Perhaps you grew up in a family who stirred pitchers of lemonade made from (gasp!) actual lemons each summer, and this is no big whoop. For those of us hailing from homes where the sweet-tart stuff came from powder, plastic bottles or frozen cans, learning to make it from scratch was a grand revelation — and also the start of an annual obsession.
For the record, our go-to method is stirring two cups of sugar into one cup of water in a saucepan, simmering it to a syrup, stirring that (cooled) liquid into two cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice and adding water to taste. But that's just the beginning. Ever since we mastered this recipe, we've been taking it to even more flavorful, refreshing levels.
Here's how we squeeze the most delight out of summer's greatest sip.
Seeing as how they're technically a fruit, peak-season tomatoes absolutely deserve a star turn in your lemonade. For the simplest blend, core and quarter three or four large, fresh tomatoes (we prefer yellow or orange for their sunny hue and lower acid) and muddle them at the bottom of a pitcher before filling it up with lemonade. Pour it through a strainer before serving and garnish with rosemary, dill or thyme sprigs, and perhaps a shot or two of rye whiskey for a play on a classic sandwich combo.
Should you care to take it to summer school, start the day before and make tomato water: Chop a few ripe tomatoes, whir them in a food processor with a pinch of salt and suspend the mixture in a coffee filter-lined sieve over a bowl on the counter. The next day, toss out the solids, stir the remaining liquid into your lemonade and deck it out with a basil leaf. Easy as caprese.
If you're tending a smoker all day, why not multitask? Next time you lift the lid to mop the brisket, shoulder, or ribs, slip in a foil pan full of halved, cut-side-out lemons, then check on them during the next round of basting and turn as needed. When they're softened, lightly browned and have picked up some smoke scent, take the smoked lemons out and let them cool slightly before juicing. Depending on your fondness for the flavor of burning wood, mix the smoky liquid with fresh juice or use it solo to make an unmistakably fire-kicked lemonade. (Note: Smoked lime juice and smoked salt make one hell of a margarita.)
Cherries have such a cruelly short season, so make the most of it. Remove the stems and pits from half a pound of cherries and lightly mash them at the bottom of a pitcher before pouring in the lemonade. Not only will they lend deep, sweet, summery flavor, they'll turn the whole drink pink and party perfect. For maximum chill without dilution, pit, mash, and freeze cherries in ice cube trays. They'll deepen the drink's hue and flavor while they melt.
Speaking of clever chill outs, make your lemonade pull double-duty as an icy treat. Just use the same syrup and lemon juice proportions and pour that mixture into a freezer-safe container without diluting it. Cover, let it freeze solid and then when it's time to serve, scrape the lemon ice into fluffy snow in a glass, top it with lemonade, and serve with a spoon — or a big straw if you don't fear brain freeze. And should you happen to have some bourbon slush lurking around, that works just as well. And quite tipsily. And while we're on the subject . . .
Sneaking a few nips of vodka or whiskey into your picnic beverage is a time-honored way to indulge in quality summer day drinking, but you can get a little more artful. Take a tip from the European tradition of shandies, radlers, and panaches, and pour equal parts lager or pilsner beer into a glass with lemonade. The combination is light, crisp, and long-haul sippable — especially if you swap in carbonated water for still when you're making the lemonade.
This is also an ideal opportunity to do a little bit of spring — or summer — cleaning. Rum, tequila, bourbon, and the usual boozy suspects get plenty of time in the spotlight. Reach instead for those random bottles of spirits gathering dust on your bar, like aquavit, Chambord, Punt e Mes, amari, and various digestifs, and add a shot or two to your glass. Lemonade is the little black dress that pairs elegantly with all of them.
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