NEW ORLEANS — My aunt Stina was as Southern as a Georgia peach - only sweeter.
Picture a gracefully aged Marilyn Monroe sporting white capri pants, a pink polka-dot shirt, and sunglasses with circular frames wider than grapefruit halves.
But what made her so Southern was her generosity and kindness. And like any true Southern lady, Aunt Stina could cook. I'm convinced she could have made boiled water taste good.
As a child, I used to dream up the most elaborate excuses in order to stop by her house at suppertime. "Can we stop by Aunt Stina's, Mama? I think I left my GI Joe soldier over there. I need it for show and tell."
My fondest memory of Aunt Stina revolves around one miserably hot night in July when my family was awakened by an earsplitting explosion. It was, as we all feared, the old air conditioner. It had been clanking around on borrowed time for quite a while.
The next morning was spent figuring out how to deal with the fact that our house had become New Orleans' most colossal sauna.
I turned on the garden hose to keep cool. My father zipped off as early as he could in his air-conditioned car to his air-conditioned office. Mother sauntered about the house pressing a dishrag filled with crushed ice against her face and neck.
And Amy, my younger sister, resorted to paying a credulous seven-year-old neighborhood kid to fan her under a shade tree while she sat in a rusty lawn chair soaking her feet in a tub of lukewarm water.
Although these remedies gave my family relief from the heat, Aunt Stina's panacea was by far our favorite. Like any proper Southern woman, she never drove unless she had to. Nonetheless, when she heard about the air conditioner explosion, she cranked up her Titanic-sized '75 white Thunderbird and launched it in the direction of our house.
When she rolled up, we welcomed her with sweaty hugs and kisses, and she greeted us with a large blue and white ice chest. Inside it were two milk jugs filled with the most deliciously refreshing drink I'd ever tasted. It was sweet and tangy and brisk and fresh. Best of all, though, it was ice-ice-cold. She called her refreshing potion "Lemon Dream Soda."
On the second day, Aunt Stina delivered a luscious grape-flavored concoction. And on the third day she arrived with a frozen pink block of ice in one hand and a two-liter bottle of ginger ale in the other. She dumped the pink block into a punch bowl and poured the ginger ale over it. "Polar Punch," she called it. I liked it the best.
Unfortunately, the next day a new air conditioner was delivered and installed. Our house was finally going to be cool again, but Aunt Stina's icy and thirst-quenching deliveries would stop. Too bad the new air conditioner didn't come a few days later.
When Aunt Stina passed on a few years back, she left behind - along with her white T-Bird and sun glasses - a real treasure: a small wooden box stuffed with her most-prized recipes. Below are a handful of the frozen drinks and punches that she used to beat the dog days of summer. They're best served in the heat of July, without air conditioning.
Lemon Dream Soda
1 quart water
3/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a large pitcher, combine water, lemon juice, brown sugar, and vanilla. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Serve over crushed ice and add a splash of club soda.
Makes about 10 servings.
3-1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 12-ounce can frozen grape juice concentrate, thawed
Combine water and sugar in large saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add lemon juice and grape juice concentrate. Stir until mixed, then pour into a plastic bowl. Freeze until firm, stirring several times during the freezing process. Scoop into glasses to serve.
Makes 6 to 8 drinks.
6 cups water
4 cups sugar
1 3-ounce package orange or lime gelatin mix
1 12-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate
1/2 ounce almond extract
2 2-liter bottles ginger ale
Combine water and sugar in large saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add gelatin to hot mixture and stir until combined. Add remaining ingredients, except the ginger ale. Stir until mixed. Freeze in half-gallon containers. When ready to serve, put mixture in large punch bowl and pour in the ginger ale.
Makes 30 servings.
Lemon and Cola Punch
Zest (grated rind) of 6 lemons
2-1/4 cups lemon juice
9 cups water
3-1/2 to 4-1/4 cups sugar
3 liters of cola
Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, water, and sugar in a large pitcher. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Chill mixture in refrigerator until cold. Stir in cola just before serving. Serve over crushed ice.
Makes 6 quarts.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society