How to Make Kudzu Lemonade
One Athens, Georgia chef shares how she turned the South's most notorious vine into a fuchsia refreshment.
Southerners have a complicated relationship with kudzu. Known as the vine that ate the South, it can devour entire properties if not routinely suppressed. But for anyone returning to the region after an absence, long or short, its ultra verdant stretches can seem like a welcome mat home.
Chef Mimi Maumus, owner of home.made in Athens, Georgia, saw another positive perspective in its tendrils. A foraged-foods enthusiast, Maumus noticed something about its lupine-like, purple blooms. "They smell like grape Kool-aid," she says. "We always have a seasonal lemonade at the restaurant, and I thought Kudzu blossoms would make a great taste and color."
But when Maumus made a simple syrup out of the bushel of blooms she had sourced from nearby farmers and other trusted sources, she ended up with a syrup that was grey rather than purple. "It had lost all that beautiful color, and I thought maybe it wasn't going to work after all," she says.
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But she decided to combine it with freshly squeezed lemon juice, and watched as the light yellow liquid became a fuchsia-flushed refreshment. Almost an electric magenta, the mixture comes back to life thanks to the pH interaction from the acid in the lemons.
At the restaurant, Maumus lets her guests reenact her science experiment at the table with the components of the lemonade in separate vessels that they can mix together.
"It's so fun to bring the components to people, especially kids, and watch them experience it too," she says. "My daughter and I also make it home all the time."
Maumus gave us her do-it-yourself version of the recipe with one caveat. "Just don't get your kudzu blossoms off the side of the highway. You don't want road exhaust in your lemonade."
Combine 2 cups sugar and 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil. After the sugar has dissolved, move the syrup off the heat and add flowers. Let steep until syrup is room temperature. Strain with several layers of cheesecloth. Combine 2 oz. syrup with 1 to 2 oz. lemon juice.