I originally didn't think I would write a post on sweet tea, because to be honest it has been covered by every southern food blogger out there. However, people still ask about how to make sweet tea and since the name of my blog is 'Sweet Tea and Cornbread' it is only right that I post a sweet tea recipe. Also, when I started really thinking about the role sweet tea plays in the life of most southerners and in my growing up, I felt I owed it some respect.
I really don't remember when sweet tea wasn't part of my life. I am not sure when I started drinking it, but I am pretty sure it was more than likely before I could walk. It was always what was served with our night time meal which we usually call supper. There is a food blog that I have followed for a few years now and sometime ago I was reading her post on sweet tea, she said that the first time she was allowed to eat at a girlfriend's house, she was stunned to see that the children were not served tea, but big glasses of milk. I had the exact same experience...well sort of. My experience got a little more involved than just the realization that not all kids got to drink sweet tea with their supper. Do you feel a story coming on here? I will try to make it short!
When we were kids, we played all over our street, up and down, next door, in the big field behind our houses...which my father and some other neighborhood men turned into our own softball field. It was back when kids could still be kids and have some freedom. We rode our bicycles to the store, we walked to school, we travelled from yard to yard, driveway to driveway...playing basketball, softball, doing gymnastics, and having all day monopoly marathons.
With all of this freedom there were two things we were told not to do...1.) Do not go into anyone's house for anything. If you had to pee, you trucked your little butt home and hoped you made it. It took special permission or an act of congress to be allowed to play in anyone's house for a day. The mothers or fathers had to confer on such an event. 2.) You did not eat at anyone's house, as in sit down and eat, when they stopped to eat their lunch or supper. Even if they begged you, if it was time for them to eat, you came home. There were a couple of exceptions to this rule...if you were asked to spend the night and congress approved it or if the mother called your mother (or father) and they discussed it. Usually when I asked to eat at someone else's house, my mother would ask why I wanted to, we had perfectly good food at our house? Mama seemed like she didn't really get it sometime, but then just when you thought she was so dense, she turned out to be right. I always hated that...lol.
I finally got my first approval to eat with my best friend's family when I was probably in the third or fourth grade. It was exciting, but made me nervous also, because eating at someone's house other than a relative or a church family without my parents was a big deal. Church folks were a different thing all together and I seemed to get to do a lot of things with them, but looking back I realize that was almost like family.
When we sat down for my first dinner with my friend, everything looked like it would be alright. There was nice roast cooked with carrots and potatoes, green beans, corn, rolls...it all looked pretty good to me. Anytime I visited anyone the food was big concern for me, because I had been around enough to know it wasn't always good or not as good as Mama's. I spied a big pitcher of sweet tea on the counter...that works. Then, the milk comes out of the refrigerator and 5 big glasses of it was being poured. Surely, these people did not drink 'milk' with their supper! Nobody informed me of this when I accepted the invitation. You see, I didn't like milk. It actually made me feel sick at times and I certainly never drank it with supper.
I ate my food and never touched my milk, which I thought nobody would be rude enough to mention...wrong. Suddenly, everyone at the table was discussing the fact that I wasn't drinking the milk. I had six sets of eyes all trained on me and being a very insecure child in a new situation, I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. The father decided I might have one of those 'milk allergies'. My mind quickly decided that a milk allergy would be good to have...I bet that was it! Was there also a liver allergy because that stuff made me gag also. This allergy thing could come in handy for so many detestable things we were made to eat. However, suddenly the oldest girl, who was supposed to be my best friend, announced "She does NOT have a milk allergy! She gets in trouble every day at lunch for not drinking her milk. Even the cafeteria lady comes out and gets on her about it!" So much for best friends and all of that. Then the youngest child, a little boy about 3 or 4 started doing a sing song about me being a 'bad girl'. This whole thing ended with them pouring me a big, cold glass of... guess what....ice water! And guess what was for dessert? Ice cream with chocolate syrup on it! Guess who didn't get any because they might have that pesky milk allergy?
Needless to say, I didn't eat at their house again for about a year. It took that long to get over it. I was never so glad to eat at our own table in our kitchen the next night and drink my big ole glass of sweet tea.
Now, this is how I make my sweet tea and there are as many different methods and rituals and recipes for sweet tea as there are for biscuits and cornbread, so if you don't make it this way it's not a big deal.
This is my little tea pan. I have had this pan ever since I got married. I think it was part of my first set of cookware. I only use this pan for my tea. I fill it about 3/4 full of cold water (not warm) and put a family size tea bag in it. If you use the small single serving size, use 4 of them. I use Lipton tea. I know most southern food bloggers use Luzianne for some reason and I have tried it, but my mother always used Lipton and it's what I prefer. Use what you prefer.
Bring the water to a boil and as soon as it boils, turn it off and cover it with something. This is called steeping the tea and makes all of the difference in the world. If you steep your tea, you do not have to use as much tea. I just cover this pan with a little plate. I lost the top to it long ago somehow. My mother always covered her pan with a tin pie pan. She now makes her tea in the microwave and wants me to tell you that is the way to go these days. It's ok, I guess, but I still make mine on the stove. Steep the tea for at least 30 minutes and an hour is even better. Tea should have some color to it, not be almost clear. It should be the color of good KY bourbon, but not as lethal..lol.
Put 1 1/2 - 2 cups sugar in a glass 2 quart pitcher and pour the tea, which even after an hour will be warm, over the sugar. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Fill the pitcher to the top with water and stir again. Sweet tea tastes better made in a glass pitcher and I prefer it served in glass. For me, I also prefer it best when just made, not refrigerated. Pour it over ice and serve with wedge of lemon. The amount of sugar is something people vary on, and most recipes I see do not call for enough sugar, but you sweeten to your liking. The tea must be sweetened while a little warm, not after it is cold, because the sugar will not dissolve in cold tea. I do think the farther south you go, the sweeter the tea gets, and even though I am from Kentucky and not the deep south, I think I really belong in the deep south when it comes to tea!