So many of the products with Royal Warrants selected by Queen Elizabeth are affordable and easily accessible, even for middle class Americans. While I love that the list of her favorite things is not limited to such luxury brands as Jaguar, Burberry, and Bollinger, I wonder if maybe at times she goes too far in the opposite direction. Consider soft drinks. Does a soft drink company really deserve the royal seal of approval? Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Manufacturers of Fruit Juices and Soft Drinks” and has since 1955.
Britvic's product line includes what the British call “fizzy drinks,” carbonated favorites with names like J20, Fruit Shoot, drench, and Tango, in addition to American brands such as Pepsi and 7Up. Britvic also makes Robinson's barley water, a drink with a somewhat mysterious name that we'll get to in just a bit. In researching Britvic, I came across an article published by the Food Commission, which terms itself “Britain's leading, independent watchdog on food issues.” The article suggests it's irresponsible of Queen Elizabeth to award a warrant to companies that produce obviously unhealthy products: “Although foods and drinks with poor nutritional profiles are an inevitable part of our everyday diet, it is questionable whether the Queen should be granting her Warrant, and the status associated with royalty, to such products.”
Perhaps there's a bit of nostalgia involved in the Queen's selection. Once World War II had ended and the princesses Margaret and Elizabeth were back to living at Buckingham Palace with their parents, Prince Philip was able to see more of the cousin he'd kept up a correspondence with since their time together at Dartmouth in 1939. They began dating, but their relationship was kept extremely private. When they appeared together in public, they did their best not to let on how close they were becoming. The only time they could really be together and be themselves was when Philip came to the palace for dinners. Elizabeth's nanny, Crawfie, chronicled these “dates” (is it really a date if your little sister won't leave you alone for a second?) in The Little Princesses, her tell-all book about her years of service to the royal family. She said when Philip came by it wasn't for a formal dinner, but for a much more private meal taken in the nursery, the sort of juvenile name still given to the girls' shared bedroom. Odd as that setup sounds (Can you eat in a nursery? Would the room still smell like dinner when you went to bed later?) she also shares a somewhat odd menu: “Food was of the simplest...fish, some sort of sweet, and orangeade.”
Orangeade. The word didn't really mean anything to me. Is this essentially an orange version of lemonade, e.g. squeezed orange juice, water, and sugar? Or would Robinson's barley water qualify as orangeade? To be sure I emailed my friend Michelle, who is British, to ask her opinion. “I would normally think of orangeade as fizzy,” she responded. “We would generally think of Robinson's barley water as being in the category of orange squash.”
Okay, so Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip enjoyed their very first dates eating fish and drinking orange soda together. Think about it: this must be why Britvic has a Royal Warrant. Maybe every time the Queen tastes orange soda it makes her think of those youthful days of first being smitten with a handsome sailor returned from war. I can't fault her for that. Any time I eat cookie cake from a grocery store bakery, it reminds me of falling in love with Adam.
While we didn't try any of Britvic's orange soda offerings to experience this particular warrant, we did try Robinson's barley water, which is—as Michelle called it—a type of orange squash. This renegade use of the word “squash” is sort of confusing for Americans. By “squash” I'm not talking about yellow, zucchini, butternut, or any other type you associate with the vegetable squash grown here in America. I'm also not talking about the racket sport. In England they're using the word a little differently.
The first time we tried it, we hated it. I was running around like mad one morning trying to get ready for work when I realized we were completely out of the orange juice Nathan and I always drink for breakfast. I remembered the Robinson's barley water and thought maybe that could substitute for orange juice without Nathan actually noticing it was something different. I poured us each a big cup, but Nathan was first to try his.
“Yucky!” he screamed in a tone that seemed over-the-top, even for a two year old.
“Nathan, it's fine. It's just something new Mommy wanted to try,” I explained while loading the dishwasher with one hand and eating a piece of toast with the other.
The melodrama hadn't ended. “IT HURTS MY MOUTH!”
Before I could stop him, Nathan took his cup and chucked it into the kitchen sink. That's when I heard it. Fizzing. The barley water fizzed when it came into contact with the stainless steel sink. That scared me a little bit. What I had just given my child to drink? I took a sip of it myself and holy cow it was disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. It was thick and fizzy and saccharine—not at all what I'd expected from the name. I thought it would taste something like a Vitamin Water or Propel. Or maybe even like barley, since it contains barley flour. Instead it was like an extra thick and sugary version of Sunny Delight. I also had trouble accounting for the fizz—that must be caused by the barley.
When I got to work I emailed my friend Katie, an American transplant to London. (Notice how I try to spread these questions around to avoid looking like a complete idiot to any one individual). “Do you guys ever drink Robinson's barley water?” I typed. “If so, could you please talk me through the use of the word 'squash' to describe this drink? Side note, Robinson's is so gross.”
Katie wrote back with a polite response: “I think they use squash to describe anything from concentrate...” she began.
Concentrate. As in, something you have to water down before drinking. Duh. I got home and expected to find this printed clearly in huge letters on the front of the bottle: WATER IT DOWN FIRST or CONCENTRATED. I really haven't been getting much sleep lately, so maybe I missed it. I was a little relieved to see just how un-obvious it was. I had to read the incredibly fine print on the back of the bottle to find this important message: “Dilute 1 part concentrate with 4 parts water. It is important to add extra water if given to toddlers.”
Poor Nate. I mixed up a cup of it correctly this time and tasted it: much better. When Nathan came in for dinner, I poured him a cup too, but he freaked out when he caught sight of the bottle. “NO! No, I not drink that! It yucky! IT YUCKY!”
If you're stuck with a bottle of Robinson's orange barley water that your kid won't drink and that you aren't too keen on, you start to try to think of ways to get rid of it. It's advertised as an official drink of Wimbledon, but Wimbledon is over. We can't exactly throw a party. Finally I made a big pitcher of it last Saturday and moved Nathan's kids' table into his nursery for a tea party. While Nathan drank milk and ate crackers with his teddy bear, Adam and I sipped orange squash and tried not to break the kids chairs we were sitting on.
I'll be honest—my feelings didn't really trend toward the romantic as I sat across from Adam at the table in the nursery. I had fun talking to him, but I never felt butterflies in my stomach, never wondered where things would lead next. I guess everyone has their own triggers.
I'm still not exactly sure why Britvic has a Royal Warrant or why anyone would want to eat a meal of fish and orange soda in a nursery. To be completely honest, I think I've moved a few steps back this week in understanding Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
Where to buy: If you want to try barley water stateside, your best bet is ordering from Amazon.