FOODIE FILES: Lazy August drinking

By on July 28, 2015

Refreshing homemade drinks, spiked or not

From left clockwise: watermelon apple cider vinegar tonic is a refreshing summer concoction; a ‘pesche in vino bianco’ recipe straight from Italia and the author with a radler in the Dolomites. (Credit: Annie Fenn)

From left clockwise: watermelon apple cider vinegar tonic is a refreshing summer concoction; a ‘pesche in vino bianco’ recipe straight from Italia and the author with a radler in the Dolomites. (Credit: Annie Fenn)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – When it’s 5 o’clock in the Tetons, a refreshing and restorative drink is in order. After traipsing around the mountains all day, most of us are just barely keeping up with our hydration needs.

My favorite summer drinks are borrowed from other cultures – from the countries that really know what to drink when it’s hot. When friends come over, instead of offering them a cocktail I’ll entice them with a shrub, a spritzer or an “agua fresca.” All of these drinks can be easily spiked with alcohol when the time for a real cocktail arrives. But I find that a nicely made (not stiff) drink is a welcome change on a hot summer day.

Mexico is famous for its aguas frescas – fresh juice concoctions made of whatever produce is at its ripest. With watermelon at its sweetest right now, I am drinking a lot of watermelon juice. I’ll down a big glass whenever I am at Pica’s Mexican Taqueria or make it myself at home. Fill a blender jar with watermelon chunks, coconut water and the juice of a lime (if you have a Vitamix or a Magic Bullet, use the whole lime). Blend, strain and chill. You may want to add honey to sweeten, but I don’t usually need to if the watermelon is ripe.

I’ve also been stirring up a lot of Sumac Mint Fizzes, a Middle Eastern inspired drink that is tart and sweet. Sumac is a paprika-like red powder with a lemony aftertaste that features prominently in Middle Eastern foods. If you have sumac simple syrup in the fridge, it takes just a minute to mix up a fizz. In a small pot, heat one cup water and one cup sugar until dissolved. Add two teaspoons sumac, bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let it come to room temperature. Strain over a fine mesh sieve and chill. The simple syrup can be stored in the fridge for weeks, ready at a moment’s notice to be muddled with mint and limes and topped with sparkling water for a Sumac Mint Fizz, or added to iced tea as a sweetener. Spike it with vodka or gin if you like, but this drink is so refreshing you won’t miss the alcohol if you leave it out.

Vinegar drinks, also known as shrubs, are also unbelievably refreshing. My favorite is a watermelon apple cider vinegar tonic that also makes good use of the mint growing wildly in my garden. This shrub is a concentrate made by steeping chunks of watermelon on the stove with apple cider vinegar, honey and mint. The resulting tonic is strained off and kept in the fridge, then mixed with sparkling water in a one-to-four ratio. The leftover pickled watermelon chunks also make a refreshing snack.

I also love making two-ingredient beer drinks, which is akin to having a very light, very refreshing beer. I don’t drink much beer but became smitten with “radlers” when traveling in the Dolomite mountains of Italy a few years ago. I was enjoying a hearty lunch at a high mountain hut. All around me happy hikers were downing tall glasses of beer, seemingly unconcerned about the 4,000-foot descent on a rocky trail to get down the mountain. Once I took a sip of my own frothy, lemony beer, I felt like I had been let in on a secret. Half pilsner, half lemon soda, a radler feels like a beer but is low enough in alcohol that when it is paired with a hearty lunch, rocky descents are not such a problem. Persephone serves radlers (with cranberry juice) in a can, which is also a very nice, refreshing choice on a hot summer day. But you can’t beat a homemade one. I make mine using limonata flavored San Pellegrino and Stella Artois, but you can use any light, lager style beer and lemon soda. Or try the grapefruit flavored San Pellegrino, or freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and sparkling water.

Another great option for easy deck drinking is peaches and wine, or “pesche in vino bianco,” as my grandparents would have said. This is the drink they’d serve to guests on lazy, hot afternoons in Sicily. In the morning, my Nonna would slice four to five perfectly ripe peaches into half-inch wedges. She’d drown them in a glass pitcher filled with a bottle of crisp white wine. If using very dry wine, she’d also add a few teaspoons of sugar. The pitcher would sit out in her kitchen all day; when the sun went down, it was ready. The wine becomes slightly syrupy and the peaches get all boozy. Serve at room temperature or chilled, before or after dinner. Or enjoy like my grandpa did and sip the cool white wine, then slurp up the peaches with a spoon for the perfect summer dessert.

I heard at the Farmers Market on the Town Square that because of the drought peaches will be coming in fast and furious, and the season will be over very soon, so don’t put off making a pitcher of Peaches and Wine. Cin cin!

Watermelon apple cider vinegar tonic

Adapted from Louisa Shafira’s “The New Persian Kitchen.” Makes five cups concentrate, enough for 20 one-cup servings.

3 cups water

¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

1 cup good quality honey

6 cups cubed ripe watermelon

1 cup tightly packed fresh mint

1 cup apple cider vinegar

Fresh slices of watermelon, cucumber, and mint, for serving.

More water or sparkling water, for diluting.

Bring three cups of water to a boil. Add honey and stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat and add the watermelon, salt and mint. Let come to room temperature, then add the apple cider vinegar. Place in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Strain, reserving the pickled watermelon for a refreshing snack.

To serve, place one part tonic and three parts water or sparkling water in a glass over ice. Garnish with cucumber slices, watermelon and mint. PJH


About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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