There were very few cool places in the hot summer mountains of the fifties, unless you count my hiding place beneath the old locust tree down in the lower front yard. I chose the locust because it had long sharp thorns that kept most everybody else away, and I didn't have to worry about sharing my favorite ice cold drinks or any other treasure that I kept hidden beneath the tree.
I didn't know it then, but my drinking choices were rather limited. I could have cold spring water straight out of the mountains, or maybe green lemonade, or I could have a violet cooler. Sometimes I even had a berry or two to add to the mix. Koolaid had been around for awhile, and so had RC Colas, but living in the head of a holler as I did, I learned to make do with what grew up there with me. Stores were few and far away. So was money. I think about those homemade drinks now, and realize I've never tasted them from a commercial source. Somebody missed out on a good thing, because there's nothing better than a Violet Cooler, except maybe a Green Lemonade. I'll share my drinks with you, but you'll have to find your own locust tree.
In early spring, the lowly violet was one of the first flowers to bloom, and bloom they did, all over my mother's yard. On days when the green yard seemed to be mostly purple, I grabbed my chance, and picked as many violets as I could find. Nobody complained, so I just kept picking. I used them to make violet syrup.
There were lots of uses for violet syrup; poured over homemade vanilla ice cream it was delicious. Sometimes I added it to my oatmeal, and occasionally I just snitched a spoonful all by itself. Even better than that, it made a wonderful drink. Here's how:
In the early afternoon, after the sun has dried away all morning dew, pick the violets. I rinsed them in cool spring water straight from the mountaintop, and separated the petals, since that's the only part of the flower I used. My mother gave me one of her clean canning jars, and after I filled it full of violet petals, I covered the blooms with boiling water and sealed it with a lid. Then I waited, craving the violet cooler, but knowing the flavor would be much better after it had steeped for at least an entire day.
On the second day, I strained the violet blossoms, squeezing them to get all the juice out, and added about 2 cups of sugar for every cup of violet liquid that remained. Sometimes when I had one, I added the juice of a lemon. The mixture then needed to be brought to a boil, allowed to thicken slightly, and finally it was poured into a sterile bottle. It could be kept in the refrigerator for about 6 months, if it lasted that long.
I poured a couple of tablespoons of the violet syrup over ice in a glass, then I added water to it, stirred it up and slurped it down. Sometimes I sneaked an extra spoonful of the syrup, it was that good! The violet color is quite pretty, too, and though the syrup is sweet, the ice and water tone it down. So will the lemon if you have it to add.
Then there was mint lemonade, when we had lemons available. Mint always grew in our garden so there was no problem finding mint. Again, I started by making a syrup. A cup of chopped mint leaves...it doesn't matter whether it's peppermint or spearmint, either is very good...covered with a cup of water and a little more than a cup of sugar will make a great mint syrup. Heat just till it approaches the boiling point, then reduce heat to low and cook about 5 minutes to allow it to thicken. It can be strained at this point, or later, but straining isn't really necessary unless you don't care for minty bits on your tongue.
Most of us know all about making lemonade, but this is a little different. I used the juice from one lemon and two oranges, then added a cup of apple juice, and to each glass of that mixture, I added about a third of a cup of mint syrup. This is a two glass process, you see, and I always made sure the second glass was very large. I stirred the mixture in the first glass, then I filled the second glass with ice. I poured my drink from the first to the second glass through a strainer, because I'm not very fond of minty lumps either, then I savored every drop of that drink till there was no more! You don't need to add water to the mix, it's tart and fresh just as it is. It might even be better than a violet cooler! The mint syrup brings a green color to the drink, and there's nothing cooler than green.
I usually managed to have a stash of blackberries or raspberries, sometimes strawberries, and always mint leaves, tucked away where I could easily find them. One or all of them went into my icy drinks.
When I went back to visit my mountains a few weeks ago, the old locust tree was no longer there, and it was too late for violets to be blooming. But I found the mint in my brother's garden, and lemons and oranges in his fridge. It was easy enough to find apple juice. I'm sure you know what I did with them.
He has a wonderful front porch facing the mountains, so I kicked back in the old wicker rocker and dreamed of Nancy Drew and Pollyanna and the old locust tree, while I sipped my ice cold Green Lemonade.
If you want to truly enjoy either of these two drinks, you really need to find your very own mountain, and maybe even your own locust tree.
Thanks so much to Gardenersdetective for the lemon photo, and to Melissa for the photo of the orange.