If life gives you lemons just in time for summer, make lemonade. That’s what my 9-year-old step-grandson Hayden decided. He promptly set up a lemonade table outside our farm stand, and sales were brisk. But Hayden, born with a head for business, soon realized that paying his mother back for organic supermarket lemons was cutting way too much into his net return.
Luckily, life handed him a source of unlimited capital in the form of heirloom black-stemmed mint that had taken over a wet area of the farm. Tea made from it, when mixed with his lemonade, was delicious and turned a surprising red color. It was a big hit, and with fewer lemons to buy, profits soared.
Our mint patch has brought joy to many, especially to those older than 21. My husband and I will often stop on our way out the driveway, grab a big bunch of mint and present it to the bartender of any restaurant to which we are headed. “Two mojitos please, made with maple syrup. Please share the wealth.”
If you have a kitchen garden, life will give you many drinkable edibles to pass around, alcoholic or not. When tomatoes start to come in, it’s time for a homegrown bloody mary. Mash up some good ripe ones with a small food mill, which removes skin and seeds. If you’ve grown horseradish, grate in a bit of the root. Pick a celery plant, and there’s your swizzle stick, to stir in the vodka.
Better yet, make your own V8 juice. Ever since W.G. Peacock invented the classic beverage in 1933, children and grown-ups alike have drunk this tasty medley as an honest stab at a veggie-rich diet. Today, for its original variety, Campbell Soup Co. assembles the same cast of eight players — tomatoes (which predominate), beets, celery, carrots, lettuce, parsley, watercress and spinach — but you can also compose your own V8, or V7 or V13, with whatever vegetables you like.
Try beets, celery, cucumbers, fennel, peppers, onions and scallions. Greens of many kinds can go in, if they’re consumed fresh. Among starchy vegetables, only the young and tender ones, like little Japanese turnips, are juicy enough. Save the potatoes for cold vichyssoise.
I hardly need to explain this to a generation that grew up making smoothies and filling up at juice bars, but turn your taste buds loose and there are infinite combinations you can come up with, especially if you throw in herbs such as parsley, basil, tarragon, marjoram and dill.
I find lemon verbena the most drinkable herb, for its delicate flavor, divine aroma and beautiful yellow-green color. Its leaves, like those of bay leaves, may be too stiff to consume unless very young, but an infusion of it makes the most gorgeous pitcher of cold tea, with the sunlight shining through it. If I were a martini girl, I’d float a lemon verbena leaf in my glass.
Need I even mention juices from homegrown fruits? Apple cider completes the summer for us, though if we had all the right trees lined up, we’d have enjoyed cherry, plum, peach and pear nectars along the way.
Any fruit can be made into juice, of course, and some of the best juices are made with easy garden plants such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. And melons! I don’t often encounter melon drinks, but why not? Those fruits are the definition of juicy. At the start of a meal, try serving guests a big bowl of cold white wine with chunks of honeydew melon floating in it. Or at the end, half a cantaloupe, seeds scooped out and replaced by a spoonful of cognac.
My favorite summer libation is fruit lassi, commonly offered at Indian restaurants, usually with mangoes. In its simplest form, it’s just pureed fruit blended with yogurt, though it can be dolled up with chopped pistachio nuts, toasted cumin seeds, cardamom and other spices. I can’t see using Greek yogurt, which is thickened by straining out the nutritious whey. You’d need to thin it back down again to drink it anyway.
I can’t grow mangoes, but right now I’m thinking about a strawberry lassi, made with fresh berries, regular yogurt and maybe a little honey. I’ll puree it in my blender, which is a black-lidded machine so powerful I call it Darth Blender, but I’ll set it well below warp speed so that it just hums quietly for about 10 seconds. Then I’ll sip this simplest of concoctions and head out into the hot summer day.
Container plants that have become open and leggy can be trimmed back to encourage branching and a bushier habit. Don’t be afraid to remove flowers; new ones will soon appear. Candidates include petunias, calibrachoas, sweet potato vines and trailing vinca.
After trimming, check that the annuals are still firmly planted and feed them with a water-soluble, balanced fertilizer.
— Adrian Higgins