If life gives you nothing but lemons, I suggest you slice them, add ice, drown them in gin and don’t let too much tonic out of the bottle. The following morning, when you wake with a filthy head and tattered self-esteem, you will need lemonade.
There are probably biological reasons why my body responds with a demand for citrus and sugar after I’ve battered it with alcohol but I have no idea what they are. In this situation, ordinary commercial lemonade will not cut the moaning, membranous mustard. The difference between clear, sugary liquid that may once have met a lemon in a past life and the kind of fierce, murky potion I consume of a morning after is rather like
the gap between Disney and Ingmar Bergman. Lemonade requires a brutal yet artistic truthfulness that shuns chemical sweeteners and sneers at froth.
True lemonade aficionados are, perhaps unsurprisingly, caustic about sweeteners, preservatives and even bubbles but do not agree on much else. Tim Warrillow, co-founder of Fever-Tree, which specialises in mixers, tells me that the sfumatrice method – which involves folding the peel instead of crushing it – is the way to go: it releases many of those volatile, fragrant components that can be lost when more peremptory methods are used. This is how the perfume industry extracts lemon oils and certainly Fever-Tree’s Sicilian Lemonade is a highly aromatic and refreshing concoction, though I would hesitate to dab it behind my ears.
Will Skidelsky, the books editor of the Observer who donated his family lemonade recipe to the deli Mishkin’s, might take issue with Warrillow’s espousal of fizz, because he doesn’t feel that a self-respecting lemonade requires the added pep. His drink demands whole lemons, with the caveat that the imbiber should not be obliged to drink pith. Yet apart from the vexed matter of carbon dioxide, the two men are in agreement: lemon juice, sugar, water and lemon peel are all you need to create a brisk, delicious beverage that’s capable of giving a sluggish constitution a slap.
But I am focusing too closely on the benefits to overindulgers. Good lemonade is a treat even if you aren’t hung over, although the proportions of lemon to sugar may need adjusting. Skidelsky tells me about the pizzeria Franco Manca’s lemonade, for which lemons and sugar are initially cooked together rather than being mixed. I haven’t tried this one – isn’t it terribly sweet? Balance is an important attribute in lemonade, even for those who aren’t feeling a touch out of kilter. No, says Skidelsky, it’s caramelly but in equilibrium. I prefer a tarter concoction but then I’m taking it as medicine.
The real thing
Warrillow, who wouldn’t dream of using the stuff, tells me about decanal, a cheap lemon flavouring. What is the point of a pretend lemon? I accept – reluctantly – that there are people who have never had the chance to try good wine, or possibly even premium gin, and are therefore prepared to settle for low-cost substitutes, but there can’t be many inhabitants of the west who aren’t aware what a lemon tastes like. So why would they wish to drink something unworthy of the name?
Granted, many people like fizzy sugary liquid regardless of what it contains and even I can see the attraction of a cold Sprite on a hot day. But now that we are blessed with decent lemonade in easy locations – Waitrose does a good still lemon as well as stocking Fever-Tree’s – there seems little reason not to indulge. Unless a world shortage occurs, in which case you can all expire from scurvy, for all I care; the garnish for my G&T will take priority.