SOUTH MAIN MUSE: Jamie Miles
I am unsweet, sort of. Don’t think me less the Southerner. It is a quandary 170 years old, when icing tea started with the advent of refrigeration.
I found an 1839 recipe of some poor Kentucky housewife. Well, poor not because she was destitute, but she lived in 1839, in Kentucky, in the summer. Starting with a pint and half of tea, she added two and a half cups sugar, a pint of rich sweet cream, then gradually stirred in a bottle of claret. Served over ice. Guess the claret took the edge off those sticky, bluegrass summer nights.
Once a week, I set a huge pot of water to boil. After bubbling, I toss in three Luzianne family-size tea bags. Then, I take a spoon and press those netted pouches down deep steeping them good. It’s best to pour the hot water right onto the bag, but since my summer-long iced tea container is a rinsed-out Laura Lynn Skim Milk jug, pouring the boiling water straight in the jug never ended well. The few times I tried, the jug’s plastic shell dissolved into Saran Wrap. Figuring, only the grace of the good Lord prevented it from bursting, I now let the bags brew on the stove. Well, that and visions of some snappily-dressed, high-priced defense attorney staring down me and questioning, “Mrs. Miles, at what point did you think pouring boiling water into a milk jug, a container created specifically for liquids at temperatures 40 degrees and under, would be a bright idea.” I couldn’t come up with a good answer for that one.
Now with true sweet tea, you stir in the sugar while everything is still hot. But as a child of the 1960s having a petite, trim mother who prided herself on always being 110 pounds the same as the day she married, “sweet” has a chemical edge. With the post war proliferation of Sweet’ N Low, Mom jumped off the Dixie Crystals locomotive and landed squarely on pink packet flatbed. So to me, sweet tea smacks of Saccharin with extra lemon always served with tons of crushed ice.
Then there’s fresh mint. As a child, mint grew under the spigot in front of our house. Mom said that mint sprouted under their spigot in Fitzgerald. Well, after 10 years here and no mint spontaneously springing forth under our spigot, I planted some and have a bumper crop. So picking three sprigs of mint, I cram that cool, crisp greenness into my potion.
That’s it. All summer long, I’ll have a sweating plastic tumbler of iced tea within my wingspan. And with my profusion of mint, I found another iced drink recipe from that poor 1839 Kentucky woman. Except this one’s from a Jim Beam fellow, neighbor perhaps?
Printed in the June 11, 2009 Edition.