Old-Fashioned Lemonade

Beverages, Fourth of July, Summer / Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

What will you remember most about this summer?

This afternoon, I’m sitting here with a big glass of lemonade, writing down my list:

Waking up to the mating call of a thousand horny locusts.

Driving through the Delta with Jeff, singing the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” at the top of our lungs.

Hearing my baby niece’s first word.

Laney’s second birthday party. My older niece turned two, and the second her grandparents pulled out of the driveway, she stripped down on the front porch and ran naked into the front yard, chasing the pink balloons that had escaped from the house.

Pure unbridled joy.

Why the lemonade? Because it tastes like summer. And because this is the summer I learned how to make a mean pitcher of lemonade.

I never knew how good lemonade could be until I tried the lemonade at Arnold’s Country Kitchen, a meat-and-three here in Nashville. The food there is served cafeteria-style, so you don’t actually see the lemonade until you make it to the cash register. At first, it looks like a pitcher full mangled lemon halves, and on bad days, it is. But if you get there early – or you’re very, very lucky – there’s enough lemonade left in that pitcher for you.

And it is glorious.

It starts off sweet and sunny but finishes with a bite, and it has the most amazingly full, round lemon flavor.

It was made for porch swing-sippin’, which is why I’ve tried to recreate that recipe at home many, many times. I’ve made simple syrups. I’ve steeped the lemon zest. I’ve tried different ratios of lemon juice to sugar. But those other lemonades were all one note. I was like a kid banging Middle C on a grand piano, trying to play a symphony.

Finally, I came across a recipe in “Cook’s Illustrated” singing the praises of an Amish technique for making lemonade: slicing the lemons and mashing them with the sugar. The mashing coaxes the lemon rinds into releasing lemon oil.

Lemon oil!

The lemon rinds in the pitcher at Arnold’s had been infusing lemon oil into that magical lemonade. Another thing I won’t forget.

Now, if I could just figure out their fried green tomatoes.

Something to look forward to next summer.

Old-Fashioned Lemonade

Adapted from “Cook’s Illustrated”

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts (6 to 8 servings)

  • 10 to 12 lemons, scrubbed under warm water and patted dry (2 to 2 1/4 cups lemon juice)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (add more to taste, up to 2 1/4 cups total if you like it really sweet)
  • 5 cups cold water
  • For Pink Lemonade: Stir in 1 tablespoon grenadine syrup OR, for an all-natural dye, stir in 1/4 cup frozen blueberries until they turn the lemonade pink, and then spoon or strain them out (blueberry tip courtesy of reader Cecelia Mautner)
  1. Slice the lemons lengthwise, and toss them into a large bowl. Add the sugar.
  2. Grab a potato masher or wooden spoon, and mash the lemons and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved and the juice is syrupy, about 4 minutes.
  3. Place a sieve over a medium bowl, and pour half of the lemon slices and syrup through the sieve. (Press the lemon peels to release as much liquid as possible.)
  4. Trash the solids left in the sieve, and transfer the liquid to your serving pitcher.
  5. Repeat the process with the remaining lemon slices and syrup.
  6. Stir in the water (and grenadine or blueberries, if using) until blended. Take a sip, and stir in more sugar, if necessary. Chill well, and stir to blend before serving.

NOTE: If you decide to add the water straight to the mashed lemon slices and sugar (instead of straining them before serving), be sure to strain the mixture before you refrigerate lemonade overnight. Otherwise, the lemon pith will make it bitter.

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