Homemade Vichy Pastilles

The company I work for has an office in Lyon, France. While visiting our office recently, S, an employee from the Lyon office brought a bag of "Vichy Pastilles" to share, candy made with the mineral salts from the mineral water in Vichy, France. These were orange-flavored and absolutely delicious. I'm not sure how to describe it, except that it is like a gourmet antacid tablet.

It got me thinking of the springs in Saratoga and the funky naturally-sparkling water that flows freely there. I loaded up the car with the empty bottles and my bottle capper, and headed to Saratoga Spa State Park. I stopped by various springs, tasting the water and filling the bottles, labeling each cap with which spring it came from. I'm really not sure what the plan was, but I had a few things in mind:

1) It was an opportunity to practice bottling stuff
2) I was curious to know how well fizziness would last in a properly capped bottle
3) I kind of like the funky tasting water and wouldn't mind keeping some around the house

The last spring I planned to visit was the Orenda spring, next to where we have been having our annual company picnics. As I filled bottles, a tour group walked walked up to the spring. I moved my bottling operation out of the way to let everyone taste the water. The tour guide was a geyser of information about the springs, clearly passionate about the spring water. He asked me, 'how long have you been drinking the spring water'? I told him it was my first time. He mentioned that there are 18 springs total. Upon my asking, he said that the fizziest spring was the Hathorn spring in downtown Saratoga. He handed me a brochure and lead the group along to the next spring. Me? I packed up my stuff and headed to the car to find this Hathorn spring.

There are several Hathorn springs. I went to Hathorn spring #1. It was extremely fizzy like the man said. Passers by finished coffees, then refilled their Dunkin Donuts cups with the sparkling water. I filled up my remaining bottles, grabbed lunch, and headed home.

I felt kind of silly as I set down 20 or so bottles of stinking bubbly waters. There's no way I'm going to drink all of it before it's time to bottle the cider that's brewing down in the basement. I poured myself some and offered M a taste. She took a sip, and said, "Wow. It tastes very salty and sulfury." I found her discerning taste interesting. I hadn't noticed the salt, but now that you mention it...

I'm always thinking about the question, 'where would I get (x) if it wasn't at the supermarket?'. Two really crucial items I use every day come to mind. The first is cooking fat. I suppose I could get it from animals, but it's also available from plants and I wonder how *I* would go about extracting it. The other is salt. Salt is an amazing preservative, salt would be sorely missed if the supermarket didn't exist. When M mentioned the salty taste, it got the wheels in my head spinning. Maybe if I boil down the spring water, I can end up with a pile of salt. Of course there's the issue of having lots of other minerals to extract, but whatever. Let's try it and see what happens.

As soon as I started boiling the Saratoga spring water, a white sandy substance appeared in piles at the bottom of the cookpot. I strained it through a cheesecloth, and put the remaining water back on the stove to continue boiling down.

I tasted the white substance. It seemed very similar to the hard water deposits we get all over the house (on clean dishes, in pipes, in the dishwasher, etc. etc.). Some sort of calcium. Calcium carbonate maybe? Calcium carbonate is a common ingredient in cheesemaking, also added to commercial nut milk to give it 'more calcium than dairy milk'.

Ok, so I have a pile of calcium carbonate (or something similar) before me. I Googled uses for calcium carbonate. Antacid tablets caught my attention. I had a huge eureka moment when I realized that's what the Vichy Pastilles tasted like. Which makes sense, because they are made using mineral water. A potential recipe for Vichy Pastilles (or more accurately, Saratoga Pastilles) came to mind. I hopped on my bike and raced to the supermarket to pick up some oranges. Back at the house, I juiced and zested one of the oranges into a boiling pot. I added sugar and reduced it a bit.

The juice was then poured into the pile of calcium on a paper towel, and the moisture was wrung out of it using the paper towel to strain. What was left was an orange pile of damp chalk dust. I grabbed two homebrewing airlock caps, pressed the dust into one and fit the other cap inside the first, and pressed the dust into a solid piece of candy.

This went into the slow-cook oven at a very low temperature to dry.

The piece of candy spent 30 minutes or so drying. It was not completely dry by this time, but I have no patience so out of the oven it came. I split it in two so M could try it. Popping the half-candy in my mouth, it tasted a bit sweet and orangy, and disintegrated as soon as it hit saliva. I told M to expect something along the lines of an antacid tablet. "That's exactly what it tastes like", was her response after trying one.

So there you have it. A rudimentary Saratoga Pastille. A lot of work for one candy, but exciting to have an idea of how to make them. And Rolaids. And Necco Wafers. And Flintstone Vitamins.

Leave a Reply