Strawberry Lemonade and Simple Syrup

I like to let guests sweeten their drinks to taste. Everybody is a little different–some like things mind-bendingly sweet, some like just a hint. To make lemonade you make a syrup anyway–to avoid crunchy bits of sugar in every mouthful–but you add it to the whole batch. For this recipe we’re keeping the syrup on the side, and people can add it as they see fit. I used sweet Meyer lemons, and combined with the natural sweetness of the strawberries I found it hardly needed anything extra. Something cold and tart can be really refreshing on a hot day.

When children are involved, I do recommend keeping a close eye on the syrup bottle. A while back my friend and her little girl were over for tea and we let the wee one sweeten her own lemonade. After a while I noticed it was suspiciously brown (I had used Turbinado sugar for the syrup). She had been adding a little bit here, and a little bit there while the grownups were chatting away. The resultant beverage could have powered a jet engine.

Strawberry Lemonade (about 1.5 quarts or liters, or about 6 servings)

For the simple syrup:

1 cup (240ml) water
1 cup (240ml) sugar

For the lemonade:

1 pint/2 cups (480ml) fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered–buy the sweetest reddest berries you can find
1 cup (240ml) lemon juice (about 6-7 large lemons)
3 cups (720ml) water, still or sparkling–whatever you prefer, I used still
Additional lemon slices, strawberries or mint for garnish (optional)

To make the syrup:

In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and simmer over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool. If you’re going to serve this separately, put it in a squeeze bottle or similar container for easy mess-free pouring.

To make the lemonade:

I don’t have a blender, so I use a food processor. If you don’t have either, you could mash the strawberries with a fork. To make sure they’re not overly chunky, you could also pass them through a sieve. Or you could use a food mill.

In a food processor or blender, puree the strawberries and lemon juice until smooth. Even after blending, this lemonade is pulpy. If you don’t want the pulp, run the mixture through a sieve.

Pour into a pitcher with enough room to add another 3 cups of liquid.

Add 2 cups of water. Stir and check the taste and thickness. You might like it this way. If not, add the remaining cup of water.

At this point you can add the simple syrup to taste. Simple syrup will last a very long time if kept in the refrigerator.

Garnish the glasses with lemon slices, mint leaves or whole strawberries. Serve with the simple syrup.