To me, summertime conjures many images and memories: backyard family barbecues, road trips to the beach and enjoying the shade from the porch swing. While all of these activities are very diverse, they are all made more refreshing and enjoyable when accompanied by a big glass of cold iced tea. The following are my family’s top three best Iced Tea Recipes.
Classic South Carolina Sweet Iced Tea
My mother is 72, and was born and raised in South Carolina, where South Carolina Tea is the state hospitality beverage and for many years the location of the only large scale, fully mechanized, commercial tea plantation in the continental United States. She says that the trick to ensuring that your tea is not too strong or bitter is to ensure that the water never comes to a complete roiling boil when you are brewing your tea. The following is the same basic iced tea recipe that was used by her mother, her grandmother, and countless generations before them.
Fill a saucepan with about 12 ounces of cool water. Avoid copper pans; stainless steel or glass is best.
Place 2 to 3 pyramid-shaped tea bags into the water. While you can use American Classic Tea tea bags from the Charleston Tea Plantation Brand, any brand of Orange Pekoe and Cut Black Tea will work – but please don’t tell my mother I said that.
Begin to heat the water on medium high heat. When the water starts to bubble, just before it comes to a full boil, remove the pan from the heat and let the tea steep until its a rich, tawny brown color, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Once the tea has steeped, discard the bags and pour it into the bottom of a gallon sized pitcher. Plastic is fine, but glass is better. Add about 2 cups of sugar, more if you like your tea super sweet. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. My mother would glare at me for saying this, call it an abomination, and perhaps smack my hand with the spoon; but if you are a diabetic, it is perfectly fine to leave out the sugar and sweeten the tea later with one of the 0 calorie sugar substitutes.
Fill the pitcher the rest of the way with cold water and place it in the refrigerator to chill. Serve in glasses that you have pre-chilled in the freezer and filled half-way with ice. Garnish with fresh, sliced lemon wedges.
Drink and enjoy! Sweet Tea goes great with nearly any meal. In my opinion, it is best enjoyed from the shade of a porch swing, at a fish-fry, picnic, church supper, or during a backyard family barbecue.
Virginia Blackberry Iced Tea Recipe
I’ve been making some version of this tea since childhood. I can still remember the first time that I made it. I was maybe eight or nine, and we had just moved to Virginia from Texas two years before. It was a scorching hot July day all those decades ago. We didn’t have cable, much less cellphones, video games and the Internet like children do now. Some friends and I had just come back from scouring the woods for blackberry bushes. We came back with two buckets full of plump tangy-sweet, juicy berries. We tried making homemade jam out of most of them, but it didn’t turn out quite right. It was a bit too runny for jam, so we drizzled it over ice cream and ate it anyway. The rest of the berries we turned into the following beverage, and I’ve been tweaking the recipe ever since.
Fill a saucepan with about 12 ounces of water and add 3 pyramid-shaped bags of orange pekoe and cut black tea. Bring the water just to a boil and remove from heat and allow it to steep about 5 minutes.
While the tea is steeping, fill an over-sized mixing bowl with about 3 cups of fresh, ripe blackberries and finely crush with a potato masher. Stir in 2 cups of sugar.
Discard the tea bags and add the tea mixture to the blackberry mixture. Cover the bowl and let it sit out on the kitchen counter top for about an hour. Find something to do during this hour. If you are an adult, read a book, take a nap, catch up on your social media networks. If you were a child in the mid-70s, you might do what my friends and I did: you could start playing a board game, like Monopoly. You could also sing along to your favorite songs during the weekly “Top 40 Countdown” if it was Saturday. Worse case scenario, you could pass the time by arguing with your pals over which DC Comics Super Friend had the most awesome super power, but I digress.
Once the hour is up, strain the berry and tea mixture through a strainer/colander and into a gallon sized pitcher. You can discard the berry mixture if you are an adult. If you happen to be a child in the 1970s, I assume you will take it outside and do something useful, creative and possibly mildly destructive with it.
Once strained, add cold water to bring the pitcher nearly to the top. Pour into pre-chilled glasses half full of ice and garnish with a few whole, leftover blackberries.
Drink and enjoy!
Kentucky Derby Iced Tea Recipe
This last recipe is definitely not for children or adults that need to operate heavy equipment or drive, as it contains alcohol. A few years ago, my husband and I lived and worked in Kentucky for about five years. During that time, we had the opportunity to travel throughout the “bluegrass state,” which is known for it’s natural beauty, delicious “down-home” style country cooking, horses, the Kentucky Derby, as well as Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. We still travel there on occasion to visit friends, and it was originally one of these friends who introduced us to this well-known iced tea recipe. As the name implies, this tea can be enjoyed at The Derby, or any other warm summer day when you might need a “little kick” as you refresh yourself with something sweet and cold.
Bring 3 cups of cool water to boil in a pan. Once the water comes to a full boil, add 3 Black Style, pyramid shaped tea bags. Yes, I do realize this step contradicts my mother’s recipe, but we’re “in” Kentucky now rather than South Carolina, and what happens in Kentucky, stays in Kentucky, and is nothing she needs to know about.
Allow the tea to boil, at a full, roiling boil, for about a minute, then remove from the heat and allow it to steep for about 10 minutes.
While the tea is steeping, thinly slice 1 whole lemon, 1 whole lime and 1 whole orange and add the slices to the saucepan as the tea is steeping. Next, dissolve 1/2 cup of sugar into the tea while it’s still warm. At the end of the 10 minutes remove only the tea bags.
While the tea is brewing, fill either a plastic or glass gallon sized pitcher half way full with ice cubes. Add the tea and sliced citrus mixture to the pitcher, along with 1 cup of good Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. Fill the rest of the pitcher nearly to the top with water and stir. Serve in chilled glasses with ice and garnish with fresh lemon slices and sprigs of fresh mint.
Drink and enjoy! Depending on how accurately you measure the whiskey, you might not care which horse wins the Derby when you enjoy this beverage.
How do you make iced tea in your part of the country? Do you have any favorite family recipes for sweet iced tea that you would like to share? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!