You've hosted dozens of summer barbecues without giving the non-alcoholic beverages a second thought, but somewhere between chopping heirloom tomatoes for the salsa and baking Grandma's favorite chocolate cake, serving powdered lemonade again this year suddenly sounds like a bad idea.
The good news is making memorable "mocktails" -- i.e., cocktails without the power -- is even easier than shaking up spiked drinks. Without the spirit, you're dealing with one less flavor wild card. It's easier still if you approach them as gussied up versions of lemon and limeade.
Start by making a batch of simple syrup just as you would for most cocktails. Combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and cook them over medium heat for a few minutes, until the sugar has melted (4 cups of sugar and 4 cups of water is a good starting point if you have a crowd). Pop it in the fridge so it's well chilled when you're ready to go.
Using the simple syrup as your base, you can make a half-dozen different lemon and limeades in less time than it takes to get the grill going. In a large pitcher, combine 1 cup of fresh lemon or lime juice (or try mixing them), 3/4 cup simple syrup and 4 cups of water. Add more juice or simple syrup to taste, but remember you're going to add ice when your guests arrive, so you want the flavor on the strong side. And don't cut corners on the freshly squeezed juice. The frozen versions are usually loaded with sugar and any lemon "juice" that can survive on a shelf is mainly preservatives. Besides, it's so easy you can make a couple of pitchers the day before the party.
But that's just plain old lemonade and limeade, right? Not for long. Pull out your pitchers an hour before your guests arrive so you can play around with different mocktail flavors. Fresh ginger works well with both the lemon and limeade and lends a pleasantly spicy kick. Peel and slice a 3-inch piece and let it infuse with the juice for about an hour (strain before serving). Or try a small handful of mint leaves for a refreshing palate cleanser that does double duty as a do-ahead garnish (remove the leaves after an hour or so if you prefer a more subtle flavor). For a lighter herbal quality basil is nice, but save it for the lemonade (the lime juice can overwhelm its delicate aroma).
Save at least one pitcher of lemonade to make a batch of gorgeous berry mocktails. If you have the time (and a family member willing to double as the bartender), make individual berry drinks by muddling a half dozen raspberries or blackberries in the bottom of a cocktail glass. Add the lemonade, fill with ice, and garnish with a sliced strawberry. For those of us without willing and free labor, whirling one cup of fresh or thawed frozen berries in the blender works just fine. Stir the puree into the lemonade and let your guests help themselves.
The challenge is deciding what to do with that pitcher of limeade. Will it be pineapple, strawberry or a little of both? It's as easy as pureeing one cup of the freshly cut fruit of your choice. Put the pitcher on a self-serve table with a bowl of sliced strawberries for garnish, even a bottle of vodka for those who want to make their mocktails the real deal.
You can even get the kids involved with their own do-it-yourself juice bar. Gather up the leftover simple syrup, stray lemons and limes, mint leaves and berries that didn't end up in the blender. Don't forget a couple of sturdy glasses, muddling spoons and an adult to help out with the basic recipe.
Round up the bartenders-in-training, hand over the muddlers and let the summer Fruit Cup games begin.
THE FRUIT CUP
To make simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has melted.
- 1 orange slice
- 1 lemon slice
- 1 lime slice
- 4 mint leaves
- 2 cucumber slices
- 1 blackberry
- 1 raspberry
- 1 strawberry
- 3/4 ounces of simple syrup
Combine all the ingredients in a tall glass. Mash the fruits and herbs with a long wooden spoon or muddler. Stir well, fill with ice and garnish as desired.