I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. The summers in the valley were so hot. Like, totally. But for a kid in the late ’70s and early ’80s, they were also magic. Our house was the one where all the neighborhood kids gathered. Sometimes it was for a game of TV tag, other times it was to trade baseball cards or run through the sprinklers. We could stay out until the streetlights came on—a wild pack riding skateboards—or go to the liquor store to buy as many Watermelon Stix as we could with the change from the bottom of our Moms’ purses. The days were long and time was abundant and the break from school felt like forever.
When I think back on that time, it’s the delicious smells of summer I remember most—fresh cut grass, the strong piney scent of the juniper bushes we built our forts in, and the lemons, big as softballs, in my next door neighbor’s yard.
Our neighbors had three lemon trees in their backyard, with a swing set right in back of them. I spent a lot of time there with Claire, who was the same age as me. We would swing for hours and sing oldies, but goodies, that we learned from playing our parents’ records. I learned what the “F” word meant, sitting on one of the swings, and we laughed uncomfortably at the Wacky Pack cards given to us by boys. The smell of the lemon blossoms would fill our noses with the fragrance of sun and citrus and we would try to touch the leaves of the trees with our feet while singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,” the swing set squeaking in time, “You would cry too, if it happened to you.”
Every couple of days, we’d pick a bunch of lemons and make lemonade to sell at our sidewalk stand. We never really sold much lemonade, but I loved the ritual of making it—picking the lemons, washing them, cutting them, juicing them, adding water, the whooshing sound of the sugar being poured into the pitcher, the few drops of red food coloring to make it pink, stirring it and, of course, drinking it. When you’re a kid, you take everything for granted, but it was never lost on me that the taste of that lemonade on a valley-hot summer day was perfection.
I recently moved back to the San Fernando Valley. Feeling wistful for those days, I went on a lemonade-making binge. Lavender lemonade, watermelon lemonade, cucumber lemonade…they were all great, but my favorite was raspberry lemonade. Simple, naturally pink. And if a splash of gin found its way into my glass, awesome!
I still love the smell of fresh lemons from a backyard tree and I still suck in my breath with delight when the sugar whooshes into the pitcher—and it still tastes exactly like it did when I was a kid. I wish I had a swing set in my back yard. I do have that Lesley Gore record, though. I think I might put it on, maybe even say the “F” word, and think more about those magical hot summer days. Like, totally.
¾ cup fresh or thawed frozen raspberries
9 cups of water
2 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 12 lemons)
2 cups superfine sugar
Purée the raspberries in a blender and strain through a fine sieve into a pitcher. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk together until the sugar dissolves, enjoying the whooshing sound the sugar makes as it’s poured into the pitcher. Serve over ice. Taste summer.