Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tea With Miss Sookie

One of my favorite things about Charlaine Harris's vampire novels is the Southern gothic setting in Northern Louisiana. Heroine Sookie Stackhouse is a good Southern girl -- morally upright, church-attending, and hospitable. And a good Southern hostess always has a pitcher of iced tea available for anyone who might happen by. Every time I read one of the books and Sookie offers a guest - no matter how unwelcome - some iced tea, I feel a warm sense of recognition.

This is iced tea that I bottle at home. Directions are below.

I never really "got" iced tea until I moved to Texas. And if you're thinking to yourself: Self, what is there to "get" about iced tea? It's cold tea! -- well, then, you obviously don't live in the South. (And yes, I realize that many real Southerners don't consider Texas the south).

Here, iced tea is an obsession for many people, the way espresso is in Seattle or wine in Italy. It comes in two varieties -- sweet and unsweet. The first time I ordered iced tea at a restaurant and was asked "sweet or unsweet?" I just looked at the waitress with confusion. I didn't even know unsweet was a word.

Sweet tea is pre-sweetened, as the name implies, and it is usually so sugary it will put your teeth on edge. I think it is one of those things you just can't get used to if you weren't raised in the South. My friends from Alabama will talk excitedly about the places where you can get the best sweet tea around town, while I just shake my head. Almost every restaurant has both sweet and unsweet tea, usually served in gigantic (often styrofoam) cups.

If you want a greener option than a giant styrofoam cup with plastic lid and straw, you can make your own tea (sweet or un-) at home. Because I never knew how to make iced tea until I lived here, I'm going to give you the recipe, although many of you are probably familiar with how it's done. I like this quick and easy method, rather than messing around with cold brewing or waiting for suntea.

Step 1: Boil about 4 cups of water.

Step 2: Open 4-5 teabags. Real Southerners swear that you only make tea out of Luzianne brand tea, but I like Good Earth Original flavor. It's a little sweet and a little spicy, so it doesn't need any additions.

Step 3: Take the water off the stove and steep the teabags for 10-15 minutes.

Step 4: Let the tea cool. When it's no longer hot, pour the tea into a container and add 2 cups of cold water to the tea.

This is the stage when I like to bottle my tea. Because I'm trying to reduce the use of plastic in my kitchen, I use leftover bottles from 360 Vodka. These bottles come with a resealable cap, and are made with 85% recycled glass. If you're not going to reuse the bottle, you can even send the caps back in the pre-paid envelope 360 provides, and they'll reuse them.

Isn't this bottle pretty? And it's so useful.

But, like I said, I don't send the caps back because I use the bottles my tea. You could use any glass bottle. When the tea is partly cool, I use a heavy glass measuring cup to pour it into the bottles. I pour two cups into each bottle, then fill it the rest of the way with cold water.

Step 5: If you want sweet tea, add agave nectar to taste. Agave nectar is a nice replacement for sugar, because it dissolves easily and is thought to have health benefits.

Step 6: Put it in your fridge for a few hours and then serve with ice. Mmm.


Shelley said...

1. Yes to Luzianne. It is truly the best.

2. I have a Southern secret to add into Step 3. Whilst steeping your tea, stir in 1 cup of sugar. The heat will dissolve it and you can then skip step 5. A sweet tea purist like myself thumbs her nose up at your highfalutin' sugar substitute.

Catfish said...

Yes, I know that agave nectar is not anything that a real Southerner would use!