Summer days began with the whistling of a train as it passed behind my grandmother’s country home. I don’t care what kind of Southern literary sentiment that a train whistle may have, at 6 years old it scared the daylights right out of me every time (and still does). After I regained my composure, I threw on my denim shorts and whatever t-shirt was my current favorite. I could hear the beloved sound of pitter-pattering on the roof as the morning rain invited me into the kitchen. There, on the counter, laid a gargantuan mountain of emerald cucumbers just brought in from the garden. I remember sitting in my grandmother’s plot of paradise in the afternoons, when the temperature slowly, slowly began to drop from stifling to almost comfortable. I watched the sun go down on my childhood days with three gifts: a smile on my face, ingenuous secrets from the day, and a bright green cucumber giving me strength for the next.
*Note: The cucumbers used in these photographs were from grandma’s garden in Louisiana!
Recipe: Serves 2
½ cup of water
¼ cup of sugar
1 cup of ginger ale
6 slices of cucumber
½ sprig of fresh mint
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Dissolve the sugar into the water over low heat. Once all of the sugar is dissolved, take off the heat and let cool.
In a measuring glass, measure out 1 cup of ginger ale. Add 3 tablespoons of the simple syrup to the measuring glass. Toss in cucumber slices and the mint, torn into small pieces. Stir to combine. Pour over 2 glasses filled with ice.
There is something utterly impossible to portray, so I will go without describing it. But I will go on to depict myself eating it, well gnawing on it to be exact. I recall sitting under the haven of the porch on a summer’s day. I thought I would be duplicitous and enjoy my day early enough so the heat wouldn’t catch up with me. But alas, the sun beat me every time. As I sat there, confined to the porch, my paw-paw would bring my saving grace. There, in his strong yet gentle hands, were two tall sticks of sugar cane. He would take a knife out of his pocket and carefully strip away the rough stalk and what would be left were the sweet, white insides. And there I would sit, gnawing on the sugar cane and spitting out the fibrous insides when I was finished. I never said I was a lady back then, but I did feel like Lady Liberty waving my scepter to the heat as if I was the one having the last laugh. Ha Ha Ha Ha!
This recipe uses a copious amount of raw cane sugar, which I could put on just about anything. That sweet, intense saccharine flavor is the basis to this drink. You might have thought it would be the blackberry juice or the limes, but it’s the earthly undertones of this cane sugar that will leave you with a smile and an empty glass.
Recipe: Serves 8: Adapted from Martha Hall Foose’s Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
4 cups of fresh or thawed, frozen blackberries
6 limes, juiced (zest 1 of the limes before juicing it)
1 cup of water
1 cup of raw cane sugar
3 cups of ginger ale
In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and the zest of 1 lime on medium-low heat. Make sure all of the sugar has dissolved while bringing the mixture to a boil. Take off heat and cool. Chill until needed.
In a medium sized bowl, mash the blackberries with a potato masher very carefully. Transfer the mash to a sieve. Reserve the blackberry juice and discard the blackberry seeds and pulp.
In a pitcher, combine the syrup, blackberry juice, lime juice and ginger ale. Serve in glasses filled with ice.