Saturday, May 22, 2010
Mrs. A’s Lemonade, in the Greek Style!
Warm weather! Summer is almost here. So this is a good time to tell you about this lemonade recipe, which is an heirloom as well as “the best ever.”
My dear friend Mrs. A, who hails from Greece via Lebanon, taught me this recipe. This is the way her grandmother, Yaya Petrina, taught her to make lemonade!
Here’s why we love it: First, it’s delicious, and it’s full of vitamin C. Second, it’s an heirloom recipe, and therefore holy. Third, it uses alllll of the lemon fruit, including the peel, so it’s flavored with the sweet oils from the skin as well as the juice from the pulp. Fourth, it has a secret ingredient, which gives it a certain je ne sais quoi, or as the Greeks say, Apithano! Fifth, it softens your hands! —Read on.
Here’s how you do it.
Wash your hands. Take four or five large lemons, wash the outsides, and slice them as thinly as possible. Use a sharp knife. Put the slices into a large bowl.
Add sugar—about 1/2 or 3/4 of a cup. Use your best judgment. Just dump it on top.
Then, using your hands, begin massaging the lemons. Mash them with your hands, pummel it with your knuckles, rub the peels well, and squeeze and squish the pulp through your fingers. Immediately, juice will start coming out of the lemon slices!
Hey! This is fun! Plus, it’s good exercise to counter that carpel-tunnel you worry about, and it softens the skin on your hands. It’s also a good way to release your anger or anxiety.
The goal is to squish all the juice, the oils, the living daylights out of those lemon slices. Believe it or not, a great deal of flavor and aroma comes from the peels. Your job is to make the peels get translucent. Indeed, try to make them wilt or even dissolve.
Use a sieve or colander to squish the juices out into another bowl. Pour a little water over the mashed-up, wilted lemons, and squeeze that moisture into the bowl, too.
Then repeat the process, adding some more sugar each time. The sugar is important, as it acts as an abrasive, and it draws the liquids out of the lemon tissues via osmosis. (Remember your biology class? The high concentration of sugars outside the fruit cells creates an osmotic gradient, and . . . oh never mind—just call it “maceration.”)
Keep rubbing and squishing, straining and rinsing and straining again, until you’ve extracted all the goodness out of those poor old lemon slices. When you’re done, the lemon fragments should be looking something like sauerkraut!
(Mrs. A notes that the leftover pulp makes a fine facial treatment mask: Put the exhausted peels in a blender with a teaspoon of glycerin, whirl it up, and put the resulting glop on your face: “It is the best facial treatment, believe me! It cleanses, tones, is an astringent, and leaves your skin soft like satin, once you rinse it off your face. Try it. It beats the best commercial facial treatment, guaranteed!”)
Getting back to the lemonade—Once you’ve pressed all the juice and flavor out of the lemons, pour the precious lemony elixir of happiness into a pitcher. From five large lemons, I got about a quart of concentrated juice. Then, you add water and possibly more sugar to taste. But you’re not done yet!
Next you get to add the secret ingredient! —Orange blossom water. Anthonero! You’ll only need about a teaspoonful. Or heck, a little drizzle of it. You know—just to give it that little something extra. This, Mrs. A. told me, is what really magnifies the lemon flavor.
If you’re not familiar with orange flower water, I encourage you to get some to play with—put it in scones, cakes, and cocktails! You can find it at “ethnic” or international grocery stores. In my experience, the most common brand seems to be A. Monteux, from France. It comes in a little blue bottle. This is an essential water that is perfumed with orange blossoms—not oranges, but orange blossoms.
Mrs. A uses an orange blossom water from Lebanon, made by the Cortas company. If you’re in Central Missouri, you can find this product at World Harvest and at Middle Eastern Foods (next to the Islamic Center of Central Missouri) (the mosque), both in Columbia.
And that’s basically it—to recap: Using some sugar to help draw out the juices, and rinsing occasionally with water and repeating the maceration, rubbing, and rinsing, you literally wring out every last bit of goodness from those lemons and make a concentrate; then you dilute it however you want and adjust for sweetness. And don’t forget the orange flower water!
(Oooh, I love heirloom recipes!)
I offer my heartfelt thanks to Alexandra Athanassiou for sharing her dear grandmother’s recipe with me, and for letting me put this on my blog. It was a true honor to receive this recipe—and it was even better to sip lemonade with her!