For the past few weeks our weather here in western New England has been unseasonably hot and humid with temperatures often reaching into the 90s. During this heat wave I invited two good friends, who work with me testing recipes and prepping for cooking classes, to come for an afternoon visit. Since we were following our state’s guidelines and planning an outdoor get-together, the weather was a problem. I carefully moved our new Adirondack chairs to the shadiest part of our lawn, and decided to make a pitcher of julep iced tea to counter the warmth,
This tea, prepared with a generous amount of fresh mint leaves that are steeped with julienned lemon rind and mild tea (English or Irish Breakfast varieties, for example) is sweetened with sugar and scented with lemon juice. The recipe, created by Lynn Wilkins, a talented cook from Oxford, Mississippi, has been in my repertoire for close to two decades. I’ve tweaked it over the years, reducing the sugar slightly.
Served in glasses filled with ice cubes and garnished with fresh mint sprigs, the julep tea made a cooling accompaniment to slices of almond butter cake served with whipped cream and strawberries. Our alfresco tea for three was a big success. We talked nonstop for three hours, catching up on all our news, and not once did anyone complain about the heat!
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Julep Iced Tea
2 to 3 lemons
1 cup loosely packed mint leaves
3 standard (regular) size black tea bags, preferably English or Irish Breakfast tea
6 1/2 tablespoons sugar plus 1 1/2 tablespoons extra if needed
2 cups boiling water
2 cups cold water
Mint sprigs for garnish
1.Carefully, with a sharp paring knife or with a vegetable peeler, remove the rind from 1 lemon. Be sure to cut away just the color portion of the rind and not the white bitter pith beneath. Cut the rind into thin julienne strips to yield about 1 tablespoon and set aside. Juice enough of the lemons to yield 5 tablespoons and set aside.
2.Place the mint leaves in a large, heat proof glass bowl or measuring cup, and with your fingers tear the leaves and then rub them against the bottom of the bowl bruising them to help release their flavor. Add the lemon rind and tea bags and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes, then remove tea bags, pressing down on them with your fingers to squeeze out extra liquid. Mix in the sugar and lemon juice and steep another 10 minutes. Strain the mixture into a nonreactive pitcher and add the cold water.
3. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. The tea will not be overly sweet. If you want a sweeter taste, gradually add up to 1 1/2 tablespoons extra sugar. If desired, you can also add a small squeeze of lemon juice.
4.Serve tea in glasses filled with ice cubes. Garnish each serving with a mint sprig. Makes 1 quart or enough to serve 3 to 4.
Adapted from The Big Book of Backyard Cooking by Betty Rosbottom (Chronicle Books 2004)