There's nothing more refreshing than a glass of cool lemonade on a warm day. Sure there are those cartons of pre-made stuff and cans of concentrate, but if you'd like to avoid preservatives and flavor enhancers, then there's nothing easier than making your own. It's really not that hard, and if you keep a supply of simple syrup in the refrigerator, it's actually quite fast. Read on for our classic lemonade recipe, plus five easy and delicious variations.
Lemonade is really easy - and quick - to make it from scratch. The trick is to make a big batch of simple syrup and keep it stashed in the refrigerator (see Recipe Notes below). This way, you'll only have to take a minute or two to juice some lemons and voila! It's hammock time!
Speaking of which, juicing lemons and limes is super easy if you have an electric juicer, but even if you go unplugged like me, you can still squeeze a cup of lemon juice in less than five minutes. I like the old-fashioned kind with the reamer built into a shallow bowl to catch the juice, but you can use one of those handheld wooden reamers if that's all you have. Also, this is a great job for kids!
I like my lemonade with the lemon pulp but if you prefer it without, strain the lemon juice before mixing it with the simple syrup and water.
Do you make your own lemonade from scratch? How do you like it? What are your favorite variations?
Roll your lemons on the counter before cutting and squeezing.
How To Make Lemonade
Makes 1 1/2 quarts
What You Need
1 cup sugar
5 cups water, divided
6 to 8 lemons (about 1 cup of lemon juice)
Sprigs of basil, mint, rosemary or thyme
Slices of lemon
Sprigs of lavender or nasturtium flowers
1 cup lime juice
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
Grenadine (get our recipe for homemade grenadine)
Springs of basil and thyme
3 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger
Knife and board
Juicer or citrus reamer
Make the simple syrup. Combine the sugar and 1 cup of the water in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over low heat to dissolve sugar. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat to cool.
Squeeze the lemons. Roll each lemon over your cutting board, pressing down as you do. This will help them to release their juice. Cut in half and squeeze. Repeat until you have one cup. You may not need all the lemons but try to save at least one half if you want to garnish your glasses.
Combine. Add the cooled syrup to your pitcher, followed by the lemon juice and the remaining 4 cups of water. Stir. Taste and adjust: add a few tablespoons of sugar if it needs to be sweeter or the juice of 1/2 lemon if it needs more tartness.
Add ice. Add ice to pitcher if you think you will drink the whole pitcher right away. Otherwise add ice to each glass.
Garnish. It's optional, but garnishes are fun. Try a slice of fruit, a sprig of mint or other herb, or a flower such as lavender or nasturtium. If you've infused the simple syrup with an herb (see below) its helpful to garnish the glass with the herb used.
- For limeade, replace the lemon juice with lime juice.
- For Meyer lemonade, use less simple syrup (start with 1/2 to 2/3 cup) and replace the lemons with meyer lemons.
- For pink lemonade, add a few tablespoons of grenadine. (Note: homemade grenadine is often not as vivid as store bought, so you may need to add more.)
- For ginger lemonade or limeade, add 3 coins of fresh ginger to the sugar and water, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, leaving the ginger in the syrup as it cools. When cool, remove ginger and proceed with recipe.
- For herbed lemonade or limeade, add a few springs of thyme or basil to the syrup after you remove it from the heat. Allow the herbs to steep while the syrup cools. Carefully fish it out before using in the recipe.
Make extra simple syrup! It will keep in the refrigerator for a very long time and you will be happy you have it already on hand and chilled for the next time you make lemonade. The proportion is always 1:1 sugar and water.
Cool the syrup more quickly: If you do have to start with making the simple syrup for this recipe and you're in a hurry, you can cool the syrup quickly by pouring it from the sauce pan into another heatproof container. It's also OK if the syrup is slightly warm when mixing as the water and lemon juice will cool it quickly. If you're infusing the syrups, however, it's good to let them cool with their infusing agents as long as possible.
Remove the seeds: I like to pick out the seeds from the citrus so I can avoid straining the juice, as I like a little of the pulp in my lemonade. If this is too fussy for you, you can strain your lemon juice after squeezing.
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(Images: Dana Velden)