Grit Blogs > The Urban Bystander

Mary Ann or Ginger?

Carolyn Evans-Dean head shotMany magazines have been asking their readers to choose between Mary Ann and Ginger for almost 50 years, since the first episode of the television show Gilligan’s Island aired in 1964. (Whew! Just the thought that the show is nearly 50 years old is enough to make me feel a bit creaky in the joints!) In quite the sexist fashion, those publications only pose the question to men. I’ve decided to address this age old question in today’s blog post.

My vote goes to Ginger, and I don’t care who knows it! Ginger is a wonderfully easy plant to grow and can be used to flavor all types of recipes.  If the passengers on that fateful three-hour cruise had brought along my kind of ginger, then they could have made ginger beer instead of relying on nothing but coconut milk as the only beverage offered at mealtimes. If you are a fan of ginger ale, then its hotter and spicier cousin may be just the thing for you!Ginger Rhizome from the Grocery Store

While the regular dried ginger that most people have in their spice racks will produce a tasty beverage, the best kind is produced by using freshly grated ginger. If you think that you’ve never seen whole ginger at your grocery store, you are probably mistaken.  Ginger is a rhizome, so it more closely resembles an odd-shaped alien root rather than herbal greenery. It also makes for a beautiful, low-maintenance houseplant.

In an effort to be self-sufficient about my ginger beer cravings, I grow my own plants from the rhizomes at the supermarket. Having given my last plant away a while ago, I started two new pots about 6 weeks ago. There was no fuss to the planting process. I simply filled pots with soil and buried the rhizomes about two inches deep. Placing them in soil in a sunny window, I watered them occasionally and left them alone.

 Young Ginger Shoot

With one tropical plant up and doing well, I was feeling quite pleased…until I looked in the other pot. There was nothing visible!  Being an impatient gardener, I took it upon myself to dig the other rhizome up. Right on the edge, I discovered a tell-tale greenish bulge. The bulge indicates that the plant will soon sprout forth and will be playing catch up with the other pot. If I hadn’t seen signs of life in it, I probably would have washed it and proceeded with making ginger beer. Very little goes to waste around here!

Ginger Rhizome with New Growth

Some would say that my recipe for ginger beer is not authentic because I don’t use champagne yeast to make it. However, I don’t make champagne at home, so champagne yeast wouldn’t be a good multi-purpose ingredient to keep around.

Homemade Ginger Beer 

Add to a soup pot, 3 ounces of powdered ginger 

1/2 an ounce of cream of tartar 

Juice of two lemons 

1 1/2 lbs of sugar  

1 gallon of water

Allow mixture to simmer over low heat for half an hour.

Let cool. 

When nearly room temperature, stir in 1 tablespoon of baking or brewing yeast.

Pour into glass bottles and then seal them with a bottle sealer. 

(Don’t take chances with corks as the fermentation process will cause the corks to take off like bottle rockets, spraying much of the finished product around your kitchen on day 2 or 3!)

Let sit for 3 days before opening.

Do not refrigerate until after 3 days has passed to allow the flavors to develop and the yeast to create the bubbly carbonated effect that is desirable in soda. 

There is a slight alcoholic content to ginger beer due to the fermentation process. However, I’ve never noticed any intoxicating effects. For the most part, this recipe produces a tasty homemade soda that can be manifactured at home without all of the unpronounceable chemical additives. While I tend to drink a lot of iced tea year round, it is so nice to have something bubbly from time to time!

So...Mary Ann or Ginger? Definitely Ginger!

robyn dolan
5/3/2012 11:34:46 PM

Carolyn, love the name of your blog! I made ginger beer once, in an attempt to make the non-alcoholic version. It was delicious, but did make me tipsy, so with great regret, I poured it out. Would love to make homemade sodas if only I could figure out how keep them from turning alcoholic. For now I do it with club soda and juice or root beer flavoring and sugar.

carolyn evans-dean
5/1/2012 8:01:05 PM

I don't strain the mixture at all, Dave! I tend to leave the pulpy matter in the bottle to allow it to add more flavor. One time, I did use a bottle with a regular cork and the ginger beer shot up to the ceiling, startling my husband and daughter. I've never gotten "happy" from drinking ginger beer, but it does gain a lot of bubbles that tickle my nose! Gilligan's Island is one show that seems to stand the test of time. My older sisters and I watched it though we are all seven years apart. My children watched it and would probably still be watching it if they could find it on tv in syndication. It was a fun and silly respite from the real world. Maybe that is why it has stood the test of time...

nebraska dave
4/29/2012 1:20:16 PM

Carolyn, if fresh ginger is used, do you strain the mixture before adding the yeast and bottling it? My brother-in-law tells a story from his youth about making root beer in a similar way which as you indicated exploded the corks out all over the basement. I think their root beer might have had just a little more alcohol in it as he said they sure got happy when they drank it. :0) And as for your question, I'd have to vote for Mary Ann the more sensible one. It was a funny show in it's time. The modern sitcom shows of today have a very different kind of humor that appeals to the younger crowd but just seems silly to me. Have a great ginger beer day.