Turning lemons into lemonade

Forget the electric juicer. Uncle Cleve's ham-sized hands do it best.

My Uncle Cleveland has giant-sized hands. They're powerful, too – like fleshly vises.

As a boy, I recall being amazed by Unc's brute power. Faced with predicaments in which average men would use hammers or wrenches, he'd use knuckles or fists. One time my father and a few neighbors were struggling to tear a shrub out of the ground. Unc pulled up in his white '84 Mercury Grand Marquis, slid out, and yanked the stubborn shrub free with one bearlike tug.

Salutations were the worst, though. When I was a boy, he'd nearly crush my hand or shake my arm off. "Shake firm, like a man," he'd snap. "No limp handshakes."

My aunt, however, found the best use of all for her husband's Herculean hands. On only the hottest, steamiest New Orleans summer days, she would employ his hands to squeeze lemons. He always had better things to do in the garage or in the yard. But he never refused my aunt. Anyway, he was way too thrifty to buy her an electric juicer.

First he'd roll up the sleeves of his powder-blue Hawaiian wedding shirt (his "retired-life" uniform). Next he'd crack his boulder-sized knuckles.

As he'd hunch over the white and gold-speckled Formica countertop, I remember thinking that Unc didn't belong in a kitchen – a fish out of water.

"You roll 'em first to soften 'em up," he'd grumble. "They'll give more juice that way." He said he learned that trick in the Army. Unc would then proceed to methodically roll each lemon on the cramped counter space applying medium pressure – back and forth, back and forth.

After the lemons were sufficiently softened, Uncle Cleve would then take a serrated blade and cut each lemon in half with one swift saw. Next came the fun. He would first make sure his white Hush Puppies were firmly planted on the light-gray, brick-patterned linoleum. Next he would seize a lemon half.

Even the jumbo-sized lemons looked as small as lemon-drop candies when grasped between his palm and fingers.

Next came the pulverizing. Tart, tawny-colored juice and pulp gushed from his hands into the ceramic bowl. It was as if a fire hydrant had been ripped open. Never did he break a sweat. Never did he stop squeezing until every minuscule droplet of juice had been rendered. When he finished, those mangled lemon peels seemed as though they had been shriveled like raisins by the sun. The poor things never stood a chance.

"During the Depression and the war, we had to turn all our lemons into lemonade – Roosevelt's orders," he'd recall almost fondly. "That's why I squeeze so hard."

Even at a young age, I knew he was alluding to something deeper than making lemonade.

My Aunt was locally famous for her cooking. Unc's belly proved that. "She could make boiled water taste good," he used to say. Although she passed away a few years back, my family still makes her lemonade recipes on muggy summer days. Unc's still around, though. And, yes, we get him to squeeze the lemons. At 83, he hasn't lost his grip.

Ginger Lemonade

3-inch slice of fresh ginger
6 lemons
4 cups water
3/4 cup pure maple syrup

Peel and chop ginger. Juice the lemons. Boil the water. Add lemon juice and ginger to the boiling water. Allow to steep for 20 minutes, and then add syrup. Pour through a fine sieve to strain out ginger pieces. Refrigerate lemonade for 1 hour. Serve over ice.

Makes 3 quarts.

Watermelon Lemonade

8 cups seeded watermelon, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup washed, hulled, and quartered fresh strawberries
1 cup granulated sugar
Juice of 3 lemons
2 cups water
Thin watermelon wedges with the rind (optional)

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse the watermelon chunks, strawberries, and sugar until blended and smooth.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-quart container, pushing down on the solids to get all the juice. Add the lemon juice and enough of the water to make 1-1/2 quarts.

Chill until very cold. Serve over ice with a wedge of watermelon, if desired.

Makes about 1-1/2 quarts.

OLD-FASHIONED LEMONADE

12 lemons
3 limes
3 quarts water
1-1/2 cups sugar

Squeeze lemons and limes. Combine juice, water, and sugar. Mix well. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Serve over ice.

Makes 3 quarts.

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