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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

When Life Gives You Lemonade

February 10, 2015

“He’s currently in a lemonade phase,” my wife said. She was halfway across the room talking to someone at a Mardi Gras party. I didn’t know who it was that she was talking to but I knew who she was talking about— me.

I am a “phase” guy. I go on music binges where I will listen to one artist, or one album, until I wear it out. The same goes for clothing styles, movies, and food. My wife says I’m obsessive and compulsive in that way. I don’t know if that’s the correct diagnosis, I just know that I like what I like and I want to enjoy it as much as I can during the time I am really liking it.

So it’s true. I am in a lemonade phase these days. I liked lemonade a lot when I was a kid. My grandfather used to make homemade lemonade for me when he visited my house— lemons, water and sugar. No magic there, just honest ingredients prepared by someone who loved me and someone that I loved dearly.

A professional counselor might be able to dissect this current lemonade phase if I spent enough time on a couch taking about my childhood, but to what end? I like lemonade— a lot— right now and if it’s because it reminds me of my grandfather so be it.

Though I think it has nothing to do with my past. I think it’s just what I am “into” at the moment. I read a scientific study years ago that put forward the theory (or fact I can’t remember) that our taste buds change every seven years. I believe in that premise. I can look back at various times in my life when I started eating some type of food randomly out of the blue.

I was around 35 (my fifth taste bud change according to the study) when I started eating turnip and collard greens. Everyone in my family ate greens when I was growing up, but I never developed a taste for them. When I was in my mid 30s I started craving them. I love greens to this day.

Back to lemonade: I don’t have any negative associations with lemonade. None. As I look back over my entire life, anytime I was drinking lemonade things were good. Nothing bad has ever happened to me while drinking lemonade. It’s a happy beverage.

The McArthur family had a lake house just outside of my hometown when I was a child. Every year they hosted a huge Fourth of July party on the lake with fishing, swimming, families, fun, and fireworks. It was hot but there was always ice-cold lemonade.

Sometime during my pre-teen years I diverted to soft drinks. In my 40s I began to leave carbonation behind and started drinking copious amounts of iced tea. Not too long after that I began adding lemonade to the tea. Lately I have been dividing time between Arnold Palmers (half tea, half lemonade) and straight lemonade.

There are vast differences in lemonades on the market. Coca-Cola or Pepsi is always going to taste like it did the last time you drank it. Iced tea, as long as it’s not flavored, pretty much tastes the same everywhere. The problem with lemonade is that the beverage is marketed under the same broad categorical name, but recipes and offerings are entirely different.

Of course freshly made lemonade is the best, and it should be made just like my grandfather made it with lemons, water, and sugar. One can use simple syrup and it certainly doesn’t hurt to muddle a few lemon quarters (peel and all) in the bottom of the glass.

The next step below making lemonade fresh is buying frozen concentrate. It’s amazing how frozen concentrate cans were such a huge part of my childhood but are virtually extinct these days. I know someone who still insists on purchasing orange juice in frozen concentrated cans. I’m not passing judgment, it’s just that the concentrate cans are not as plentiful as the gallon options in a grocery store. Frozen lemonade concentrate is even harder to find. But it’s pretty good. My son makes it a lot.

Ordering lemonade at a restaurant is a different animal altogether. Lemonade that comes from a soft drink company is typically a bag-in-the-box product that is basically lemon-flavored beverage. It doesn’t really taste like real lemonade.

I am not a big fast food customer, but I will drive through a Wendy’s or a Chic-Fil-A and order a large lemonade. Those are the best by far, with Wendy’s actually edging out Chic-Fil-A for the better tasting lemonade in my opinion. Though while inside a Chic-Fil-A the other day I noticed the graphic on the lemonade dispenser behind the counter. Simply stated, it read, “Lemons, water, sugar,” just like my grandfather’s.

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