By Wendy Tremayne
We recognize the summer by the longest days and shortest nights and by thunderstorms and hail. It is the season of the monsoon rains that flood gardens and bring autumn’s harvest. It is also the season of the butterfly, bee and rattlesnake. For us humans, summer is the season that we need to work hardest to stay hydrated. When I think of summertime my memory conjures the image of giant beverages in throw-away containers: big gulps and mailbox-size vessels filled to the brim with unnaturally colored sweet liquids. Dehydrated people clutch these with hopes of hydration. But while sugar gives us some short-term energy, hydration is not to be found oozing from a soda fountain or in a landfill-destined bottle in the refrigerated section of the market. For the longest time it seemed there was a great mystery surrounding the making of a good beverage. Surely specialized machinery was required to extract and combine ingredients into the perfect texture, taste, and color?
As I became a maker of things, I discovered that with each new season of the year, nature provides flora that contain everything we need to balance our bodies, including a near infinite choice of color, texture, and taste, for a variety of yummy summer drinks.
When mixing up a summer drink, look to the plants commonly found in markets and gardens. But don’t forget that the region in which you live produces flora unique to the area. These less common, region-specific plant varieties can be foraged. Their benefit is a perfectly synthesized bit of what is needed most by those who dwell there. For example, where I live in southern New Mexico, the prickly pear cactus provides slow-to-process sugars and serious hydration. Its fruit, like the native ocotillo and the hibiscus flower, makes a refreshing, hydrating, and awfully pretty red tea. Nature seems to know when it has spawned something that is universally appreciated, because honey can be found just about anywhere, and it is a favorite drink sweetener and the best preservative in the world.
If you are ready to take your health and hydration into your own hands, diversify your summer palate and kick the silly, costly, and good-for-just-about-nothin’ pre-made drinks offered in the stores. You’ll impress yourself and those you’re willing to share with by making these DIY summer concoctions.
In-Season Fruit Punch
2 finger lengths of lemongrass
1 thumbnail-sized piece of skinned ginger
Juice from 2 limes or lemons
1 cup of in-season fruit (Cherries, melon, strawberries, blueberries, tart cherries, goji, prickly pear fruit, and watermelon are all excellent)
3 cups of water, a pinch of salt
4 mint leaves (optional)
4 – 8 tablespoons sweetener (optional/to taste)
Step 1: Combine all ingredients except the sweetener in a blender. Blend on high speed for about a minute.
Step 2: Strain through a hand held strainer (the finer the better) or cheesecloth. If adding a sweetener try choosing one that is local (about 4 tablespoons). Alternatively, sugar or honey work well when pre-blended/dissolved in 1/4 cup of warm water and then added to the punch.
Step 3: Pour over ice.
Nature’s Own Herbal Iced Tea Blend
Try these dried herbs mixed together in any combination instead of a black tea.
Step 1: Combine any/all of the above ingredients in dried form. If you wish to add lavender, use just a pinch.
Step 2: Steep a tablespoon of each in 5 cups of hot water. Strain, cool, and sweeten to taste.
Step 3: Serve on ice. Decorate with a mint sprig.
Tip: Add basil seeds to cooled beverage for a tasty jelly texture that is just like the tapioca enjoyed in Japanese bubble tea.
Mesquite Mock Iced Coffee
1 cup mesquite pods, dried and broken into 2″ pieces
4 cups water
Sweetener (to taste)
Maca root (optional)
Step 1: Let mesquite pods sit in water overnight.
Step 2: Add the remaining ingredients together (including pods) in a pot and simmer over low heat for 8 hours. Strain and sweeten to taste (try ju ju or maple syrup for a compatible sweetener). If you like coffee with cream, leave out the lemon and add two tablespoons of maca root instead, for a mock milky mock coffee.
Red Chile Lemonade
5 cups water
4-8 tablespoons wweetener (to taste)
2 tablespoons fine ground red chili
Step 1: Juice the lemons into 5 cups of water.
Step 2: Sweeten with your favorite local sweetener and sprinkle the fine ground red chili on top.
Step 3: Add lots of ice, shake, and serve.
For a classy, regional summer drink with a kick, try sangria and local fruit.
2 cups local fruit, diced
1 orange, peeled and cut
Juice of 2 limes
2 cups wine, red or white
1/2 cup brandy
4-5 cups either water, seltzer, or a fruit-infused water (made by blending fruit in season with water and straining)
Step 1: Dice the local fruit of your choosing.
Step 2: Mix all the above ingredients together in a pitcher.
Step 3: Sweeten to taste with local sweetener. Pour over ice.
Add cucumber slices to water to make water wetter.
Invest a few bucks in a bottle capper and/or a corker. By capping and corking your homemade drinks, you will always have a beautiful gift to bring to gatherings. By bottling you will also participate in reusing some of the glass that is en route to the landfill.
If you have additional creative time, a DIY label is sure to impress. My friends get a kick out of the labels that I make in which their pet is the namesake.
About the Author:
Wendy Tremayne is an event producer, conceptual artist, and yoga teacher. One of her projects, Swap-O-Rama-Rama, is a community clothing swap and series of DIY workshops that she created as an alternative to consumerism. Wendy lives in Truth or Consequences, N.M., where she is co-creating an off-grid B&B. Find out more on the Holy Scrap Hot Springs blog. Learn more about Wendy at gaiatreehouse.com.