We are having a hot summer and that is all there is to it. A few strategies for keeping cool are in order, and I will start this conversation off with something cool to sip. Not that we all have time to sit on the porch and listen to ice clink in our glasses, but if we need a break, it is nice to have something reasonably wholesome, sometimes fizzy, and not loaded with high-fructose corn syrup.
What prompted this train of thought was a charming visit to Bayside a week or so ago, when I spent the day with very old friends in the Witherill and Gates families. My friend Beth Gates Code made a terrific Red Zinger tea drink sweetened with white grape juice. It was refreshing and light, held up well to ice, and its bright red color appealed to me a lot. It went well with white wicker porch furniture on a hot day, as welcome as the breeze we had off the water.
Of course, I am so old that I can remember when I was a kid that if I was thirsty, my mom pointed to the cold water tap. No aseptic juice boxes for us, no guzzling juice period, never mind Zarex syrup that I longed for, but which my mother and grandmother contemptuously referred to as belly-slop. Needless to say, any soda was a rare treat. For special occasions like Fourth of July or family reunions, my mom made what she called bug juice. A recipe follows.
Most of my summer drinks ideas start with the premise that it is cheaper to use water from the tap to make beverages than it is to buy them. When I see ready-made juices that say on the package “made from juice concentrate,” I think, “hmmm, they are selling me water again.” I’d rather buy the concentrate myself and add my own water. Plus, that way, we can blend and tinker to our heart’s content to come up with fun combinations of juices, teas and seltzer waters to suit our personal and family’s tastes.
One way to approach this is to see what commercial beverages you and your family enjoy, particularly fruit sodas or flavored teas. Check out the ingredients.
There are three basic elements to homemade summer beverages: tea, both herbal and black or green; fruit juice usually in concentrate but also homemade in a juicer; and water, still or fizzy, flavored or plain. You can then add more sweetening and flavoring to taste.
The fruit juice frequently provides all the needful sweetness, particularly if you use apple or white grape juice concentrate. If you want a bit more sweetening, I recommend making a simple syrup of one cup of water and one cup of sugar boiled together until the sugar dissolves. Simple syrup in iced tea or coffee sweetens efficiently because it is a liquid and doesn’t require the steady stirring of sugar into a glass.
Additionally, you can use other commercial syrups, such as the ones used in coffee shops, to flavor and sweeten. For more citrus zip you can use juice or wedges of lemon or lime. Slices of fresh ginger, well-bruised, provide refreshing gingery bite.
At our house, we make our own orange soda by mixing up orange juice concentrate in a pitcher, then adding plain or orange flavored seltzer to the glass of juice. We like half OJ and half soda, but you might like a different combination. You can take the same approach with other frozen or canned fruit concentrates.
We also love tea and fruit juice combinations. I sometimes make a plain black tea sun tea (I allow five to ten bags to a gallon jar of water and set it on the back stoop to brew in the sun.) I add a splash of fruit juice to each glassful — whatever is on hand, and taste it for sweetness and flavor, adjust accordingly with simple syrup, lemon or lime juice. There are lots and lots of herb teas and decaffeinated black and green teas to use. I love the herb teas with strong berry or citrus flavors, like the Zingers in the Celestial seasonings line.
Cold coffee, caffeinated or not, with or without milk, works, too, and if you like flavored coffee keep your eye open for the syrups coffee shops use. A few years ago a friend gave me a bottle of cinnamon syrup, which is lovely, added to plain seltzer for a unique cinnamon soda drink.
Looking for …
Cool ideas for dishes to serve in hot summer weather. Cold soups? A meaty salad? What do you do to keep over-the-hot-stove-time down to a minimum? Send recipes to Sandy Oliver, 1061 Main Road, Islesboro, ME 04848 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oliver Family Bug Juice
Yields a little more than a gallon
1 can orange juice concentrate
1 can purple grape juice concentrate
1 can lemonade concentrate
Method one: To make a gallon and a half, empty the contents of the cans into a two gallon container, and add the required amount of water, usually three cans of water to each can of concentrate, slightly more for lemonade. Mix and serve.
Method two: If you want to make smaller quantities of the juice at a time, empty the cans into a one-and-a-half to two quart container. As soon as they have thawed, mix the concentrates together well. In order make a quart of juice, measure out a cup and add three cups of water. Mix well.
Red Zinger and White Grape Juice
Makes six servings
6-8 bags of Red Zinger (or other robust herb tea)
6 cups boiling water
1/3 cup thawed white grape juice concentrate
Brew the tea and allow to cool. Add the concentrate, sample, and adjust to taste. Serve on ice. Refrigerate or refreeze the rest of the concentrate for the next batch.