Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mint Patch, Part 1

At the beginning of last Summer, my husband got a few sprigs of mint with roots from his mother and planted them so we'd have our own mint patch. Since mint grows very enthusiastically (to put it mildly), We chose an ugly and unused long strip of grass between our ugly driveway and even uglier backyard fence. My husband is a true Southerner - he was born in the South, grew up in the South, and comes from many generations on both sides of Southern born and bred people. While I often call myself a Southerner, it's only because my parents moved here right before I was born. My husband's favorite beverage is fruit tea, also frequently known as tea punch. There are a few food and beverages unique to the part of the South we live in - one is hot chicken, the other is meat and 3, and the last one is tea punch. While you may find these three in other parts of the South, you don't find them with the same frequency and intensity as you do here. I am a huge fan of all three, but while I only eat hot chicken at Prince's and meat and 3s at Arnold's, I will make fruit tea at home.

Most people associate sweet tea with the South, but I have never been a fan. It is just way too sweet. I like my tea, both iced and hot, nice and strong. I might like sweet tea better if it was just a little sweet, instead of the all too common sickening sweet. I feel the same way about lemonade; tart is much preferable to sweet. There is only one place I know of where I like sweet tea, and that is Interstate Bar-B-Q in Memphis, where they serve a wonderful peach sweet tea I've never seen anywhere else.

Fruit tea is basically ice tea with fruit juice added to it. There are so many variations of fruit tea. Some recipes use pineapple juice besides orange juice and lemonade. Other recipes call for the addition of mint while the tea is steeping, or extra sugar. My mother in law likes to add Mountain Dew to hers. I'm sure there are many other secret ingredients I don't know about. When I moved to Alabama almost ten years ago (the real South, I thought, as opposed to the South I grew up in), I was determined to figure out how to make fruit tea.

This is what I came up with:

Fruit Tea

I like fruit tea strong and if I have mint, then I absolutely want to add it, as it adds another lovely, nuanced flavor to the brew. I think the juice makes it sweet enough on it's own, but if you are a sweet tea fan then you may want to add extra sugar. You can also play with the proportions of juice to tea.

- 6-8 black tea bags
- 4-5 mint sprigs
- half of a 12 oz. container of frozen oj concentrate (I buy mine at Trader Joe's because there is no added sugar or high fructose corn syrup; your Whole Foods or natural foods store might carry a similar product but mine doesn't for some unknown reason - don't let me get started here...)
- half of a 12 oz. container of frozen lemonade concentrate (again I buy mine at Whole Foods to avoid HFCS)

1. Boil 8 cups of water in a tea kettle.
2. In a large pyrex or stainless steel bowl, add the mint and 6-8 tea bags. I usually tie or clip the tea bags together, so they don't fall into the bowl and are easier to remove later.
3. Once the water is boiling, add it to the bowl. Let the tea steep for the recommended time.
4. When the tea is ready, remove the bags and the mint. Stir in the oj and lemonade concentrates. Since you only use half of a container, you have enough leftover to make another batch in a few days. I find that fruit tea disappears quickly in my house.
5. Chill in the refrigerator, then pour into a pitcher.
6. Serve over ice and with a mint sprig.

I learned a neat trick at the Savannah Tea Room for making any tea decaffeinated. The caffeine in the tea leaves is released in the first minute of brewing. If you want to decaffeinate any tea, discard the water after a minute of steeping, then add new hot water. The resulting tea will be decaffeinated. I use this trick a lot since I don't like to have caffeine after my much needed one cup of coffee in the morning, and I also like to avoid any chemical process that decaffeinates tea or coffee.