My Grandmother Put This Secret Ingredient In Her Sweet Tea—And I Do It All Summer Long Too

My late grandmother, known to her grandkids as Nanny, spent most of her adult life in Florida. Although she was born and raised in New Jersey, she loved her adopted home in the South, especially its beaches and year-round sunshine. And like any Southerner living in a hot climate, she almost always had a pitcher of homemade sweet tea in the refrigerator.

Nanny wasn’t a made-from-scratch kind of cook. When she was a housewife and mother in the 1950s, convenience products like canned and frozen foods were all the rage, and those buying habits stuck. Her brownies and cakes came from boxed mixes. She loved to Shake n’ Bake. She even drank instant coffee.

Grandma's Sweet Tea
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But Nanny took her iced tea seriously. It was always made in a stockpot on the stove top with black Lipton tea bags, sugar, and half of a lemon. I’m not sure where she learned this method of making sweet tea, but it was something she always did, and she did it consistently. With one exception.

At some point during my childhood, I noticed that the tea sometimes had a reddish tint. Did she use a different type of tea? It tasted tangier than usual too. Eventually, I learned that she was adding cranberry juice to the iced tea—like her own version of an Arnold Palmer. Somehow the addition of the sweet-tart juice made the iced tea even more refreshing, and I began to expect it in her refrigerator the way I always expected the pantry to be stocked with Planters Cheez Balls in a cardboard canister. When it was regular iced tea, I was a little disappointed. 

Now that I am a grown-up with my own kitchen and culinary preferences, I’ll make her special blend—especially when the Alabama heat is too much to bear. Instead of black tea, sometimes I’ll use ginger tea, which adds an extra kick. I’m sure she would approve, I just wish we could enjoy a glass together. 

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