Why Mastering My Grandmother's Sweet Tea Means So Much to Me
Unlike many Southerners, I can't say that I learned to cook at my grandmother's elbow. I adored my Nanny, but not because of her cooking. I loved her for chasing me around her backyard, for taking me on winding rides on the back of her bicycle, for teaching me how to swim, for lending a sympathetic ear and making me feel understood.
Nanny was a creature of habit and the way she ate was heavily influenced by the 1950s. Breakfast was cereal (and Sanka, black), lunch was cottage cheese or yogurt topped with fruit cocktail, dinner was some sort of meat and two vegetables. Dessert was a small bowl of rainbow sherbet enjoyed in the evening in front of the television watching Mystery! on PBS alongside Pop Pop. She made a deliciously retro congealed cranberry-pineapple salad for holiday meals and baked for special occasions: pecan sandies for Christmas and box mix cakes with chocolate frosting for birthdays. Needless to say, she always looked good in a bathing suit, well into her 70s. She lived in Florida and loved going to the beach and swimming in her community pool.
There was one thing that was always made from scratch in her kitchen: sweet tea. It wasn't fancy but she made it the old-fashioned way, boiling water in a big pot on the stovetop, dropping in a few Lipton (always Lipton) black tea bags and half of a lemon, and stirring in a cup of sugar. The tea steeped and cooled on the stove, then she would pour it into a plastic pitcher that greeted you every time you opened the refrigerator door. In search of what, I'm not sure—it was mainly stocked with cottage cheese.
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I make iced tea the same way now and of course, it's not as good as hers—slightly cloudy, a little puckery from the lemon, nice and cold in a plastic tumbler filled with ice. Some things just taste better when other people make them. I would trade anything to share another glass with her.