Surviving Summer

By David Alan 
Photography by Jenna Noel

Beginning at an early age, we Texans develop mechanisms for dealing with the summer heat. As a child, I figured out how to tiptoe from shadow to shadow all the way from our house to the neighborhood pool without burning my bare feet, and that a climb into the old Buick Regal meant carefully perching on a newspaper to avoid the lava-like vinyl seats.

As an adult, my ways of coping with the heat have evolved—when the summer sets in on my native home, I console myself with a tall and refreshing iced beverage.

Whether drinking for hydration or recreation though, manufactured products such as sodas and processed juices always fail to satisfy. Natural flavors from the fruits and herbs of the summer garden are not only more refreshing, they create sense memories specific to season and place. A rum and diet cola can be had year-round (I would argue that it shouldn’t be had at all), but a margarita made with crushed ripe loquats, sipped with neighbors under a tree heavy with fruit is a unique sensory experience—an adult version of those childhood trips to the pool. 

One of the most succulent symbols of summer is the tomato—the unchallenged favorite of America’s gardeners and farmers market shoppers. It’s not just for the occasional Trivial Pursuit triumph that we remember that the tomato is a fruit, and as such, a fitting candidate for cocktails. While the tomato is certainly no stranger to the cocktail, it is often relegated to hair-of-the-dog duty in the form of the Bloody Mary, when it is almost without exception poured from a can or bottle. Your hard-earned tomatoes deserve more than that. Fresh tomato water with a little herb-infused vodka or gin makes a lighter alternative to the Bloody Mary, and chunks of fresh tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes add an interesting flavor and texture to sweet cocktails when muddled with citrus juice and other fresh fruits.

Even hot coffee gets reinvented on those summer days when we discover that the night just wasn’t long enough to cool off the morning. Though iced tea is practically the official state drink, most Texans have not opened up their hearts to iced coffee. This is likely because much of the iced coffee served in public is of poor quality—leftovers from the day’s coffee urns, or hot coffee that’s been chilled, resulting in an acrid and bitter brew. The proper way to make iced coffee is to brew it cold (see recipe on edibleaustin.com). What’s left is rich and mellow and low in acid—store it in the fridge where it’s available any time you need a pick-me-up.

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During the dog days of summer, people often ask “how do you make a great frozen margarita?” I generally tell them I don’t, as I much prefer enjoying mine served “up” in the traditional fashion. But under the demon heat of late August, even I will enlist the blender for the challenge of satiating such a serious thirst.

The two biggest mistakes people make when preparing blended drinks are that they begin with inferior ingredients such as canned “juice” and that they don’t adjust the ingredients to accommodate for increased dilution from blended ice. This first matter can be laid to rest by following the Tipsy Texan mantra of “no mixes”—there is nothing a commercial mixer has to offer that can’t be achieved more flavorfully and wholesomely from using fresh ingredients. As for the dilution, it’s imperative to increase the levels of spirits, sour and sweet ingredients to carry the flavor of the cocktail into this frosty format. When done properly, a frozen drink is as delicious as it is refreshing—like air conditioning for your mouth. We could all use a little of that right now.