Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

We really welcome cool, homemade beverages this time of year. I’ve been exploring a few ways to fill a glass to enjoy on the porch. Here are some of the drinks I’ve been enjoying.

Watermelon Juice

The watermelon juice idea comes from a YouTube video out of Azerbaijan called Country Life. It features an older couple who demonstrate making a great many of their favorite dishes and preserves, not just traditional ones either, on their farm. A recent episode showed how they turned a big pile of watermelons into bottled juice for use year round (then preserving the peeled rind in sugar syrup). The woman whacked off the top of the melon and she and her husband used a makeshift immersion blender from a paint mixer and drill to puree the interior. Scooping out the puree, they strained out the fruit and canned the juice. Intrigued, I decided to try it for myself.

I acquired one of those small seedless watermelons abounding in produce sections this time of year. I cut off one end and carved out an inch or so into the melon, then pureed it with my immersion blender. Without one of those, you could simply chop up watermelon chunks to toss into a blender, then strain out the juice. I ended up with a cup or so slightly less than two quarts. Delicious as is, you could add vodka or white rum and perhaps some lime juice to taste if you wanted a cocktail.

Creative iced teas

Iced Red Zinger, or lemon or ginger herb teas. Years ago, my friend Beth Code mixed up a wonderful summer drink by making Red Zinger tea and sweetening it with undiluted white grape juice which tasted so much better than if she’d used plain sugar or simple syrup. Obviously any herb tea would work though I think the ones with a fruity aspect work best with the white grape juice which sweetens but is not assertively flavored, and stands up to ice cubes.

Sangria

Fruit turns wine into a sweet summery drink. You can use white or red wine depending on the kind of fruit you choose. White wine seems to work best with lemons, limes, oranges, peaches, pears and summer berries like strawberries and raspberries. Red wines also use lemons and oranges and stand up well to sturdy flavored fruit like plums, blueberries and blackberries. It’s best to sweeten sangria to taste, using your own homemade simple syrup. You might hear about adding ginger ale which would sweeten it further, or you might opt for club soda if you wanted any fizziness at all. It’s perfectly fine without any carbonation.

Simple Syrup

You can buy  simple syrup but since several summer beverages call for it, why not make our own? Maple syrup, honey and cane sugar simple syrups are more effective sweeteners for drinks from iced coffee and tea to cocktails than simply stirring in sugar and trying to get it to dissolve. Cane simple syrups have more flavor when made with turbinado sugar or brown sugars. Equal parts of sugar and hot water, mixed until the sugar is completely dissolved will keep in a bottle for quite a while in the fridge. Plus they can be flavored by the addition of spice or herbs to the water and sugar before boiling, then allowed to steep as it cools. Strain out the whole spice, herbs, or peel and store the syrup for use.

Mint Julep

My neighbors, the Kerrs, served a perfectly lovely mint julep one evening which I wasn’t completely certain I’d enjoy. I’d had one several years ago and did not like it well enough to eagerly anticipate the next one. The Kerrs’ recipe, on the other hand, proved that mint, sugar, and bourbon refreshed deliciously. Turns out that Mike is the julep maker in the family, and sent his instructions.

“Cut up four largish mint leaves into 15 or 20 smaller pieces and put them into a heat proof glass. Pour in hot water, which needn’t be boiling, enough to wet the leaves plus just a little more; muddle the mixture for 4 or 5 minutes to bring out the flavor of the mint. Add at least 3 or 4 tablespoons of powdered sugar. Then add two ounces good quality bourbon (or more to your taste; stir the mix well; fill the glass you are making it in with smallish pieces of ice (not very small, just want them to last as you drink); add a stem of mint leaves to the glass that comes enough above the rim of the glass to bury your nose in them as you drink up. Enjoy!”

        

Red Sangria

Serves 4-6

1 lemon, sliced

1 orange, sliced

1 bottle red wine (a Rioja, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Shiraz)

Simple syrup, to taste

Club soda or spritzer, optional

Put the sliced fruit into a large pitcher or jar.

Add the wine, stir and let stand for eight hours.

Taste and sweeten with simple syrup.

Chill and serve garnished with slices of orange or lemon. Add club soda if you wish.

Ice cubes are optional.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...