This is how I’ve decided to prepare for summer this year: 1. Buy tiny madras shorts and aviator sunglasses for the toddler. Like I could resist. 2. Let fear of bathing suit season convince me to let a friend drag me to my first Pilates class, ever, and not even a beginner class. Ow. I’m pretty sure I should have resisted. 3. Allow myself the purchase of a single purpose, space-hogging (well, not for a normal sized kitchen but definitely for mine) appliance I have coveted for more than a decade, just because it will take us from lemons to lemonade in under 5 minutes. I’m so glad I didn’t resist.
Logically, to celebrate the fact that I finally accepted that the joy an electric citrus juicer would bring me* would outmatch the inconvenience of storing it, the recipe that I’d share today would be for lemonade. But the toddler is at his grandparents for the night and you know that means: We took the bourbon down from the top shelf.
Amusingly enough, our current favorite cocktail sprang out of our quest to find a perfect version our previous favorite cocktail, the Manhattan. We learned last December that one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Back Forty, made an excellent one, and so we went back for another. And another. And one night — really, we have only ourselves to blame — they ran out of sweet vermouth and we were forced to order something else. Seeing as the restaurant creates the most ungodly delicious fried-to-order doughnuts, does things with cheese curds and ramps I can only daydream about and makes a damn fine burger, we decided to trust their instincts and ordered their signature cocktail. And even though it was the dead of winter, even though we had our coats and hats and gloves piled on our laps and our feet stuffed in snow-crusted boots under the bar, this lemonade-on-ice cocktail instantly transported us to a summery kind of place. And we’ve stayed there since.
* Amusingly, in my attempts over the last 10 years to convince myself that no space-efficient kitchen needs such a silly machine, I’ve amassed a cluttered drawer of citrus hopefuls. There have been two reamers, one metal and one wooden, a lever-handled old-fashioned looking thing that turned out to be pretty but absolutely useless, a Kitchen Aid attachment that sprayed my clothes and left juice running from wrist to elbow, but less so in the measuring cup and one of these, which is actually pretty awesome but painful if you’re going for a pitcher of lemonade. In the end, I bought not one but two electric citrus juicers. The first one is the one I’d recommend anyone else buy — it’s inexpensive and has a ton of raving reviews on Amazon (this is an updated link). I only ended up returning it because I really wanted one like my grandmother used to have, with a spout that I could place a glass underneath. I’m quite happy with the one I ended up with but should warn that it doesn’t strain the pulp especially well. For that, you should set a small strainer over your glass as before you start squeezin’.
One year ago: Braided Lemon Bread
Two years ago: Broccoli Slaw and Almond Raspberry Layer Cake
Three years ago: Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake
Four years ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms + Chive Biscuits + Bloody Marys
Of course, this isn’t the restaurant’s recipe, or their terrible name for it. They humbly call it “The Back Forty”, but from the first night we had it I’ve been calling it the Vemontucky Lemonade in honor of its maple syrup and bourbon and uh, clearly, I think I’m pretty clever. (No need to play along at home). I also have far too much fun creating things from memory than to limit myself to pesky official recipes that I’ve pestered from bartenders. Nevertheless, this is a glass of something dreamy. The bourbon and maple syrup give it a depth of flavor a lot of warm weather drinks lack, and the lemonade makes you wish you were out on a patio somewhere, watching a summer storm roll in. Fortunately, there’s no need to wait for summer to start making a habit of this drink.
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (with an efficient squeezer, you should get this plus up to 1/3 cup extra from 2 pounds of 8 lemons)
2 1/2 cups cold water, plus additional if needed
1/4 to 1/2 cup maple syrup
Lots of ice
Mix lemon juice with 2 1/2 cups water and 1/4 cup maple syrup. Taste for sweetness. If you like your lemonade sweeter, add remaining 1/4 cup maple syrup. If you found the sweetness just right, add an additional 1/4 cup cold water instead. Stir to mix. This will yield 1 quart of maple lemonade.
Fill a glass with ice. We have a fiery debate at my house about whether this drink needs 1 or 1 1/2 shots of bourbon; my husband prefers more, but I like this drink a bit weaker. I’ll let you choose. Pour your desired amount of bourbon over the ice, fill the glass the rest of the way with maple lemonade and let the force of summer be with you.