In my family, beginning in toddlerhood it isn’t uncommon to be offered a cup of milk and sugar with a splash of tea, strengthening bit by bit, year after year, until your cup is brimming with hot orange pekoe and a splash of milk.
As a toddler, I rejected it.
Many childhood family memories revolve around the tea ritual. My mom and dad drink tea every single day at noon and again in the evening. It is a ritual that allows them to slow down and reconnect in a busy day. My mother habitually puts the kettle on the stove at quarter-to-twelve, bringing the water to a rolling boil, turning off the burner and steeping one teabag for exactly ten minutes. My father would arrive home from work for lunch every day and have his cup of tea and a bologna sandwich with mustard.
After we were in bed I would hear the ticking and whistling of the enamel kettle on the stove as my mom brewed the second pot of tea for the day, often accompanied by a bowl of peanuts and Ganong’s gum drops.
As a child, an adolescent, and a teenager, I still rejected it.
I went off to university when I was twenty, living in a co-ed residence away from home for the first time. In the midst of a stressful semester I looked for small comforts. Going to coffee with a friend was always a great pick-me-up but I never acquired a taste for coffee. A friend from Barbados with similar tea-drinking traditions offered me a cup of tea one evening. And that’s when it took.
My daily life centers on the rituals of brewing tea. I brew a pot of orange pekoe first thing in the morning, again at noon, and often enjoy a caffeine-free rooibos tea (unheard of in Atlantic Canada when I was growing up) in the evening. I have a collection of handmade mugs by various potters that warm my hands and my heart when I enjoy a hot cup of steeped tea. No project is begun without first putting tea cup in hand.
In the summer months I also enjoy iced tea on a hot day. Inspired by a delicious rhubarb iced tea I was served at Local Source Market (http://www.localsourcemarket.com/) in Halifax and the abundance of rhubarb in the backyards of Atlantic Canada (including my own), I developed this recipe to capture the essence of spring and the comforts of tea even during the heat of summer. The rhubarb delivers an unusual sweet-sour flavour combination that delights and surprises!
Rhubarb Iced Tea
You will need:
- Chopping board
- Fine-mesh sieve
- Sauce pan
- Measuring cup
- Large Metal Bowl or heat-safe pitcher
- 2 c. rhubarb, chopped
- 2 c. white sugar
- 3 L cold water
- 4 orange pekoe tea bags
Preparing the rhubarb syrup
In a sauce pan combine rhubarb and sugar. Pick thin, brightest red stems you can find. Remove and dispose of leaves.
Simmer rhubarb and sugar over low heat, stirring occasionally for two hours. Remove from heat, allow to cool. When syrup has cooled, strain pulp through cheesecloth-lined sieve. Dispose of pulp, set syrup aside. Meanwhile, prepare tea.
Bring cold water to a rolling boil. Add tea bags and steep for 10-20 minutes. Remove and dispose of tea bags. Add rhubarb syrup to prepared tea and stir thoroughly. Allow to cool to room temperature, pour into a glass pitcher and refrigerate, preferably overnight.
Pour yourself a tall glass and enjoy!