Sweeten up and cool down this summer
I’m a true southern boy at heart. And I often laugh about the fact that before being properly introduced to tea by my colleagues at Tea Spot, the only thing that I knew about it was the cold and sweetened variety that’s typically served with lemon throughout the South.
In fact some of my earliest memories are of the sweet tea that my grandmother would serve at family barbecues at her home in Jacksonville, NC. Lot’s of good, home-cooked, comfort food at those events too! Fried chicken, collard greens, spare-ribs, corn-bread, and fresh vegetables like okra and squash right out of my grand daddy’s garden in the backyard. Mmmmmmm Mmmmmmm… makes me hungry just thinking about it!
I would pile my plate high with a variety of all of these things, find a quiet spot with my glass of sweet tea, and sit down to enjoy. It wouldn’t be long, however, before my private eating frenzy was interrupted.
“Rob, whatchya eatin’ over there boy?”, my Uncle Chuck would yell from across the car port. A side note here. If you’ve never attended a true southern style barbecue (particularly one in eastern North Carolina) most of the gathering, cooking, eating and general tom-hooliganry amongst family members is done either directly under or in the general vicinity of the carport. In the case of my grandmother’s house, it was a simple case of numbers. There was no way in the world that 15+ cousins, nieces, and nephews were all finding a spot in my grandmother’s tiny little 3-bedroom house to eat our plates of ribs, chicken, green beans, and other home-cooked delights. If I was lucky I could sneak inside to the air-conditioning for about 15 minutes after eating, hide away in a back room close to a TV, and wait for one of my uncles to come kick me out in order to lie down for his afternoon nap. So for the most part, these family gatherings meant that us young folk spent most of our time hangin’ out, throwing the football, and drinking glass after glass of my grandmother’s sweet tea. All of this happened outside and in close proximity to the carport of course.
Regardless of the food being served or the number of neighbors who wandered over to say hello (and steal a spare rib or two), sweet tea was always and without question the beverage that everyone drank. That’s right… no juice boxes for the kids and amazingly enough the adults wouldn’t crack open the first beer until 5 PM – unspoken rule amongst southern families. I remember that the sweet tea was… hmmmmm… how do I put this? Plentiful… abundant… strong. Yep… all of those descriptors work. In fact it was typically so plentiful and abundant that a line of cousins and grandchildren would jostle their way to the lone bathroom in the house by 1 o’clock.
I have great and vivid memories of these family outings. Not only for all of the sweet tea and good food that I would eat over the course of an afternoon but mostly for the good-hearted, down-to-earth, no-frills fun and love that we all shared as a family. Hard to beat that!
With that said I would like to offer up a modified version of my grandmother’s sweet tea recipe. Note that the idea of “my grandmother’s recipe” is very much a contradiction in and of itself because I never saw my grandmother use a single recipe in all the years that I knew her. But here goes…
North Carolina Mango Sweet Tea
1) Bring large pot of water to boil.
2) Portion tea leaves into large leaf tea bag or loose into pitcher.
-Note: If my grandmother had used loose, whole leaf tea than she probably would have eye-balled about 15 –18 teaspoons worth of leaves here.
3) Pour water just off boil directly onto tea leaves and allow to steep for 4 minutes.
– Note: My grandmother likely would have let the tea steep for 10-15 minutes but we recommend just 4 minutes with Mango Tango. The tannin content in this tea is strong so you don’t want to over-steep.
4) Remove tea leaves from water.
5) Add 1 to 1.5 Cups Cane Sugar to taste. Stir the sugar into the tea until all sugar granules are dissolved.
– Note: Agave Nectar can be used as a substitute to cane sugar. Not sure that you can find Agave Nectar in eastern North Carolina and it definitely wasn’t ever on the grocery aisle at my grandmother’s local Piggly Wiggly.
6) Quarter your orange and add 2 Quarters directly to the tea. Recommended to add the 2 Quarters directly to the tea but you can squeeze the orange juice into the tea as an alternative.
– Note: ½ can of frozen limeade can work here as a substitute for the fresh orange but my grandmother and Uncle Chuck would have probably much preferred to use that limeade in their daiquiris and pina coladas once all the children had made their way to bed.
7) Place in refrigerator for 4 hours or until chilled.
8) Think about your grandmother while enjoying this cold, delicious treat this summer!