Summertime -- And The Sipping Is Easy


August 14, 1994|By ROB KASPER

On languid summer afternoons when the shimmering heat and the big lunches slow life down, I feel like making something cold and old-fashioned.

Last summer it was iced tea. I found a new, cold-water method for brewing tea. On days when I had time on my hands, I put 4 teaspoons of loose tea in a teapot and filled the pot with about a quart of cold water. I let the tea sit for three hours, then poured it in glasses filled with ice cubes. The result was a cold, refreshing tea that didn't have the bite of the teas I made with boiling water. It was also easier on the ice cubes.

This cold-brew method came from Jerry Railey, whose family runs Parker's Bar B-Q Pit in Baltimore's Cross Street Market. When Railey was growing up in Elm City, a small town in North Carolina, one of his evening chores was putting loose tea in a cheesecloth, and dropping it in a barrel filled with water. The mixture would sit overnight, in a cool spot. Come morning, the tea was ready. Sugar and ice were added when it was served.

Now that he is in Baltimore, Railey uses a similar style to make ice tea, but in different vessels. He sells his smooth ice tea, along with minced pork sandwiches, at his Cross Street Market stand.

This summer I got the urge to make lemonade. I looked around for old, rural recipes. I found two good ones in "Farm Recipes and Food Secrets From the Norske Nook" (Crown, $23). This is a collection of the recipes of Helen Myhre, a farmer's wife who, in addition to cooking for her family, ran the Norske Nook cafe in Wisconsin for years.

Unlike so many of the cookbooks published today, this one does not shy away from big amounts of politically incorrect ingredients such as sugar and butter. The book, co-authored by Mona Vold, has sold well. As part of the book's promotion, Mrs. Myhre appeared on David Letterman's show to try to teach the not-too-attentive comedian how to make a pie.

The restaurant, situated in Osseo, a town of 1,500 about 100 miles east of Minneapolis-St. Paul on Interstate 94, has long lines of customers even though Mrs. Myhre sold it recently.

"On the farm," Mrs. Myhre wrote in her book, "if we're busy, we eat those butter-filled recipes, not once, but six times a day, and we're still standing where the sun shines. Of course, maybe it's because we are so active!"

When I got Mrs. Myhre on the phone she said she was getting ready to make one of her old favorites, lemonade in a 10-gallon milk can. That is a lot of lemonade, but she was expecting a big crowd. There was going to be a reunion of folks who went to a nearby rural school. The school, with the Norwegian name of Huskelhus, was where kids in grades one through eight had been taught. It had been around since 1872.

"We decided to have a picnic like we always did when we were kids," said Mrs. Myhre, who is in her late 60s. "So we are going to have the lemonade in a milk can."

Back when she was a girl, lemonade was made in a milk can because the can was a big, sturdy vessel, she said. And in the days before refrigeration and ice cubes, if you cooled the metal can down with spring water, the lemonade would stay cold.

Making lemonade in a 10-gallon milk can is not hard, she said, and talked me through the procedure. In the bottom of a clean milk can, you mix the juice of 2 dozen oranges and 1 1/2 dozen lemons with 6-10 cups of sugar. Some folks like the taste of 10 cups of sugar, she said. But the orange juice is also sweet, she added, so you can use a lesser amount of sugar, 6 cups or so, if you like. Then you fill the can about two-thirds full of cold spring water and "stir real good." Finally, you toss in a few lemon and orange rinds and let them float in the lemonade.

While the technique isn't tricky, she said, finding a milk can is. Now that milk is shipped in big tanker trucks, milk cans are scarce. But Mrs. Myhre, whose husband ran a dairy farm, said she "grabbed a few cans a few years ago . . . before everybody went to bulk shipping."

For folks who don't have milk cans, or don't want oranges in their lemonade, Mrs. Myhre has another recipe.

This one calls for mixing the juice of 4 lemons with 1 cup of sugar in a 2-quart pitcher, then adding cold spring water until the pitcher is full.

This is the kind of lemonade her mother used to make on sizzling summer evenings when the family ate outside, Mrs. Myhre recalled. "We would have sandwiches and lemonade. The grass VTC would be crisp under your feet. And we would sit on a hillside and watch the sun go down. That was all we would need."

So that is what I am trying this summer: farmer's wife lemonade. Since I don't have water from a cold spring, I am using tap water, and maybe I'll try some bottled water.

The kind of water you use to make lemonade is important, said Mrs. Myhre, a fan of water from gurgling farm springs. When she and her husband moved off the farm and into town a few years ago, they moved off spring water and onto "city water." "And," said Mrs. Myhre, "I do miss our good water."

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