Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Mixing up a refreshing batch of classic lemonade is as cinchy as opening a carton, stirring in some powder or thawing out some concentrate, right?
Well, those may be decent options in a pinch, but no pre-packaged product comes close to the magical meld of freshly-juiced lemons, simple sugar syrup and water. It may take a little extra time and effort, but the result is a wickedly delicious elixir that will spoil you for all other citrus-flavored sugar waters for many summers to come.
Once you master the basic method below, stir things up a bit by adding in your favorite fruits, liquors, and even a hint of wood smoke. Read on.
12-24 lemons, 2 cups of sugar, water
First, squeeze 12-24 lemons until you have one cup of juice. The amount of juice in any given lemon varies wildly (hence the wide range), but you can maximize the yield and release the oils in the rind by rolling the fruit between your palm and a countertop or microwaving it on high for 10-15 seconds.
Once that's done, slice the lemons in half along the equator and either use an electric juicer or prick the open sides with the fork tines a few times, and then twist the fork against the sides in a circular motion until you've squeezed out every last drop.
You've got to balance the sweet and the sour, and while it seems like common sense to stir in plain old sugar at this point (or agave nectar if that's your thing), there's actually a better option: simple syrup. It's an extra step or two, to be sure, but it blends into drinks smoothly and thoroughly, and you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
To make simple syrup, stir two cups sugar and one cup water in a small saucepan, and bring the mixture a gentle boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer it until the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove it from the heat (carefully - sugar burns are serious business), and let it cool. The syrup can be stored in a clean, sealed jar in the refrigerator until it's needed.
Once it's cooled, pour the cup of lemon juice into a pitcher, and then add 3/4 cup of the simple syrup and take a small taste. Is it too sour? Add a bit more of the syrup (you'll have plenty - and in fact, you'll have enough on hand for another batch or two, or for sweetening your iced tea or cocktails) until you're happy with the balance.
Next add two cups of water. Taste, taking into account that you'll likely be adding ice cubes that will dilute the finished product. Add water to taste, chill, pour over ice and serve with a sweet "aw shucks, it wasn't much trouble" smile to your delighted guests.
Feeling a bit frisky? Squeeze up even more fun by subbing in seltzer for water, mixing the lemonade half and half with iced tea for a classic Arnold Palmer, trading lemons for limes, or adding a dash of hot sauce.
Spike it with your favorite spirit or smash in-season fruits, vegetables and herbs like cherries, peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes (see the recipe below), mint or thyme at the bottom of the pitcher or glass. Freeze lemonade in a regular ice tray to add an unexpected kick to cocktails and soft drinks or just go right ahead and sip the straight-up taste of summer.
12-24 lemons, halved
Place the lemons in foil pans, half face up and half face down, indirectly from the heat source in your smoker or grill. Soak a handful of hickory, mesquite or fruit wood chunks or chips in water or beer for at least 30 minutes before use. Place these soaked chips on top of hot, ashed-over coals, and lower the lid, leaving the side and top vents open.
After 30 minutes at around 225 degrees, open the lid to make sure that the juice is not evaporating. If the rinds are softened and have begun to brown significantly, remove them from the heat. If they haven't, leave them in for at least another 30 minutes before removing.
While the lemons are smoking, make a batch of the simple syrup as shown above, and let it cool.
Place the lemon halves in a pitcher, and press down on them with a wooden spoon until they've released most of their juice. Remove some of the rinds from the pitcher, but leave a few in there. Stir in the sugar syrup, tasting as you go. Once you've achieved sour and sweet balance, store the syrup in the fridge for later use.
Pour cold water into the pitcher, tasting as you go. Serve.
Brown liquor, smoke and lemonade work reeeeaaaaallllly well together. Hold back on some of the water and pour in a bit of bourbon or rye to taste.
Heirloom Tomato Lemonocracy
2 large heirloom tomatoes
Halve two large heirloom tomatoes (yellow varieties such as Wapsipinicon Peach and Gold Medal work especially well) and place in a large pitcher. Muddle with a wooden spoon until thoroughly pulped.
Juice the lemons and measure the liquid before adding to the pitcher. Measure the same amount of simple syrup and stir into the pitcher, tasting as you go.
Once the sweet and sour flavors are balanced, stir in 4 cups of water. Strain into an ice-filled pint glass and serve. A shot (or two!) of rye whiskey makes it reminiscent of a wonderfully tipsy deli sandwich.
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