Monday, June 23, 2014

Ginger Lemon Squash (Syrup)

When we left for my cousin Mithu’s wedding, hostas were just starting to wrangle their way out of the ground in Chicago. I was relieved to see their twirly tips after slogging through a record-breaking winter.  Two thousand  miles away, we found bay leaves bordering my uncle’s front door and ruddy roses sunbathing in the garden. A large lemon tree stood in the backyard. My aunt suggested that we harvest some of the fruit. So I slipped my hand into the packed brush and pulled out several lemons. They were so voluptuous that I held them with a half open grip. 

A bay of California bay leaves

My aunt mentioned making ginger lemon squash, which seemed like an odd combination to me. I envisioned a toothsome curry with a spicy-citrus kick, and wanted to suggest whipping up a batch of piquant lemon pickle or a dense, rich pound cake.

The bride's feet decorated with henna

As we moved from house to house to visit family, I saw more lemon trees and heard more talk of ginger lemon squash. But before I could ask for a recipe, the conversation invariably switched to another topic. The recounting of a bad date by one cousin morphed into the story of a recent trip to Kerala by an uncle or an auntie’s detailed description of an earlier family wedding.  

Mithu holding lemons from my aunt's tree

Before leaving California, I packed my suitcase with a bag of bay leaves (pictured up above) and a pound or so of  organic lemons. I was determined to solve the ginger lemon squash mystery when I got home and to make a batch of it, one way or another. 

A basket full of lemons

A week later, I learned, with the help of my Aunt Regina, that I had been foiled by the British and their crazy use of English once again! (Much more on that later).  It turns out that squash is simply the British word for a concentrated syrup flavored with fruit – in this case lemon (and ginger because Indians are so ga-ga for the spice).

Straining ginger from simple syrup
Adding lemon juice to the simple syrup
Ginger lemon drink


Like many other cordials, this recipe is very easy to make. The ginger loses its zing once boiled and, offers a surprisingly subtle citrus flavor. The final drink, which calls for combining the syrup with water, is much less cloyingly sweet than the lemonade I grew up on. (My mom prefers a much higher sugar to water ratio!) Add more lemon juice if you want a stronger lemon flavor. 

Two tips before you get started:
- To get the most juice out of lemons, roll the fruit against the counter before you cut and squeeze them.
- If you end up with more lemon juice than you need, freeze it in an ice cube tray (like pesto). When another recipe calls for lemon juice, simply melt a cube or two. 

Makes 1 1/2 cups


1/4 cup chopped ginger
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice


Place the ginger, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. 

Cool completely. 

Stir in lemon juice. Strain out ginger.  

To make a cup of lemon juice, mix together 8 ounces of water and 1 1/2 tablespoons of cordial. Add ice. 
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