This weather has me thinking about cold drinks. I grew up in the South (Southern Ozarks, actually, but south enough), where iced tea is the drink of choice winter, spring, fall, and certainly summer. In fact, during my childhood, drinking anything besides sweet iced tea with a meal in the summer would have been sacrilege. And when I say sweet iced tea, I mean set-your-teeth-on-edge-sweet. If there isn’t a half-inch sludge of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the glass, it isn’t sweet enough.
In the olden days, Children, the only way to make tea was with tea leaves and boiling water. Therefore, if you poured fresh tea over ice you’d end up with melted ice and diluted tea. What to do, what to do?
My mother-in-law’s solution was to make tea syrup. The idea behind tea syrup,which is an ultra-sweet tea concentrate, is that one can make iced tea without having to steep the leaves in boiling water and then cool it down every time she wants a glass, or even a pitcher. My m-i-l, and my sisters-in-law after her, always kept a quart jar of tea concentrate in the fridge, ready at a moment’s notice for cooling-off duty.
Here’s a recipe for tea syrup that I took from the back of my second Alafair Tucker Mystery, Hornswoggled. Bring 6 cups of water to a rolling boil, then add 1 cup of leoose tea leaves and remove from heat. Let it set for 15 minutes, then pour the hot tea through a strainer into a glass jar or pitcher containing 4 cups of sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. After the syrup cools, story the container in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to two weeks. Use one cup of the syrup to about one quart of cold water to make a pitcher of tea. Or to make a single glass, add syrup by the teaspoon-full to a glass and fill with water. You can add as many teaspoons of syrup as you like, depending on how strong you like your tea.
Another great trick is to freeze tea in the ice cube tray and add frozen tea cubes to your glass to keep your iced tea cold but undiluted.
Enjoy cooling off like a Southerner. Some day we’ll talk about sittin’ on the porch with a cold bottle of Co’Cola and a bag of salted peanuts.