There are two quintessential Southern beverages – sweet tea and bourbon. We are fans of both here, so while there is almost always bourbon on hand, sweet tea tends to only be around during the summer months. I start making it at some point in May, storing it in my fiesta ware pitchers in the fridge, where it’s on hand until the weather starts demanding hot tea as an afternoon pick-me-up.
My sweet tea has prompted more than a few native southerners to declare me an honorary southerner on behalf of all y’all. I grew up in Pennsylvania, but spent a good bit of my summers growing up visiting my father’s parents who had relocated to the hills of North Carolina. My Boston born grandmother never lost her accent, but her cooking style was purely southern, an influence of her West Virginia born husband. Growing up, we always had a pitcher of what was called ‘iced tea’ in the fridge. When I moved south to Auburn to go to college, I realized what I grew up drinking as iced tea was in fact, sweet tea. Over the years, I’ve adapted my mother’s recipe only slightly, as there is no need to mess with a good thing.
I get quite a few inquiries as to how I make my sweet tea every summer, which is why I’m devoting a blog post to it this summer. Because despite the start of school here, it is technically still summer, as seen in yesterday’s appearance of hot, muggy weather. Really, the first sign of true summer weather we’ve seen here since what, June? Way to show up late summer.
Like my mother, I have a pot dedicated to the making of sweet tea. I recently traded in the pot I’d used since college for a new-to-me stainless steel copper bottomed pot that can do double duty in pickle making in a size not gargantuan. I’ve been on the hunt for a pot such as this for years, finally scoring it at a yard sale this summer. The same size as my last one, it holds about 6 quarts. I fill it with water and bring it to a boil. I then add two cups of sugar, stirring until it dissolves. I remove the pot from heat, drop in six Red Rose tea bags and let steep anywhere from an hour to overnight. (I prefer Red Rose to Lipton, which I know betrays my Yankee roots, but hey, try it and see for yourself. It’s a better tea.) Remove the tea bags, store in your fridge and serve over ice.