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Keepin' It Cool

Root Beer Float
by John Raven, Ph.B.

As you should know, it gets hot in Texas in the summertime. It is not unusual for the temperature to rise above 100F degrees in the afternoon and repeat the performance each day for a month or longer. We Texans complain about the heat, but we know it's an annual occurrence, and we live with it.

We have learned how to make life a bit more comfortable while living and working in the big sauna. The first rule is to drink plenty of water. The ingested water seeps out through your sweat glands and evaporates on your skin producing a cooling effect. If you don't get enough water, all kinds of bad things can happen to you.

I haven't seen any rules saying you can't flavor the water before you drink it. It also really helps to cool the water before you drink it. I heard for years that it was bad for a person to drink cold water when he/she was very hot. Nah. I tried it and nothing broke. You might get an "ice-cream headache", but that will go away if you stick your tongue on the roof of your mouth.

When I was a kid, if you needed ice you went to the icehouse in town.

The icehouse was where ice was made. I don't know what the process was, but every town had an icehouse. Ice came in twenty-five, fifty and one hundred pound blocks. You told the icehouse attendant how much ice you wanted, and he would pull one of several levers on the side of the building and you could hear things going on inside. In an instant a block of ice slid out of the chute where it was caught in a large tub.

If you were having a special occasion, you could get the ice crushed at the icehouse. They had a big machine with an electric motor on it. The machine usually had a lot of rust on it, but rust wasn't all that bad for you. The ice went in the top of the machine and it was reduced to small pieces, which came out the bottom to be caught in another tub. You brought your own tub to take the ice home. If your ice stayed in a block, it was lodged on the front bumper of your car for the ride home. If you didn't live too far away, you could get home with most of your ice. At home you put a burlap bag around your ice to keep it frozen for as long as possible.

The two best possible things you could do with your ice were to make ice cream or lemonade. My mama made the best lemonade ever made. It was not made very often, so it was really a treat to get a pitcher of it. Mama's recipe was simple enough. First you got out the pink Depression glass pitcher, which was known as the "ice pitcher". Next came out the "lemon squeezer", which was another Depression glass dealie that had a hump in the middle where you rotated half a lemon back and forth so that the juice ran out and collected in the catch basin at the bottom. You picked the seeds out there. Three or four lemons were used for a pitcher of lemonade depending on how many lemons we had and how much juice each contained. The pitcher was filled about three-quarters full of water. The juice was added along with enough sugar to make it just right. One of the half lemon shells was added. This gave an extra bit of flavor from the essential oils that had been released during the squeezing process. Everything was stirred with a wooden spoon, then ice was added, and it was stirred until condensation formed on the pitcher. This potion would bring your body temperature down about fifteen degrees almost instantly. The sugar gave you a burst of energy so you could make it through the day. The lemonade never stayed in the pitcher long enough for the ice to melt and dilute it.

Everyone screams for ice cream on a hot day, but we just don't have space to go into the delicate art of ice cream making here. We do, however, have a couple of frozen treats for you. You can find a whole lot about homemade and other ice cream over at the Desserts Spotlight link on the front page of www.texascooking.com

My generation from Central Texas grew up with Tex-Mex dining at the El Matamoros in Austin. After your special dinner there, you got either a pecan praline or a cup of pineapple sherbet for dessert. [Note: American spelling is "sherbet"; European spelling is "sherbert".] I always chose the sherbet. Here's how to make your own.

Texas Nostalgia Food

Pineapple Sherbet or Sherbert

  • Fruit from 1 fresh pineapple, coarsely grated (or 30-ounce can canned pineapple tidbits)
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup heavy cream whipped with 3 tablespoons light rum (rum optional)
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except whipped cream. Simmer for 15 minutes until thickened.

Freeze in a shallow tray until edges are iced and mushy. Beat mixture with electric beater until fluffy. Freeze overnight.

Several hours before serving, soften at room temperature and fold in whipped cream. Spoon into tall crystal sherbet glasses. Refrigerate. Makes 8 servings.

Although not a traditional Texas dish, sorbet is so good and good for you I'm sure it will become a Texas tradition. Sorbet is frozen fruit pulp. That's how simple it is. It can be made with any fruit in season.

Root Beer Float

Raven's favorite summer cooler

Place the contents of one 12-ounce container of the best root beer you can find in a tall ice tea glass. Add one big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Serve with straw and long handled ice tea spoon.

If you are traveling through Central Texas on a hot Texas day, stop at the drive-up window of the Dairy Queen in Dripping Springs, Texas. Ask for a big root beer float. I personally guarantee it.

Strawberry Sorbet

  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a sugar substitute such as Splenda)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 quarts strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pureé all ingredients in food processor or blender until smooth. Pour into shallow container and put in freezer. After one hour remove from freezer and beat well with electric mixer. (This puts air in the mix and keeps it from becoming too solid). Repeat this procedure twice.

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