Before you Southern readers start commenting, "Are you kidding me? Who doesn't know how to make sweet tea?" please hear me out. I am Florida-born and Georgia-raised, and when moved to California, one of the first things I noticed was that there is no sweet tea out here, not even at most Southern-style restaurants. I always have some at home, and people here always ask me "how do you make this?"
A little history on sweet tea, first. In 1795, the first tea plantations in the United States arrived in South Carolina. Today, there are still a few left in the state. The first sweet tea recipe has been traced back to the cookbook Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree, and was published in 1879. It called for green tea, which was more commonly drunk as iced tea at the time, until World War II when green tea importation was cut off and Americans switched to black tea imported from India.
Sweet tea is so ingrained in Southern culture that in 2003, as part of an April Fool's joke, the Georgia Legislature introduced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for restaurants not to offer sweet tea. In the movie Steel Magnolias, Dolly Parton proclaimed that sweet tea was "the house wine of the South." One of my favorite simple pleasures is to sit on the back porch on a velvety Georgia night, sipping sweet tea and eating a plate of fried green tomatoes while watching fireflies.
We Southerners do have a sweet tooth. Coca-cola, pecan pie, and sweet tea ... our love of sugar keeps dentists in business.
Makes one gallon.
3 family-size tea bags - Luzianne or Lipton, preferably "Iced Tea Blend"
2 cups cold water
1 cup sugar
Bring the water to a boil, and add to a gallon pitcher containing the tea bags and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and let the teabags steep until the tea is very dark, about 2 to 3 hours. Remove the tea bags (squeeze the remaining tea out of them into the pitcher) and top off the pitcher with cold water. Stir and refrigerate. Serve with lemon or mint.
Mixing half sweet tea and half lemonade in a glass makes a drink known as either an Arnold Palmer or a Swamp Water.
I can't believe anyone would buy sweet tea bottled. It's so much more delicious when homemade, and saves you money too!
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(Image: Kathryn Hill)