Ants and spiders trailed under the green coolness, and the cats would bat around the lizards that hid there. In the Spring, red and white amaryllis pushed their way through the low jade canopy, and pure white Easter lilies bloomed surrounded by verdant freshness. The leafy carpet of fresh mint growing around a twisted black ebony tree in my grandmother’s yard was thick and lush. I can still smell the aroma.
Mint was for one thing in her household, and that was freshly brewed iced tea. She would twist a few sprigs together, and push them under the amber colored tea and ice with a long silver plated iced tea spoon. Before lunch was served, she would send us outside to retrieve her daily bouquet, and caution us to look for rattlesnakes while we were plucking stems.
Thankfully, the cats helped keep an eye out for snakes too. If you asked my grandmother how she felt about cats, her response was always the same: “Nyah…” accompanied by a wrinkled nose. She saved that word just for cats. My grandmother was not a fan of felines, but kept them around to reduce the mouse population, and battle snakes (Don’t worry, just like landing on their feet, cats always win snake battles. Always. Cats might be snarky city apartment dwellers, but they are team players when it comes to ranch life.)
Since I never wore shoes as a child, my trips to the mint bed were always barefoot. Ebony trees naturally have treacherous thorns, about 2 inches in length, needle sharpness, and hard like… well, ebony wood. Twigs that had fallen from above lay hidden in the thick blanket of St. Augustine grass, and more than once I came back howling with a large ebony spike embedded in my sole. Even today the scent of fresh mint triggers a piercing ache in my heel.
Somewhere in my childhood, the lush earthy scent of the mint bed in my grandmother’s ranch garden was hijacked by the oral health industry. Toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash gargle…Proctor and Gamble stole the flavor of summer days, and forced me (forced me!) to use it to combat gingivitis. Propaganda pamphlets were handed to us by the nuns at school, with expectations we would brush after every meal. What? A toothbrush in my lunchbox, next to my baloney and mustard sandwich? Or keep my toothbrush in my cubby? To quote the cartoon image of Snoopy in the bottom of my rinse cup: “Bleh.”
Mint became the insipid flavor of domestic monotony. The dishpan dull flavor of good behavior. The artificial version of mint became part of the routine schedule of tasks I followed during my training for responsible adulthood. What happened to my barefoot forays, my artful dodging of crippling ebony spikes, the reward of a frosty glass of grownup iced tea afterwards? Who stole my mint bed? The bastards.
But I have always balked at anything considered mandatory, even as a kid. Am I saying I didn’t like to brush my teeth? Maybe. (That’s a hard thing to admit. I’m sure your opinion of me just ticked down a couple of notches. But I’ve summited the half century mountain, and still have my own teeth. I hated the forced routine, but not the results. To my credit, I’m an obsessive flosser.) I’m a very thorough rebel, and minty flavor represented compliance. So none for me, thank you very much.
For the longest time, I cut off contact with all mint. No Double Mint gum. (there’s Juicy Fruit) No Crest toothpaste (there’s Close-Up cinnamon) No after dinner Starlight Mints (well, maybe a couple, but I would prefer a caramel.)
After the kids left for college and we became empty nesters, I reevaluated all my relationships. And I mean all. Foods, people, associations…I started noticing the aroma of fresh mint was pleasant, and comforting. Cautiously, I added a sprig to a yogurt dressing, and then some minced shreds over a mango salad. Maybe it wasn’t my enemy anymore.
Slowly, I incorporated more mint in my menus, and began the conscious uncoupling of mundane toothpaste from soul restoring garden fresh mint. Really, they have nothing to do with each other. I forgave mint for being part of a societal regimen that I stupidly fought. (I’m working on forgiving myself for a lifetime of stupidity as well.) I’m determined to keep my thoughts on fake and real mint far apart from each other. The fragrance of fresh mint takes me back to being wild and barefoot, and that’s something I should have never given up.
Recently while visiting Peru, an icy mug of Mint Lemonade was placed in front of me in an Israeli restaurant in downtown Cusco, and after one sip, I was transported to my grandmother’s mint bed. Intensely green, and deeply refreshing, the taste of liquid emeralds. This was the way mint should be enjoyed. It was delicious. I forgot my responsible adult table manners, guzzled it down, wiped away the jade mustache with the back of my hand. I ordered another round. My heel ached.Print
A refreshing beverage that’s easy to make!
About 1 oz fresh mint (28 gr)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (100gr)
1 qt water (1lt)
Using a sharp knife, cut both ends off of each lemon, and peel away the yellow rind. Make sure to remove the white pith. Place the whole peeled lemons in the container of a blender, and add the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth. Strain out pulp. Serve over ice.
Cutting away the peel is much easier than trying to peel the lemons by hand. Also, a splash of vodka would turn Mint Lemonade into the perfect poolside cocktail!
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