For years Mom & I have wowed guests by setting real lemonade on the table. Guests think we're incredible. We giggle because, like the rice crispy treat commercials, we know it only takes just a pinch longer to make than sorry imitation mix. Old fashion lemonade is no where near as hard or time consuming to make as people think.
For every half gallon of lemonade I desire to make, I use:
1 scant cup of sugar (see tips & tricks for notes on sugar)
1/2 gallon of water, divided
Wash the lemons. Cut the lemons in half. Juice a half with a citrus squeezer or juicer. Pick out seeds with a spoon & pour juice into pitcher. Repeat for each half. Add sugar. Stir lemon juice and sugar together until a gooey paste is formed. Add half of the final measure of water. (If making a half gallon, add a quart. For a gallon, add a half gallon. Etc.) Stir about a minute. Let set 3-5 minutes to dissolve sugar. (My mom uses a cup of boiling water to dissolve the sugar. I just let it set while I do some other kitchen prep for a few minutes.) Add remaining water. Stir, stir, stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Add 3-4 ice cubes per glass, fill with lemonade and enjoy.
Lemonade Tips, Tricks & Ideas
As with any skill, the more you do it, the quicker you become. I can make a gallon of lemonade in about 5 minutes of hands on time. I utterly amazed an unexpected guest as she watched me prepare it while we chatted. "That's all that's too it?" she gasped. "I can make that at home easy!"
For the average person, ordinary white sugar is the sugar you'll be using. My mom used it for years. I generally use some type of natural, unprocessed sugar such as turbinado or Florida Crystals. It will make the lemonade loose it's yellow hue in favor of a rich tan. The flavor is a hint different, but just as inviting. I interchange which sugar I use depending on what I'm in the mood for.
If you like your lemonade a bit more tart, add less sugar. Sweeter, more.
In the ingredient list when I call for 1 scant cup of sugar, I mean about 7/8 cup. I fill my 1 cup measuring cup almost to the top and then shake some out. I don't think it's critical enough to measure it precisely.
I choose not to add ice to the lemonade pitcher because we usually have leftover. I like to keep the lemonade at full strength. And because I sometimes like 'warm' lemonade.
Ripe lemons are best, but any will work. The deeper and richer the yellow, the juicier & riper the lemon. I buy my lemons in bulk at the warehouse store because they are significantly less expensive. If I buy lemons at the grocery store, I let them sit about a week to age. If I get them at the warehouse store, I can generally use them immediately.
At our house, we have a designated gallon sized pitcher I regularly stock. For our family of 6 (2 adults, 3 ravenous, growing boys and a toddler) we will drink about a quart and a half with a meal. I like having extra for the next morning, meal or snack.
I used to roll the lemons to 'juice' them up and then squeeze them by hand. Now I'm more practical. I use a lemon squeezer. I originally purchased a $1.50 variety plastic one. It looked sturdy until I actually used it. If you're serious about making lots of lemonade, get a sturdy one. I recently inherited my grandmother's green depression glass one. I love the history and find it suits my needs much better. You can find glass ones inexpensively at yard sales.
A Parting Thought: I'm sure there are connoisseurs of fine food who would have you make sugar syrup, heat the water to melt the sugar, add a dash of salt or only use a certain type of lemon. I'm sure Cooks Illustrated would have a field day with my recipe, but that's ok. It may be simply, but even when it turns out to be 'bad' lemonade, it's still better than imitation mix any day. And it doesn't take much longer to make.