When I moved to Mayberry, below the Mason-Dixon line, there was a lot I didn’t know about Southern food culture. Delights like red beans and rice, sweet potato biscuits, pit barbecue, and fried green tomatoes crossed my plate and motivated me to diversify my kitchen lineups. Washing down bites, I met a new flavor: sweet tea.
Sweet tea varies from the regular iced tea I grew up with in Pennsylvania by infusing the tart taste with sugary smoothness. A refreshing drink, perfect for those long summer days when it’s too hot to do much of anything except rock the hours away on the front porch.
A friend of mine makes a great sweet tea–she hails from North Carolina, a state not shy to the drink. She explained her method before and it sounded easy enough. This year, it was time for me to try my hand at brewing my own batch. But of course, I wanted to add something to it. Let a Yankee near your tea, and she’s gonna change it. I let the idea marinate for a while in my mind, collecting possibilities. When I think sweet summer flavors, I think peaches. Somewhere along the way, peach brought bourbon into the equation. I haven’t graduated to consuming liquors like bourbon neat, but thrown with the right mixers, I don’t mind a kick of it. With the basics in line, I took to the kitchen last week when we kept getting all that rain.
I turned on the overhead lights, stepped over to the cabinet and lifted out my enameled pot to boil the water. As the hydrogens and oxygens heated up, I methodically unfolded and detached twelve Lipton tea bags from their wrappers–my friend uses Lipton, that’s good enough for me. I placed them around the pot, watching as the tea bags steeped into the liquid, a brown stream swirling and blending into a deep lake of tannins and enzymes and caffeine. When the time was right, I removed the bags and asked Stockton to pour the hot base tea into a large pitcher. I added peach nectar, water, ice, baking soda, and lemon juice. Stirring the tea, I smiled.
I found a pint glass, filled it with some ice and then quartered up half a lemon to use for garnishes. The bottle of bourbon stood at the ready, an elegant glass container filled with amber liquid. The squeaky pop of the cork released oaky, fiery vapors. I poured less than 2 oz of alcohol into the glass, admiring the color then tipping back the smallest amount to coat my tongue. Warm, smoldering bourbon announced itself to my taste buds. Interesting, but I’m a lightweight. I’ll leave the whisky sipping to my dad. I topped off the bourbon with my homemade peach tea, the ice tinkling against the glass.
I tasted my cocktail. The sweetness of the peach, the warmth of the bourbon, and the zing of the tea blended into a pleasant flavor. Amore.
Last week’s rain turned into this week’s foggy mornings and balmy afternoons. From the wood planks of the front porch, I sweep away the remnants of winter, crushed leaves, bits of dirt. I fluff the pillows on the porch swing and make a mental note to ask Stockton where we should store the odds and ends that remain in the corner. Summer is here and we’re porch ready. Who wants some sweet tea?