When you live as far out in the country as we do, one of the ways of making sense of your surroundings is by learning the common names of plants. Redbud, white oak, pokeweed, mountain mint....
There are some things I want to bring back. Aprons, for one. I inherited a small collection of aprons from my grandmother. There were some well-worn ones with raggedy hems and faded stains, and there were a few that were only used on special occasions—the Sunday aprons. I really can’t think of a more perfect article of clothing.
And hats. Who decided it was a good idea to stop wearing hats? Bad hair day? Oh, just let me put on this gorgeous hat. Now if you wear a hat you just end up looking pretentious.
Thirdly, the cocktail. I love to think that there was once an institution as important in some households as teatime was in England. I suppose mixed drinks have come back in favor somewhat, with mixologists (how I hate that term) and boutique tonic waters and bitters. But the cocktail hour still seems so much a thing of the past, reserved nowadays as something to do with the guests at the occasional dinner party.
I’m not particularly a cocktail type of girl. Kentucky bourbon and club soda with a hefty squeeze of lemon juice is more my speed. But during these oppressively hot days, I like to swill fruit juice over lots of ice cubes, and to be honest, most cocktails are just that. Just enough alcohol to make it feel adult, and the rest is sugar and soda. And in case you’re feeling the urge to get creative I’ll let you in on a secret: you can infuse simple syrup with just about anything. If you’re a traditionalist, go for the gin and tonic, but you needn’t feel that the art of creative cocktails is beyond you.
For this particular cocktail, I made a hibiscus-infused simple syrup. Dried hibiscus is actually not an obscure ingredient. You can find it at any Hispanic market (often labeled “Jamaica”) in large bags for next to nothing. It might require a little food field trip, but it won’t empty your wallet. While you’re there, pick up some piloncillo (hard brown sugar in the shape of a cone—you can’t miss it). You can use plain sugar in the simple syrup, but piloncillo gives it a distinct molasses-y tang.
Coming up with the cocktail turned out to be the easy part. I wanted to name this the Pink Lady, but that was already taken so I named it after hibiscus tea. Only this is a more adult version.
To make the simple syrup, combine in a small saucepan over medium heat:
1 cup water
8 ounces piloncillo or granulated sugar
1/2 cup dried hibiscus flowers
Stir frequently until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let the flowers steep for 10 minutes. Cool and strain.
In a highball glass, pour over two ice cubes:
2 ounces tequila
1 tablespoon hibiscus syrup
4 ounces club soda
Juice of 1/4 lime
Stir and serve with a lime wedge.