Whenever my brother and I complained as teenagers, my mother would admonish us, “You’re from pioneer stock. Chin up.” This, and the stories from the branch of the family that trekked out to the Colorado prairie on a covered wagon in the 1880s, was enough to silence us for a while.

My great-grandmother’s family settled on the eastern plains, in Kit Carson County, just past the line in Colorado where a summer afternoon can turn humid and fierce with storms. My grandmother spent part of her childhood there, an only child hunting for arrowheads and avoiding rattlesnakes, before her family moved into Denver.

One of a handful of recipes from my great-grandmother, this one for a lemony mint drink is the kind of thing that would improve a summer afternoon far from town.

Mint Drink

Mint Drink

Mint Drink

2 cups sugar*
1 quart water
juice of 3 lemons
rind from 1 1/2 lemons
2 cups mint leaves
ginger ale

Cook sugar, water, lemon juice, and lemon rind for 10 minutes. Pour boiling mixture over mint leaves. Let stand all night. Strain, and add equal parts to ginger ale. Color with green food coloring. Float pineapple sherbet on glass.

[*1 cup is enough, unless you don’t plan to use much ginger ale.]


The base is a lemon-flavored simple syrup; you could update it (if you wanted to) by using thyme instead of mint…but the lemon-mint combination is ideal for summer.


Lemon and mint steeping in a giant bowl. Our apartment smelled like an herb garden.


The results, the next morning…


At first, I resisted adding the green food coloring. Then I decided that the effect demanded to be seen…and it was just as impressive (and startling) on a drab New York windowsill as it would have been on a sun-bleached Colorado porch.