A retired pharmaceutical and industrial chemist, author and historian specialising in military events.
During and immediately following the Second World War anything sweet was still on ration or was unobtainable. Proprietary soft drinks were pretty much unheard of or were too expensive but most households had bubbling away in a dark cupboard a closely guarded “Ginger Beer Plant”
This was the basis of a delicious ginger flavoured cordial which we had as a treat from time to time, as sugar ration allowed There seemed to be no specific recipe, with the ingredients and method being handed down through the families.
I asked my sister to look out the faded scrap of paper from my mother’s cookery book and this is what it said. I can make no claim to its originality as people used to freely swap such information then.
To start we first need to make the actual ginger beer "plant”
Recipe for the Ginger Beer Plant
Using a clean jar add 1/2 pint of water (preferably bottled still water rather than tap water)(in the 1950s we would have used filtered rainwater)
To this add a large pinch of fresh or dried yeast
1 heaped dessertspoon of ground ginger
1 heaped dessertspoon of sugar (you can use any type or even honey)
Stir the ingredients thoroughly together. Cover the top of the jar with a porous material (muslin or similar) and hold in place with a rubber band or string. This will allow the yeast to react with the air.
Over the next week remove the muslin each day and add another teaspoon of ground ginger and sugar and stir. You will notice that the “Ginger Beer Plant” will start frothing and this is caused by the action of the yeast. At the end of the week the plant can be used to make the first batch of ginger beer.
Prepare the plant for use.
Strain the entire Ginger Beer Plant through muslin or a very fine sieve.
Retain the liquid for making the ginger beer and divide the residue from the sieve into two equal parts.
Use one half of residue to make a new “Ginger Beer Plant” and the other half you can give to family or friends or make a second plant for yourself.
Let’s make the Ginger Beer
Measure 10 pints of good quality water into a large saucepan and add 24oz of sugar (or you could use 3 cups of honey or molasses). If you use molasses expect the ginger beer to have a slightly burnt taste which may not be to everyones liking. Gently heat and stir until everything is completely dissolved, then add the juice of two unwaxed lemons including the zest of one of them. Once mixed add the strained liquid from “The Ginger Beer Plant” and continue to mix well. Allow to cool before bottling (particularly if you are putting into plastic bottles)
You should have prepared sufficient clean plastic bottles and pour the ginger beer into them, capping loosely. These should then be placed in your larder for around 7 days to allow them to ferment. (You will see small bubbles rising or sticking to the bottle sides). From then on you can tighten the caps, cool in the fridge and drink ice cold.
I would suggest you use plastic bottles as during the fermentation process considerable gas pressure can build up and plastic is more flexible than glass and will do less damage if they explode.
I should mention that as an added bonus to us children, this ginger beer is slightly alcoholic and can make you a little tipsy if you drink a lot of it. It is more of an adult drink.
Although homemade the taste is clean and pure without the nasty back taste of modern synthetic drinks, although far from sugar-free, which diabetics should note.
Every time I look at the photo I can taste, in my mind, the wonderful, but simple taste which takes me back to my childhood.
Traditional Christmas pudding
- EMPIRE CHRISTMAS PUDDING And the history of the pudding.
The Christmas pudding is known the world over as a rich sweet accompaniment to a traditional roast Christmas dinner. It has, however, evolved over the decades from meat,fish and fruit pudding.
Nelson squares - Wartime cake made from scraps
- Nelson Squares - A recipe for a delicious wartime cake made from scraps.
Following the war cakes were very much a luxury and various methods of producing something from nothing were tried. Some were delicious and this recipe for Nelson Squares is one
- British sweet rationing 1940-1953 - Homemade sweets
At the start of WW2 foodstuff, clothing and many items were rationed. Sweets gave a feeling of normality as the population suffered nightly bombing raids and widespread deaths.
© 2012 Peter Geekie
Cid on May 30, 2020:
I loved the history behind this recipe. I'm wondering if your ginger "plant" is pretty much the same thing as a ginger "bug"? For the bug, it's basically the same process, except you use fresh organic ginger instead of dried ground ginger. Because the ginger is fresh, and you also include the skin which is populated with yeast; as a result, you don't need to add that pinch of dried yeast either. But it seems to me, they're both pretty much the same thing. I've made ginger beer by using the bug, and I have to say it's my favorite!
Joyce Love on March 14, 2019:
I remember when I was a child in England and making ginger beer from "the plant" then passing it on. I never actually made the plant but was a recipient of it and loved that the recipe has been published on HubPages. The drink was delicious as I remember.
In the early 50's the plant was passed on amongst us children so much that according to an article in the local newspaper the ginger beer drink had become quite strong with alcohol and was urging parents to destroy the plant. Of course, my mum, immediately did just that. After all these years I am now making it again. It's not quite ready yet, but I am looking forward to the results.
Peter Geekie (author) from Sittingbourne on August 07, 2016:
Dear Miss Jane,
With all the plethora of soft drinks available these days I will go back to this one which reminds me of my childhood. Be careful with the children as it is very mildly alcoholic although none of my friends suffered any ill effects, quite the opposite.
kind regards Peter
Miss Jane Form 2b on August 06, 2016:
Just noticed your recipe for a ginger beer plant. I will get the class to start half a dozen plants and can't wait to try it. It looks delicious particularly in hot weather.
Peter Geekie (author) from Sittingbourne on November 03, 2012:
Thank you YogaKat,
I don't think there are any health claims for this cordial with all the sugar it contains. It was simply a wartime stopgap when alternatives were not available. However, I continue to drink it because I like it !
Kind regards Peter
YogaKat from Oahu Hawaii on November 02, 2012:
I love ginger root juice . . .buy it from Costco and drink it daily . . . very healthy stuff for livers and such.
Peter Geekie (author) from Sittingbourne on November 02, 2012:
Thank you for your comment. I'm sure that with a bit of brewing knowledge he may be able to tweak the alcohol content up a little.
kind regards Peter
Emilie S Peck from Minneapolis, MN on November 01, 2012:
This is very interesting. My sister's boyfriend enjoys brewing different beers, and I believe he'd made a variation of this. It was pretty good!
I may have to give this recipe a shot at some point. Voted this hub up.
Peter Geekie (author) from Sittingbourne on October 14, 2012:
I know real ginger beer is not everyone's taste, but I grew up with it and think its delicious. Thanks for the vote.
Kind regards Peter
Kate McBride from Donegal Ireland on October 14, 2012:
This is a great recipe Peter and the history of it is so interesting . Voted up and shared on facebook. Thanks !
Peter Geekie (author) from Sittingbourne on October 13, 2012:
Thank you for your comment - I'm sure that for some it is an acquired taste and that it may be different to modern versions.
Kind regards Peter
Dianna Mendez on October 13, 2012:
I have had ginger beer and it has a kick to it for sure. Not a fan of this drink, but I can see where it has some benefit to it with the ginger ingredient.