Here in “the South” –and for those of you readers not in the US, or familiar with the particular regions making up the US, “the South” means anything below the Mason Dixon line and east of Texas. The Mason who and what about Texas you ask??!! Well, most Southerners equate the Mason Dixon line as a dividing line dating from the Civil War time period denoting “free” states and “slave” states– or in layman’s term, northern states and southern states. However the survey line actually dates back much earlier and was originally used/created/surveyed to denote British colonies verses American Colonies—a dividing line no matter when or how you look at it.
And as far as Texas is concerned, when they travel, many a Texan will claim to hail from the South when asked from where it is they “come from”— but if the truth be told, Texans would prefer to say that they hail from the country of Texas, a separate country from the US entirely—it’s that big you know.
Anywho (a southern expression) back to the point of this story…here in the South, at the first sign of warm weather—and warm weather is anything on a thermometer reading from the 60s to 70ish degrees Fahrenheit, and of course the sun must be shining– people begin shedding. This phenomenon is a lot like animals that shed as the temperatures rise but rather than shedding hair or fur, Southerners shed clothes.
It could be January 6th on the calendar but if the day is sunny and feels “warm,” a Southerner will scour the closest for special clothing items that have been tucked away for winter hibernation— a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of flip flops (a simple type of sandal). Business people will think it a good idea to dine alfresco at lunch. Folks sporting convertible cars will think it wise to “pop the top.” (Let’s not talk about pollen yet, shall we—that is another story entirely, how the world turns to yellow powder). Snow and ice may be forecast for the following day, but this day, this day is warm and that means time to “soak up some rays” (meaning to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and enjoy it).
When I was in college, attending The University of Georgia, I was a member of a sorority (a kind of club for girls). I was a Phi Mu. The Phi Mu house there in Athens, is an antebellum house dating back 150 years. It has an old tin rooftop. The Phi Mus were famous for “sunning” on the tin roof. It could be 38 degrees, with a cold north wind howling, on an early February day, but if the sun was shinning, and heat radiating, girls, oh so very pale girls, would don bathing suits, make for a window only to scamper out to the roof in order to procure a prime sunning spot. The roof of the Phi Mu house is famous you know.
However back to the story, again– as the temperatures begin a slow ascent upward, usually in March, the little, winter, dormant, garden plants that have been “hunkered down” (another southern expression) for the past couple of months, begin slowly creeping upward as well. One of the first little plants (weeds to some as it is a plant that spreads and never seems to give up) to emerge out of hiding from down in the dark soil, baring its sleepy little leaves, is the Mentha x piperita or the Peppermint plant/herb. I prefer Peppermint for my yard, however spearmint is the more common plant found in most gardens.
Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved peppermint tea. It was always a treat when my mother would buy me a tin of Twinning’s Peppermint tea, a real splurge on my mom’s grocery budget. I would feel so sophisticated making myself a cup of tea at the wise old age of 10. I must confess that this little ritual has been with me ever since but I digress.
Being the true Southerner that I am (I’m no transplant as I was born and raised here) I watch my sleepy little mint plants popping up out of the ground and I immediately start thinking Juleps!
What’s a Julep you ask—a beautifully sophisticated southern adult sipping beverage. Refreshing on a hot, humid southern sticky day (anyone traveling to the South in the summer months has come face to face with the dreaded southern sticky humidity—a type of heat that hits you smack in the face and sucks the life out of you. Making it difficult to breath, it can trigger health warnings and does a terrible number on one’s hair—but there I go digressing again…)
It is important to find something, anything to soothe the southern sticky humidity and a Julep is an age-old remedy. It is also a precursor to the most famous of horse races, the Kentucky Derby. I suppose Kentucky may claim to be the home of the Julep. I can’t say for certain, as I’ve not done any historical research into the inception of the drink, but given that the main ingredient is Kentucky Bourbon, I suppose they may claim it as so.
I would like to continue this little discourse of all things southern, horse racing, juleps, etc…but today is one of those “sunny” southern days of glory. My mind is wandering to all things of warm weather…cookouts, the sweet smell of freshly mowed grass, fire ants (damned creatures—for another post), long sunny afternoons, watermelons, star gazing to the mournful sound of the whipper-o-wills, sweet corn on the cob with buttery wonder dripping down one’s chin, and a tall frosty glass of either a julep or even a mojito to quench that sweltering sticky humidity that I know is coming…
Here are two little recipes for a Julie Julep or of Jujito –be mindful that I am not one big on the whole concept of measuring. I’m of the school of a dash of this and a splash of that…a scary little concept when talking Bourbon, Vodka or Pisco. (Pisco is a wonderful fermented liquor made from distilled grape must originating from Peru—I prefer it to Tequila).
Get a pretty tall/collins glass—I pull out my best Waterford crystal (thank you Ireland). But a true Julep cup is a small squat sterling silver cup which nicely captures the “sweat” of the ice within on an oh so hot day….. Cut a bunch of fresh mint leaves. Get some crushed ice. If you’re a purist, make some simple syrup by boiling equal parts sugar and water but I have found Agave nectar to be a quick solution—found at grocery stores—
Place the mint in the glass/ cup and using a muddler, or the end of a wooden spoon, crush the mint leaves releasing the essential oils. Fill the glass with crushed ice. Add a Tablespoon to 1 oz syrup/ nectar, depending if you like it sweet or not. Next add 2 to 3 ounces of good Kentucky bourbon (the best you can afford) and if necessary an ounce or so of water, depending if you’re a purist or not—give it all a stir, top with some mint leaves and voila!!
The Jujito is more of a lime inspired libation equally rewarding on a hot sticky southern evening. Get a tall/ Collins glass (see above). Fill with mint leaves, crushing with a muddler or end of a wooden spoon. Cut a lime in half and squeeze ¼ to ½ of the lime in the glass. Pour in 1 oz of syrup/nectar, 2 to 3 ounces of either Pisco or Vodka—the Pisco is really the best choice. Top off the glass with lime-aid, Simply Lime, or some other limejuice type beverage (not a soda—raspberry lemonade can be substituted). Top with a slice of lime and more mint—enjoy and do not gulp.
Warning–if you want more accuracy measuring, perhaps a lookup of a cocktail would be helpful–you are welcomed to experiment with ingredients and measurements–whatever floats your boat (another southern expression). These are meant to be savored in a lawn chair or rocking chair–no drinking and driving ever intended!!