last week of June that he started the first batch but for weeks before he scavenged glass beer and tonic (soda) bottles as six days a week he walked back and forth between the subway and his job at the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End.
Finally it was time. Earlier in the week he had sterilized the bottles, twenty I think, and on a Sunday afternoon he put on a baker’s apron and set out the equipment and the ingredients. He poured large amounts of water in a very big vat which he then set on the stove to heat. At the right temperature he stirred in sugar, yeast, and root beer extract. When all that had blended, he let it cool, and then began the bottling operation. I can’t recall how he filled the bottles from the vat, but as each bottle was ready he let me use a special gadget to secure a cap on the bottle. How I loved that job.
Next he would carry the bottles to the basement ( or the cellar as we called it), a few at a time, and place them in a wooden crate that was sectioned and had once been used commercially . When the crate was full he turned it on its side and covered it with an afghan which I can still picture. Made by my Aunt Carrie, it was knitted rectangles of various colored yarns, joined and edged with black yarn.
During the next five or six days, he would uncover the crate, turn the whole thing over, and recover it. Each day I would ask, “is it ready yet, Daddy?” When it was, he would bring one bottle up to the kitchen where my mother and I watched as he ceremoniously uncapped it. He would pour just a bit in a glass, and after approving it, he would pour some for each of us.
The supply was carefully rationed out over time, usually “straight” but sometimes with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to make a brown cow. (Root beer float.) Once the last bottle was left too long, and we heard a loud bang from the cellar as it exploded. After the last bottle was gone, he would soon start the whole process again, making two or three batches a summer.
Any root beer I’ve had in my life I’ve compared to that brew. Some has come close, but none has ever been as deliciously perfect as that brewed by Garner T. Corson, my father!
Dorothy C. Judd (C) 2017