In August I moved to southern California from Philadelphia. Yes, dear readers, while Alyssa and I are still posting recipes we cooked together this summer, still scouring the manuscript archives at Penn in person and through digital surrogates, still scheming up delightful things to cook and share, we’re no longer working side-by-side in the kitchen. To cope with this change and steel myself for an October heatwave in the triple digits, I decided to start my weekend by making lemonade from a recipe in MS Codex 1038.

The Recipe


To Make Lemonade.

Boil One Quart of Spring Water, let it stand ’till it is
Milk Warm. Pare five clear Lemons very thin and put the
parings in the warm water. Let it stand all Night, the next
Morning strain off the peel thro’ a fine Lawn Sieve, Squeeze
the Juice of the five Lemons. Strain it and put it in the
Water, put in Eleven Ounces of double Refin’d Sugar, One
Spoonfull of Orange flower water. Mix these well together,
it will be fit for use.

This recipe is wonderfully lazy: Infuse the water with lemons overnight, sweeten and season it in the morning. Sip lemonade all day. Repeat.

I think that there are two valid ways to interpret this recipe’s instructions for preparing the lemons. Both interpretations depend on how one defines the verb “pare.” This recipe is from the eighteenth or early nineteenth century and according to The Oxford English Dictionary “pare” was used around this time to describe both slicing and peeling fruit. Here are two approximate paraphrases of the text above:

1) Slice five lemons very thinly and add the slices to the warm water. Strain mix in the morning. Squeeze any remaining juice from the lemon slices into the mix.

2) Peel five lemons and add the peel to the warm water. Set five peeled lemons aside. Strain mix in the morning. Squeeze the juice from five peeled lemons into the mix.

I decided to proceed with the first interpretation, but I’d be curious to hear from any readers who try the other method of preparation.

I was also curious about the recipe’s specification for “clear lemons.” Other historical recipes like the ones on this blog also require clear lemons. I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary again and found that “clear” was increasingly becoming a synonym for “unbruised” or “unblemished” around the time this recipe book was compiled. Following suit, I selected the best lemons I had on hand for this recipe.

In the past I’ve purchased useful and cheap ($2) orange blossom water from various Indian grocery stores to use in baking and cocktails. My choice to fix this recipe this weekend was partly inspired by finding a bottle of it in my local cheese shop. The Nielsen-Massey Orange Blossom Water is a bit stronger than other floral waters I’ve used in the past and it hold up to the acidity of the lemons in this recipe.

Our Recipe

5 lemons, sliced

1 quart water

11 ounces sugar (1 1/2 c) – or to taste

1 T orange blossom water

ice and/or sparkling water to serve

Day 1:

Boil a quart of water and set aside to cool. Slice five lemons as thin as possible. Let the water cool until it is warm to the touch, but no longer scalding. Add lemons, cover, and let sit overnight.

Day 2:

Strain the lemon mix and squeeze remaining juice from the lemons. Reserve a few slices to garnish your lemonade. Stir in the sugar. Add the orange blossom water.

When I first tasted the unsweetened, electric yellow lemon infusion it was delightfully tart. Normally I don’t like my drinks *too* sweet and I often adjust the amount of sugar in recipes accordingly, but the mixture was so strong I decided to use the full amount this time. The finished lemonade was syrupy and very, very sweet. To my taste, the citrus and floral notes were a bit overwhelmed by the sweetness. With a few ice cubes and a lemon garnish it was much more refreshing. After sipping half my glass, I added a generous pour of sparkling water and found my perfect version of this lemonade. In the future, I might halve the sugar instead.

Still, this lemonade greatly improved my steamy Saturday. If the heat wave holds on for much longer, I might try it again with variations adding like thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, or lemon balm from my garden to the initial infusion, or even swapping out the orange blossom water for rose water.

9 thoughts on “Lemonade

  1. I’d have gone with the peeling interpretation, or, more precisely in modern parlance, zesting, because of the instruction “Morning strain off the peel thro’ a fine Lawn Sieve, Squeeze the Juice of the five Lemons”, which I take to mean that only the peel is in the water. Using the zest gets the most lemon flavor out of it while avoiding the white pith underneath, which has a bitter flavor. I think that’s why the “very thin” bit, to indicate leaving out the pith. Nowadays you can get the job much faster by using a tool specifically designed to remove the zest only. I recommend a Microplane, myself.

    Slicing the whole lemon thin will definitely get the job done, though, and is much faster.

  2. Interesting, I would not have guessed lemonade would be so different. Unfortunately it is winter here at the moment but I might give it a go out of curiosity.

  3. Reblogged this on DailyHistory.org and commented:
    Who doesn’t love lemonade on a hot summer day? Instead of making instant (ugh) or concentrate here is how lemonade was made in the 18th Century. The recipe is straightforward and easy. The only unusual ingredient is the Orange Blossom Water, but it can typically be found in speciality food and Indian grocery stores. Finally, Marissa Nicosia recommends being cautious with sugar. If you are like her, you may want to start with only half of the sugar and then gradually a little bit at a time to avoid lemonade that is too sweet.

  4. Pingback: Desart Cakes | Cooking in the Archives

  5. It’s almost *certainly* the 2nd interpretation with the peels. Why? Because this is historically how you extract lemon flavor from lemons – it’s a classic infusion technique.

    Same thing is done with Limoncello in Italy, and has been for over 100 years. Only difference there is that it’s 190 proof grain alcohol, not water 😉

  6. Pingback: To make fine pippen Tarts | Cooking in the Archives

Leave a Reply to esmeraldasnarkle Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.