When I moved down to San Francisco, I rented my place site unseen. I signed a year-long lease after having seen just a few, tiny Craigslist ad pictures of the apartment's living room and deck; I had no idea what the kitchen and bathroom even looked like. But still — I'd done the impossible. I'd found an apartment in San Francisco without even being in the city yet. Not a whole lot of people can say that. So I swallowed the lump in my throat, signed away the extraordinary amount of money needed to secure my spot, and hoped for the best.
Walking into the studio for the first time, I initially braced myself for disappointment. It was going to be a rough transition either way — in Portland, Erlend and I had a three bedroom house to ourselves complete with a recently remodeled kitchen centered around my baker's needs. Instead, I found myself pleasantly surprised. The kitchen had huge south facing windows that let in beautiful, beautiful light. The deck outside overlooked all my neighbors' green gardens, with glimpses of the city down the hills and the occasional view of the water stretching all the way to the East Bay.
But the biggest delight of them all was the lemon tree in the yard.
In Portland, Erlend and I had tried our hardest to grow citrus. A few years ago, we'd spent pretty sum of both time and money trying to coax and beg this baby kumquat tree into something more than a decorative conversation starter in the living room. Within a month, it lost the handful of teeny, tiny fruit it had produced (as well as all its leaves), shriveled up, and died. We tried again the following year with a baby lemon tree from the nursery, thinking we'd made a mistake by picking the slightly more obscure and exotic citrus tree. No dice. The lemon tree went the exact same way.
The lemon tree in the yard was everything I'd always strived for in Portland. Smallish in stature, just right for picking fruit without the assistance of a chair or a ladder. Despite this modest height, the tree was extraordinarily bushy with deep green leaves and tiny white blossoms, and branches bowing with the weight of many, many round, perfectly plump, incredibly juicy and fragrant lemons.
Unfortunately, I haven't taken too much advantage of this wonderful bounty in my backyard (I've been too enamored the stone fruit and berries also available, putting them into as many cakes and pies as possible). But luckily, Renee and Sherrie came along and organized this awesome #drinkthesummer internet party with a ton of my other favorite blogger friends. We've whipped up some pretty little seasonal summer drinks — both boozy and not — to honor the end of summer and all the wonderful fruit and produce it gave us. You can check out the full list of drinks on either Will Frolic for Food or With Food and Love.
And here's my contribution: a simple and incredibly fresh lemonade, made with hand-picked lemons from the tree and thyme that Erlend grew in our herb window box. Booze it up with a splash of vodka, champagne, or whatever vice you prefer. But the recipe on its own is perfect as it is — a classic and true homage to California and its summer season.
Some baker's notes:
- Lemonade wouldn't be possible without some simple sugar syrup. I infused my sugar syrup with both lemon zest and a few sprigs of thyme. And if you strain the fruit and herbs away from the syrup, the syrup will keep in a glass jar in the refrigerator for a month.
- Let's be honest — you don't really need my recipe to make lemonade now, do you? Food52 has a great article walking you through how to make any type of lemonade you want without a recipe. But of course, you can also just use mine below ;-)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- zest from 1 medium lemon
- 1 cup water
- 2 - 3 medium sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 cup thyme and lemon simple syrup (from recipe above)
- 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
- 4 to 5 cups of cold water
- if you wish, booze of your choice (I recommend vodka or champagne)
- blueberries, for garnish
- thyme sprigs, for garnish
- In a small bowl, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and zest from 1 medium lemon. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar — this will help release oil from the lemon zest, infusing your sugar and making it more flavorful.
- In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and zest (from the 1st step) with 1 cup water. Whisk the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, and bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil for 1 minute before removing from heat and transferring in a wire rack to cool completely. After about a minute on the wire rack, add 2 to 3 sprigs of fresh thyme and whisk gently into the mixture. Let sit for 30 minutes.
- Once the mixture has cooled for around 30 minutes, strain the syrup into a small glass jar. Discard the zest and thyme. Refrigerate the syrup overnight to cool completely.
- Transfer the freshly squeezed lemon juice to a pitcher or jug. Add 4 cups of water and ice, giving the mixture a good stir. After adding the water and ice, taste the mixture — if you find it to be too tart, add around 1/4 cup of water, tasting after each addition to your liking.
- Pour in 1/2 cup simple syrup and stir. Taste the lemonade for sweetness, and add more simple syrup in small increments until you find your ideal level of sweetness. Serve with your choice of booze, garnishing with blueberries and a few sprigs of thyme. Serve immediately.