The Gleeful Gourmand: Liquid Gold, Nectar of Life, Sweet Tea

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Liquid Gold, Nectar of Life, Sweet Tea

Here’s a confession that might result in my southern credibility being stripped from me: I had never tasted sweet tea, or even heard about it until I was out of college. I know. I’ll let the collective gasping subside.

Growing up in Virginia, my parents loved iced tea. In fact, one of my favorite things my mom did in the summertime was to brew tea in the sunshine in an earthenware crock outside on the back deck. But she and my father would sweeten their tea with Sweet ‘N Low, which, let’s be honest, is not the same as true sweet tea. Mostly that’s because the granules added after the fact simply sink to the bottom of the glass. And despite the frequency and length of time in which you stir the tea, the sugar never really dissolves. So it’s better than drinking unsweetened tea, but it doesn’t truly satisfy.

Sweet tea is a southern staple. Ask for it in almost any restaurant here in Virginia, and they’ll have it on hand. The deeper south you go you’re looked at aghast if you order unsweetened iced tea. Go above the Mason Dixon line, and you might just find it in Maryland if you’re lucky, but any state above that and they look at you with a sigh of resignation and disgust as they tell you that they have regular iced tea that you can sweeten yourself.

When I began working after college I would go out to department lunches on Fridays, and that’s where I was introduced to sweet tea. I never ordered it for myself, but some of my colleagues would order it – usually asking for half sweet tea and half unsweetened. I had never heard of such a thing. I honestly can’t remember when I had my first true glass of sweet tea – I remember having raspberry iced tea at Applebee’s, and that was pretty good. But one thing is for sure: 11 years later, I am a devotee of true sweet tea. I don’t know how I managed before without it, and spring and summer is just not the same if it isn’t present. Eating barbecue without it seems beyond my scope of belief (though I admit that lemonade is a nice stand-in in a pinch).

Of course I make it at home now from a great recipe I found a few years ago. I use only a ½ cup of sugar, and I like it better that way, because I personally find it to be sickly sweet if any more than that is added (while most southerners will take it as sugary as possible). So even if you don’t live in the south, go make yourself an ice-cold pitcher, sit on your porch, and raise a glass to summertime with this southern classic:

Sweet Tea (makes 2 ½ quarts)

3 cups water

2 family-sized tea bags

1/2 cup sugar

7 cups cold water

1. Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a saucepan; add tea bags. Boil 1 minute; remove from heat. Cover and steep for 10 minutes.

2. Remove and discard tea bags. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved.

3. Pour into 1 gallon container; add 7 cups cold water. Serve over ice.

P.S. - In this month's issue of Southern Living Magazine, they are having a sweet tea bonanza with tons of variations on the drink, and lots of recipes actually using sweet tea. Check it out on newsstands or here.


Elizabeth Wilson said...

I can't believe you never had sweet tea until after college! I'm perplexed, yet relieved that you've come to the sweeter side of life.

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