I remember when we had a thick stand of mint growing along the side of our house when I was growing up. I am just not exactly sure which house it was. Loretta Avenue in Columbus, Ohio? Schoolhouse Hill in Killbuck, Ohio?
But it doesn’t matter. Iced tea was the drink of summer and mother would brew black tea on the stove, fill a glass with ice, pour in the tea and then add a sprig of mint.
I do remember sultry Ohio summers, before air conditioning,when the upstairs bedroom were impossibly hot. Father would rig up a makeshift cooler by setting an electric fan so that it blew over a very large bowl of ice and water. We would drag mattresses down to the living room floor, and everyone would vie to get closest to the breeze.
It was years before we moved to Arizona, where a common method of cooling was, and still is, evaporative coolers (which we call “swamp coolers”). Arizona swamp coolers sit on the roof of the house, and draw air through water-damped straw pads before it goes through the ducts into the house. Father had invented evaporative cooling for us in Ohio back in the 1940s.
But iced tea was important to surviving summer, too. When we first moved to Columbus, the ice came from an ice man, and had to be chipped with an ice pick. We put a sign in the front window indicating whether we wanted 25, 50, 75 or 100 pounds. It was stored in a wooden icebox on the back porch. We did have an electric refrigerator in the kitchen, but the icebox supplemented refrigerator space and gave us much more ice, since freezer space in old refrigerators was very small.
I do not have space to grow mint in the ground in my townhouse, because the plant spreads like crazy, and I have mostly gravel and brick on the ground. But I do have a pot of mint along with my other herbs. It goes crazy and it occurred to me that I had better start using some of it.
SUMMER TIME RELIEF: ICED TEA
First I microwaved water in a quart-pyrex cup. In a pitcher, I immersed some of my favorite white tea in the almost boiling water. You can use green or black tea, if that is what you prefer. Or you can skip the other tea and just use the mint alone for a decaffeinated drink.
I picked some mint, stripped the leaves from the stems and bruised them in a mortar and pestle. You can achieve the same result by cutting the leaves in pieces and squeezing a bit with your hands.
I heated more water in the pyrex cup. The bruised leaves sat in that water until I could taste the mint strongly. (Your call, how strong you want the mint to be, but remember it will be diluted by melting ice).
I then removed the tea bags from the pitcher and poured the mint tea into the brewed white tea. You can leave the mint leaves in the tea. I think they are decorative.
I always add enough water to top off the pitcher before pouring it over a glass full of ice.
Then you get to the sweet or unsweet tea decision. In the South, where I traveled recently, sweet tea used to be the only choice. On this trip I was pleased to be asked whether I wanted sweet or unsweet when I ordered iced tea. Although I usually take it unsweet, I think the mint tea mixture (or pure mint tea if you choose to go that way) tastes best with a tiny bit (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) of sugar stirred in.