Lemonade — the taste of summer

Lemon crate label, circa 1934, from Corona Public Library citrus crate collection

I’ve been too busy to cook much lately. But not too busy to make fresh lemonade.

Mostly I’ve been at my desk,  working on my book, Lemon: A Global History, which will be part of a series of books on food history, published by Reaktion Books in London. (It’s called the Edible Series). These little hardback books with yellow covers are lovely– they have lots of beautifully printed illustrations, and even some recipes in the back.

So naturally, in the course of my research,  I’ve come across a lot of information about lemonade. The first written recipes for  lemonade were published in a kind of medical cookbook in 12th century Egypt. As you might imagine, they haven’t changed very much from the ones we use today–that is, if we make it from fresh lemons (which is, in my humble opinion, the only way to make it!)

Lemonade vendors in Paris carried the beverage in metal tanks on their backs

In warm climates, where both lemons and sugar grow naturally, lemonade has always been popular. It wasn’t till the seventeenth century that working folks in northern Europe could afford lemonade, though, as both crops were expensive and exotic imports for a long time. Around 1630, when the price of sugar declined, lemonade became all the rage on the streets of Paris.

In America, lemonade was introduced by the Shakers (who loved lemons altogether and also made a special lemon pie) and Italian immigrants, especially the Sicilians who came to New Orleans in the late 1800s. The temperance crowd adopted it as a favored non-alcoholic drink for a few decades, and pretty soon it was a welcome sight on front porches, at picnics, fairs and circuses.

Lemon crate label, circa 1900, from Riverside Public Library citrus crate collection

You can always combine lemon juice, sugar and cold water to taste for your lemonade, but as long as you’re making the real thing, I recommend that you also use the rind. It has a lot of flavor. Here’s a simple way to take advantage of it:

  1. Take between 2 to 6 lemons and scrub the skins well to remove any wax (If you can, buy unwaxed or organic lemons and just wash them).  Cut them in half and juice them, for 1/2 cup of juice. Set aside.
  2. Put 1/2 cup of sugar in a wide-mouth jar, and add 1 1/2 cups of boiling water. Stir until sugar is dissolved; then put the leftover lemon shells (rinds) in the jar — they should be submerged.
  3. After 20 or 30 minutes, remove the rinds, squeezing out any liquid into the jar,  Add the lemon juice and 1 cup of cold water. Chill and serve in tall glasses over ice, with a fresh slice of lemon.

Tips: You can easily double this recipe. You can keep the rinds in the batch of lemonade if you don’t care about appearances; or you can add thin slices of lemon to your pitcher if you want it to look pretty. You can add mint or other flavors or red fruit juices (raspberry, watermelon, strawberry) for pink lemonade….the possibilities are endless.

For an extra special (and strong) lemonade treat, freeze some lemonade in ice cube trays and use those lemonade-cubes in each glass (yes, this takes a little planning).

Here’s a recipe for one glass of lemonade from the 1904 Blue Ribbon Cookbook:

Lemonade should be made in the proportion of one lemon to each large goblet. Squeeze the lemons and take out any seeds. If you do not like the pulp strain the juice. Sweeten the drink well though that is a matter of taste. The pleasant tart taste should be preserved. Add water to the juice and when serving put cracked ice and a thin slice of lemon into each glass.

P.S. It’ll be about a year before my book is out, but meanwhile, you may be seeing quite a few lemon recipes here!  I also have a lemon blog which hasn’t been updated in a while, but if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s here.



Filed under fruit, musings, summer, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Lemonade — the taste of summer

  1. penny

    Looking forward to getting your book when it comes out. Love, love, love anything with lemons and can’t wait to try the linguine with lemon and basil. I also have a passion for lemon’s cousin the lime. Maybe you’ll be writing a bit about all the citrus family and how they have diverged?

    This last week I made a cilantro lime fish sauce that was very yummy: 1 small bunch of cilantro, juice and zest of one lime, juice of 1/2 orange, pinch of salt, ginger, and garlic (used granulated as is not too pungent and easier on my husband sensitive stomach), the secret ingredient – ~1/2 c. roasted pine nuts, and then food process together as you add a slow stream of corn or canola oil. adjust each to your taste. If you like it spicier, a little cayenne might be nice.

    I baked some seabass basted in butter and a little salt, place a good helping of the sauce on a plate before laying the seabass over it. Vibrant green sauce is really delicious.

    • lemonodyssey

      Thank you, Penny, this sauce sounds fabulous. I love cilantro and cilantro-lime is classic–though I also have a great recipe for cilantro-lemon-coconut chutney. (Interesting that lime has more acid than lemon while orange has less, so they probably balance out to about lemon strength). Your dish sounds not only delicious but visually stunning.

      The lime is tropical (lemon is sub-tropical), originally from Indo-Malayan region. Like the lemon, it was carried to Persia and N. Africa and into Europe by the Arabs…. and along with lemon and orange, came to the New World with Columbus on his second voyage of 1493.

  2. Cathy mihalik

    I just walked in a neighborhood of Ashland and a couple of 9 year olds were selling lemonade. John needed a glass. The girls said it was a family recipe which included vanilla and mint. It was great and cooled us right down. The best 50 cents John spent all day!! It has to be at least 100 degrees today. Thanks for the post Toby

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