Many people this time of year are bemoaning the end of the summer, but I prefer to see it as the start of fall, a season I quite like. It’s pretty nice with regard to both weather (at least in Salt Lake City and Hanover, I welcome cooler temperatures and the occasional rain) and food. As a tea-not-coffee person, I’m no fan of the pumpkin spice latte, but I can appreciate a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice along with a dash of maple syrup in a mug of hot milk on a cool evening. More importantly, the harvest begins in earnest – snap peas and sweetcorn go on the decline (which is sad, since I could happily eat corn on the cob every day for the rest of my life), but apples, winter squash, tomatoes, melons, and many other crops pick up steam starting in mid-to-late August.
Here in SLC, the weather has been unusually cool and wet for August. Unfortunately, it isn’t that good for the tomato crop (we still have plenty now, but it may mean that the fruit setting now won’t ripen before the late October frost), but at least we can use the oven without worrying as much about heating up the house.
Anyway, in the spirit of late summer, I made a drink that’s a twist on that traditional summer staple: lemonade. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but the recipe mostly comes from A Feast of Ice and Fire, the wonderful A Song of Ice and Fire cookbook. I cut down the recipe size from a 1-gallon batch to a “one-person” serving (it will make multiple glasses) and substituted maple syrup for some of the honey, hoping to make it a bit more autumnal. I’ve also made it using just honey, and it’s equally good. The end result has a complex blend of flavors and is a very far cry from the mouth-puckeringly over-sweet, reconstituted from powder lemonade often found at picnics, lemonade stands, and soda fountains. I leave this in syrup/concentrate form in the fridge and mix with plain or sparkling water just before drinking.
It went very well with today’s lunch. More evidence for the wonderfulness of late summer/early fall!
Adapted from A Feast of Ice and Fire.
1/2 c water
1.5 Tbsp liquid sweetener (I used 1 Tbsp maple syrup and 1/2 Tbsp honey)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Sprig of rosemary or thyme (optional but recommended)
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine water and liquid sweetener. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes, until water and sweeteners are completely combined and mixture has thickened slightly to a thin syrup. Stir in vanilla extract and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Remove from heat, add herb sprig, and let cool.
Juice the lemons, removing any stray seeds. If a very clear drink is desired, strain to remove pulp. Remove herbs from syrup and add to lemon juice, stirring to combine completely. (My syrup had a few stringy-looking bits floating around in it because some of the honey burned slightly on the bottom, so I strained it through a tea strainer.)
To serve: to a pint glass, add about 3 Tbsp of the lemon mixture, then add water and stir to combine. Add ice if desired and enjoy! Suggested accompaniments: goat cheese and tomato toast, flatbread/pita with hummus, olives, dolmas.