There’s something about the simplicity of iced tea that makes it perfect for summer. Whether you go the slow route of making it on the porch in a ray of sun, or if you boil a few bags of Lipton on the stovetop and shove in as many ice cubes as a pitcher will hold, it’s one of those simple, very good things.
One summer when I was growing up it was the best treat to make a glass of iced tea with fresh mint and vanilla syrup. I would putter around the yard with my own vague intentions, usually holing up somewhere to read, while my parents made actual headway in the garden or in yardwork or house repairs. Some days I’d be called to scrub down the porch, water the plants, wash the windows. Other days I would be the sole picker of what seemed like endless rows of green beans.
One summer we had so many green beans that we ran out of buckets to keep them in, and so dumped the whole lot in the bathtub. I lobbied for less green beans every year, but it wasn’t until this bumper crop that we started to scale down our planting.
Another summer we repainted the porch. An immense job, it started with much sanding and scrubbing, several incidents with the spray hose and too much indecision over what color would be best. Mama finally settled on an incredibly deep burgundy, an almost bloody crimson.
I was painting while they were doing some other work around the farm, relishing the long smooth brushstrokes over the wooden planks of the porch. At that time I had the most incredible long hair. Unruly, yes, but long and soft and brown with streaks of honey gold. I wore it down most of the time, and on this day when I was painting our porch with durable outdoor-strength red paint I let a few stray locks fall forward and into the paint can. Where they sunk. And soaked.
I raised up my head and watched, horrified, as a good third of my hair dripped like something out of a slasher film, remembering the words on the paint can that this stuff wasn’t water soluble.
I’ve always been pretty good at reacting efficiently under pressure. In about a minute in a half I had run to the water hose to rinse it off, with no avail. I’d gone inside, to try a little soap and more water, smearing the bathroom sink in the process. And by the time I made my way frantically back outside to the porch my parents had returned to find their only daughter, screaming and in tears, with a terrifying mess of bloodred goop all over her head.
Needless to say, there was a bit of a communication gap about what was actually happening.
After a moment of panic, my mother realized I had not in fact sustained a massive head injury, and set about rinsing my hair with turpentine. After every trace of red was scrubbed out, we probably put the painting away for the day and sat down with a few calming glasses of iced tea. That’s just how things usually turned out.
Simplicity. It trumps everything, every time. It wins out over complexity and shines through in memories. It is fresh in the face of daily dramas, too many engagements, too few opportunities to sit and really taste.
Here’s wishing you a happy and simple Memorial Day weekend. Fill it with sun, good drinks, and memory-making.
½ c. water
2 heaping Tbsp. raw honey
1 tsp. powdered cardamom
handful of fresh mint
3 bags organic oolong tea, or your favorite black variety
I made my tea in an infuser-style pitcher out on the porch in the sun, but you can make yours however you prefer. This is the first step: make the tea.
While the tea is cooling, heat the water in a small saucepan until boiling. Lower the heat and dissolve the heaping spoonfuls of honey in the hot water. Stir in mint and cardamom and cover to steep.
To make the sweet iced tea, mix together 1-2 Tbsp. of simple syrup with a glass of tea, fill with ice, and garnish with lemon slices and another stem of mint. Enjoy on a porch somewhere. If it’s painted red I hope you’ll think of me and laugh.