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posted: 7/16/2014 5:30 AM

Simple syrup the secret to great lemonade

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  • Rocking Chair Lemonade, left, is a good starting point for making flavored lemonade and lemonade cocktails.

      Rocking Chair Lemonade, left, is a good starting point for making flavored lemonade and lemonade cocktails.
    Associated Press

  • Fresh strawberries turn Rocking Chair Lemonade, right, into a sweet ruby beverage.

      Fresh strawberries turn Rocking Chair Lemonade, right, into a sweet ruby beverage.
    Associated Press

  • Strawberry lemonade, left, gets its start from fresh-made Rocking Chair Lemonade

      Strawberry lemonade, left, gets its start from fresh-made Rocking Chair Lemonade
    Associated Press

 
By Elizabeth Karmel
Associated Press

Homemade lemonade is an essential taste of summer. But concentrates and powders simply won't suffice.

Luckily, great homemade lemonade is as easy as remembering a few numbers -- 3-1-1-1. Three cups of cold water, 1 cup of lemon juice, 1 cup of sugar and 1 more cup of water to make the sugar syrup.

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The sugar syrup -- also called simple syrup -- is the key to perfect homemade lemonade. As anyone who has tried to sweeten ice tea knows, sugar does not dissolve well in cold liquids. But simple syrup -- a blend of equal parts sugar and water that was heated briefly to help the sugar dissolve -- mixes beautifully into lemonade, ice tea or cocktails.

When shopping for lemons for lemonade, buy large lemons that feel heavy and are squeezable. I am sure that I am not the only one who has purchased lemons only to cut them and find that half the lemon is rind and there is very little juice. For that reason, I always buy a couple extra. If I think I can get 1 cup of juice from six lemons, I buy eight.

As soon as I bring them home, I soak the lemons in a solution of white vinegar and water to minimize any molding or rotting.

Before you juice them, soak the lemons in warm water or microwave them for 10 seconds. The heat relaxes the juice pouches and makes it easier to extract the most juice from each lemon. Then, before you cut them in half, roll the lemons on the counter with your palm, exerting some pressure. Once the juice is strained of excess pulp and seeds, and the simple syrup is cooled, you are ready to mix your lemonade. This can be done up to two days in advance. Also, be careful not to add too much water. The lemonade should be slightly concentrated because the ice in the glass will dilute it a bit. For that reason, I never add the ice to the pitcher, only to the glasses.

Experiment with making this same basic recipe with limes, Meyer lemons and oranges, scaling back on the simple syrup based on the sweetness of the fruit. And once you master the base recipe, you are ready to try variations. My favorite is strawberry lemonade, but don't stop there. Try any summer berry, honeydew melon, peaches and summer herbs. I use the rule of thumb that 2 cups of ripe fruit should yield more or less a cup of juice once it is strained. I use my juicer, but you can use a blender and a fine mesh strainer just as easily.

You also can freeze this fruit juice into ice cubes and serve the lemonade over fruit ice. The flavor variation will be more delicate, but it is pretty and you will get more and more fruit flavor as the ice melts. If I make the lemonade in a pitcher or a large mason jar, I float thin slices of lemon or berries in it for a refreshing and pretty summertime look.

• Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."

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