“Do you need ice?” the steward asked. “No, thanks.” I replied. “Are you sure?” he said, looking surprised. I said “yes, I am sure” and took a small sip from my can of orange juice. My immediate reaction was “excuse me, can I have some ice please?” The steward was overjoyed and said “I knew it!” Thus went the conversation during my first airplane flight in the USA. As I was unaccustomed to adding ice to every drink and even water, I didn’t realize that not wanting ice would be such a shock to an American.
Historically, ice was not a daily necessity for Indians, even though ours is a tropical country and summer is the longest season. Outside of the Mughal court, which obtained it in limited quantities from Kashmir, ice became commercially available only during the British Raj, and even then it came all the way from the United States and was essentially a super-luxury item. As such, the average Indian probably never even got to see ice, but at least the wealthy Babus might have had a chance to have a glass of claret or chilled beer with their colonial masters when it first showed up in Calcutta in 1833 on the S.S. Tuscany. Hard to even imagine now, but the ice that those long-dead members of the city’s elite put in their drinks travelled four months from Boston to Calcutta.
However, although ice itself may have been a rarity, the concept of ice making was not completely new to Indians. In ancient times, ice was made in small batches by setting very shallow pans of water out in far northern parts of the country where temperatures dropped below freezing at night throughout the year. The thin layer of ice thus formed was stored in pits dug in the ground to keep it frozen, and slowly the addition of successive layers would create a sizable block of ice. It was still extremely uncommon for the common man in most parts of the subcontinent to have ever seen ice during his lifetime. Even in 1833, the contemporary newspapers record that the arrival of ice caused great amazement among the ordinary natives of Calcutta, one of whom asked the American crewmen if it grew on trees or underground. Although by the first decades of the 20th century, ice was available increasingly from commercial ice factories, ice became a domestic item only with the advent of electricity and refrigerators, which in some parts of India (such as my husbands ancestral town of Dibrugarh) were unavailable even to rich people as late as the 1940s.
Anyway, speaking of ice, the summer in my area is getting shorter every year; I am also in disbelief that the temperature is struggling to touch 80F in the beginning of August. But, I am determined; the vagaries of weather cannot beat my love for chilled drinks on long hot summer afternoons. Before the winter monster grabs you through ten layers of clothing, go ahead and make yourself a glass of strawberry lemonade. Summer is too short to wait.
Take strawberries, blend them in a blender, really smooth. Roughly/finely chop some mint or basil leaves and drop them in the strawberry puree. Add the lemon juice and few slices/rounds of lemons. Make a simple syrup with sugar (1:1 sugar to water ratio). Cool it down and chill it in the fridge. Add the syrup to the lemonade and taste it. Adjust accordingly. Chill it in the fridge. Right before you want to serve, add cold water to your preference (I like my lemonade a little thick) and ice to the strawberry puree. You can strain the lemonade if you want. I poured it from a jug which has a strainer (sort of) in the cap. Garnish with few lemon wedges and fresh mint or basil leaves.
You can find an alternative recipe here where the basil leaves are blended with the strawberries.