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Edie at home in her kitchen.

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The View from Mary's Farm

The View from Mary's Farm for July 2004

June 23, 2004

The Magic Brew

When it was hot out, my aunt used to say to me, “Shall we make up a pitcher of iced tea?” And into her kitchen we would go and start to make the tea that she claimed once saved a young boy’s life. For the next hour, her big Colonial kitchen filled with the scent of citrus as we worked side by side, cutting up lemons and oranges, and then squeezing them in the Juicerator, a strong-arm hand juicer from the 1930s, whose design, in our opinion, had yet to be improved upon. The rinds went into the twin-handled kettle, along with a good sum of tea and lots and lots of sugar. Then came a round of steeping and brewing and straining. This is the kind of cooking that always took place in my aunt’s kitchen – slow and full of interesting ingredients. At last, the tea was ready. The resulting brew was the glorious coppery color of new honey, shot through with the pulp from the oranges and lemons. With a slotted spoon, we strained out the rinds, poured the punch into a pitcher and put it into the refrigerator to chill. A few hours later, we filled glasses with ice cubes and carried it all on a tray out to the lawn where we would sit and sip this elixir, waiting for the sun to set and the heat to subside.
The tea was our constant companion. It went with us on picnics. It was with us on boats, on hikes and in the car. It was served at breakfast, lunch and dinner and in between. We always hoped that there would be some leftover but there rarely was. More than just a drink, it was a kind of manna, that gave us life.
My aunt’s story of how her iced tea saved a life goes something like this: a young man in the neighborhood used to come every week to mow their lawn. When he stopped for a break, Aunt Peg would bring him a glass of her iced tea, which, like all the rest of us, he had learned to crave. One summer, the boy became ill and was taken to the hospital where he fell into a coma. When at last he began to show signs of life, he was asked if he wanted anything. Barely conscious, he croaked out: “Mrs. Odell’s iced tea.” My aunt was called and she quickly concocted a big batch of her famous tea, which she carried in to his hospital room. Gradually, one sip at a time, one day at a time, he revived and eventually recovered completely. Of course, whether or not the tea saved his life is probably not worth debating but that is how the story went and we all believed it, without blinking. We knew that tea. It was a magic brew that could make a cadaver rise up and dance.
And so it is, when the sun sends us onto the screened porch for relief, I get out the kettle and start brewing. The smell of tea and oranges and lemons will always take me back to those summers in my aunt’s kitchen in the 1960s. Over the years, I’ve shared the recipe with many friends. Here it is for you, too.
Squeeze four lemons and two oranges. Set the juice aside. Cut the rinds into small pieces and put them into a big pot. Cover them with 4 cups of water. Simmer for ten minutes or so, until the juice is out of the peels. Add two cups of sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Add four tablespoons of tea. Remove the pot from the heat and steep for several minutes. Strain. Add the orange and lemon juice and 8 cups of water.
Drink on very hot days. It could save your life.
Edie Clark



Selected Works

Articles
In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
My Articles
Libraries occupy a special place in the heart of a town. Evening events at the library give a strong sense of community and make it seem like a great place to live. And in the wake of the online revolution small town libraries have found a way to not only survive but to be indispensable.
In December 2008 an epic ice storm left virtually the entire state of New Hampshire without power. The residual effects of that storm paralyzed the Monadnock Region almost through Christmas. A first person account.
In 1994, sixteen-year-old Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. After several treatments, he ran away to avoid chemotherapy. What happened after that may have been a miracle.
Roxanne Quimby once lived primitively in the Maine woods. Today she owns 90,000 acres of those woods, and her goal is to create a national park to preserve the landscape forever. So why do so many people wish she'd just go away?
Multi-million dollar border stations are rising along our line between US and Canada. What was once the "friendliest border" has become deadly serious.
Renowned short story writer, Andre Dubus, reflects on the accident that cost him his legs.
A trip to Poland discovers a beloved family friend
An elegy for the master of the short story.
Fall comes to The County
Thousands seek healing from this innocent, comatose child.
A complete listing of articles published since 1978
Fiction
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief