After nearly a decade in the lemonade business, Josh Thomas is looking forward to handing off some of his responsibilities to a successor. But he’ll probably wait until his brother turns 4, the same age he was when he opened his award-winning stand.
At age 13, Thomas has shown a shrewd business sense when it comes to marketing the lemonade stand he sets up each summer at two community festivals near his home in Silverton, Ore. But he’s also tinkered with his recipe over the years to create a product that pleases both the eye and the palate.
“Since I sell a lot, I use lemonade concentrate, fresh lemons dipped in sugar, then extra sugar for a sweeter taste,” says Josh, who displays his lemonade in a clear container with lemon slices bobbing alongside ice cubes made from frozen juice. “I keep making fresh batches, that way people can smell it and it attacts them to the stand.”
Josh doesn’t set up his stand until August, but lemonade season is upon us. And when it comes to this quintessential summer drink, there is a lemonade recipe to suit every taste, from simply squeezed blends of lemon, water and sugar to upscale concoctions infused with fruit and herbs.
Fred Thompson, author of the cookbook “Lemonade,” calls lemonade “comfort food in a glass.”
“It’s as nostalgic as Mom’s meatloaf,” he says. “We all have some memories of it as a child ... It’s sort of this sense of generations that quite frankly we don’t have a lot of these days.”
The taste of lemonade is satisfying because it combines sweet and sour flavors, he says. “If made appropriately, it’s sort of an exciting thing to have in your mouth.”
Appropriately is the key word. There is no circumstance under which powdered lemonade mix is acceptable, other than to add a bit of flavor to iced tea, Thompson says.
“To me, lemonade is about fresh. It’s about bold,” he says. “It’s like using fresh herbs at the last minute in a savory dish.”
Along those lines, Thompson also steers clear of bottled, reconstituted lemon juice.
In a pinch, store-bought lemonade can be transformed into a reasonably good beverage by adding the juice of a few fresh lemons and their rinds and refrigerating the mixture overnight, he says.
Some of Thompson’s recipes also include frozen lemonade concentrate mixed with fresh ingredients. But for truly tasty lemonade, fresh lemon juice and zest are critical, he says, and you don’t need a fancy juicer.
“I still like old-fashioned, simple reamers,” he says. “They’re as effective as anything else, easy to store and they don’t cost a lot of money.”
Thompson also suggests sweetening lemonade with superfine sugar, because it dissolves more quickly than conventional granulated sugar. A simple syrup (made by boiling water and sugar) also is good.
Here are some other ways to give lemonade a punchier pucker:
In Rhode Island, summer is synonymous with Del’s Frozen Lemonade, an icy drink best slurped out of a paper cup. According to family lore, the original recipe dates to 1840 and involved lemons, sugar and snow stored in the caves of Naples, Italy. Franco DeLucia brought his father’s recipe to America at the turn of the century, and his son opened the first Del’s Frozen Lemonade stand in Cranston, R.I., in 1948.
“The uniqueness of the product is it’s all natural. It has also small bite sized lemon rinds. When we use fresh lemons we don’t cut anything from the lemon. We use the whole lemon except the stem,” says Demetri Kazantis, vice president of research and development.
“It’s a refreshing drink for the summer, and many people like to chew on this lemon rind,” he says. “Plus the lemon rinds, after they stay in the product half an hour or longer they leech lemon oil into the product and gives it a more lemony taste.”
Del’s sells make-at-home mixes that can be combined with ice and water in a blender. Similarly, Thompson’s book includes a frozen lemonade recipe that calls for a cup each of lemon juice, sugar and ice plus four cups of water. Mixed at high speed in a blender, it becomes a slushy drink.
Strawberries are one of the first signs of summer in many parts of the country, and they pair well with lemons, Thompson says. He likes to mash them in a food processor with sugar, then stir it into lemonade.
Blueberries also add a nice flavor, as do ripe peaches. A recipe from Suzanne Gold, featured in “The Oprah Magazine Cookbook,” combines watermelon with honey-sweetened lemonade.
One of the newest trends in lemonade is infusing the drink with herbs such as tarragon, basil thyme or mint. “That’s more of an Italian thing, but it’s catching on here,” Thompson says.
To do this, use fresh herbs and let them steep in the lemonade for an hour or more before serving. It also helps to muddle, or bruise, the herbs, which releases more of their flavorful oils.
If the steeped leaves aren’t attractive by the time you serve the lemonade, strain them out and garnish each glass with fresh leaves.
For grown-ups, Thompson’s book offers a range of lemonades featuring alcohol as a main ingredient. His “Wicked Pink Lady” lemonade mixes lemonade with gin, grenadine and heavy cream. The “Blue Lagoon” includes vodka, lemonade and blue curacao. Thompson says the flavor of lemonade “plays well with others,” making it versatile enough to pair with everything from beer to wine to hard liquor.
Thomas, the young entrepreneur in Oregon, has offered a strictly kid-friendly recipe over the years but has boosted his sales by offering complimentary snacks, most notably salty popcorn to help his customers work up a thrist.
His description of his elaborate setup — tiki torches, beach balls, a beach umbrella and music add to the tropical mood — won him the “best story” award from Inc.com’s “The Best Lemonade Stand in America” contest last year.
In just two weekends, he raked in $331 in profits, plus $88 in tips that he donated to a local food bank. His advice for first-timers?
“Just come up with what’s going to sell and then expand your product line,” he says. “Set your goals high and go for it.”