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A few summers ago, I started making my own lemonade and have never looked back. In the warmer months, I keep a large pitcher in the fridge and add to it whenever it gets low. Sometimes I add strawberries or mint, other times bourbon. Homemade lemonade is easy and inexpensive, and it tastes about a million times better than any store-bought version I've ever had.

Recently, while shopping at Crate & Barrel, I noticed a new line of lemonade mixes available in three varieties: strawberry, ginger peach, and jalapeño ($5.95 each). I was curious—they looked pretty good. The jalapeño version especially piqued my interest, as I'd never seen anything like it in the supermarket, where lemonade mixes are generally limited to "original" or "pink."

I decided to test out the mix, and also to see if I could come up with a recipe for jalapeño lemonade on my own. Which would be more refreshing? Hotter? Better?

The Mix

20090710lemonadebox.jpgTo make the Crate & Barrel mix, all I had to do was add the contents on the package to 2 quarts of cold water and stir until everything dissolved. The mix was a granulated white powder made from sugar, Maltodextrin (a sugar additive), citric acid, and lemon and other natural flavors. I thought the flavor was decent. It tasted like real lemon and wasn't overly sweet. But I thought the jalapeño heat could have been a bit stronger—it provided only a very subtle kick, akin to a spicy ginger beer. Also, the lemonade had a sort of milky appearance (as drinks made from powdered mixes sometimes do) that I found rather unappealing.

The Homemade Version

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On to my own version. After some consideration, I decided the best method for infusing my standard lemonade recipe with jalapeño would be to simmer the peppers (without the seeds) with sugar and water to make a simple syrup. Then I would strain out the solids and add freshly squeezed lemon juice and cold water.

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My plan worked beautifully. The lemonade came out perfectly tart with great, spicy undertones. It was cool and refreshing on the tongue, but once I swallowed it smoldered enticingly at the back of my throat. Best of all, at $2 for the lemons and 20 cents for the jalapeño (plus sugar, which I had on hand) my homemade version cost half as much as the Crate & Barrel mix. That's what I call a perfect summer drink.

Lucy's Jalapeño Lemonade

Ingredients

1 large jalapeño pepper, stem and seeds removed, and cut into thin strips
1 cup sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)

Procedure

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the jalapeño strips, sugar, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer over low heat and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool for 20 minutes.

2. Strain the syrup into a pitcher and discard the jalapeños. Stir in the lemon juice and 2 more cups of cold water. Refrigerate the lemonade until thoroughly chilled. Serve over ice.

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