Today, I’m taking a journey to talk about some sweet things in my life, and I hope you will enjoy the ride.
First, a little story about sweet tea. When we lived in Hawaii, a special treat for us was to go to lunch at the Kahala Hotel. Located on the southeastern shores of Oahu, it is nestled in a gorgeous neighborhood just past the Waialae Country Club, home to the PGA Sony Open. Whenever we have returned to the islands for a visit, a daytime visit to the Kahala is always on our list.
The lush grounds of the Kahala include pools with dolphins, and ponds with exotic fish and turtles, as well as beautiful waterfalls and beaches. Off the lobby, there is a long hall of pictures showing celebrities, presidents and royalty that have stayed at the hotel over the years. In a word, this property is impressive, in an understated, beautifully private way.
With all of its amazing qualities, you might be surprised by one of the things that is so memorable for me about lunches in the Plumeria Room at the Kahala. Besides the oceanfront table on the lanai, that is.
When you order iced tea, they serve it with a cute little pitcher of simple syrup. The tea is also garnished with mint and a pineapple wedge. The simple syrup sweetens the tea like nothing else, as its heaviness swirls through the tea, making sweeteners and granulated sugar a poor substitute indeed. For those of you in the South, I can see you doing an eye roll right now, but for many of us Westerners, sweet tea is relatively new.
Lately, I have been having fun experimenting with infused simple syrups. They are perfect to elevate a seasonal get together by creating an iced tea bar, complete with bottles of infused simple syrup. They are not only beautiful, but flavorful as well. Oh, and did I mention they are oh so easy to make? (Hence the name simple syrup, perhaps.)
Here are three versions of my summertime infused simple syrups; mint, lemon and berry. They can be used for iced tea, lemonade or your favorite cocktail. They may not transport you to Hawaiian beaches or the streets of Savannah, but they will sure make your tea taste great!
Mint Infused Simple Syrup
Combine one cup of water, one cup of granulated sugar and 10-20 mint leaves, muddled or torn, in a saucepan and stir on medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Strain out mint leaves and pour into a bottle. Add fresh mint leaves to the bottle for garnish and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Berry Infused Simple Syrup
In a small bowl, crush ½ cup of berries (strawberries, raspberries or blueberries work well) Combine one cup of water, one cup of granulated sugar and the crushed berries in a saucepan and stir on medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Let cool completely. Strain out berries and put in a bottle. Add a few whole berries for garnish and store in the refrigerator for up to one month. The color of this one is amazing!
Lemon Infused Simple Syrup
Combine one cup of water, one cup of granulated sugar, the lemon rind slices of one lemon and the juice of one half lemon in a saucepan, and stir on medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Let cool completely. Strain out lemon rinds and put in bottle. Add three or four fresh lemon rind slices for garnish and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Once you master the art of simple syrup infusion, the possibilities are endless. I could see some savory options with cucumber or rosemary, and I recently used the berry simple syryp over a salad of yellow watermelon and blueberries with great results.
Walla Walla Sweet Onions
I didn’t always live in tumbleweed territory, but rather, grew up nearby in beautiful Walla Walla, Washington. Walla Walla is a town that sits at the foothills of the Blue Mountains with acres and acres of wheat, peas and alfalfa, and is famous for three colleges, world class wineries, an idyllic downtown area, and their famous sweet onions.
Walla Walla Sweet Onions have been produced as a specialty vegetable crop since 1900. The seeds for these onions came from the Island of Corsica, off the west coast of Italy, and were brought to Walla Walla in the late 1800’s. At the time, Italian immigrant gardeners comprised the core of Walla Walla’s gardening industry. Impressed by the new onion’s winter hardiness, the seeds were harvested and over several generations of carefully hand selecting onions from each year’s crop, they ensured the exceptional sweetness, jumbo size, and round shape we enjoy today.
They are wonderful in any cooking application from soups to oven baked ribs, and they are deliciously sweet on hamburgers or sandwiches as well. Walla Walla Sweets are harvested in June and July, so if you are able to find them at your local grocer or farmers market, I would highly recommend trying them.
The last sweet thing I want to mention is my mother, Clarette. She is the most sincerely sweet lady you could ever meet. The first time I took my husband to meet she and my father, we had no sooner left the driveway when Jim said “well, she’s so sweet, I’ll bet sugar wouldn’t melt in her mouth.” At 85 years of age, the same is as true today as it was all those years ago. Through the miracle of DNA, I am a blend of my sweet mother and my more salty father. This blend suits me, but there are days I wish I could be as genuinely sweet as my lovely mother.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my sweet little journey today. Who would’ve thought you could tie simple syrup, onions and your mother into a thread of sweetness?