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Lemon, Honey and Herbs Cooler is a refreshing drink with a floral fragrance. Rosemary and mint are the herbs of choice for this recipe. Photo by Sue Doeden

If life gives you lemons ... just add honey and herbs to make a refreshing summer drink

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"Did I just get a piece of basil in my mouth?"

My husband had taken a big gulp from the glass of iced Lemon, Honey and Herbs Cooler I had poured for him. I'm pretty sure this man with the discerning palate, who can correctly determine the source of flavors in any dish he eats, was just teasing me. I detected a slight grin on his face as I told him it was a rosemary leaf.

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Later, when I put the empty glass into the dishwasher, that little leaf was stuck to its side. I smiled as I thought how much my husband acted like a little boy finding a new food on his plate, not quite sure he wanted to eat that deep-green leaf of fresh rosemary. I guess sprigs of fresh herbs floating in a glass of cool liquid can take some getting used to.

The refreshing beverage sealed tightly in the old one-gallon pickle jar I bought at a garage sale many years ago had been in the refrigerator for several hours. It was a mixture that came about quite by accident.

When I was preparing to do a recent cooking demonstration focusing on fresh herbs at the farmers market, I thought it would be nice to have a cool beverage for people to sip as they watched. In my 2 1/2-gallon glass drink dispenser, I mixed lots of thick, amber-colored local honey, fresh herbs and thin slices of organic lemons with water and ice. It tasted so good I almost decided to leave it behind as I packed up my car to head over to the farmers market.

Lemon, Honey and Herbs Cooler appealed to the palates of many on that sunny morning at the market. I was getting requests for the recipe. One woman said she wanted to make it to have available for everyone she worked with at her office. Another thought it would be a nice drink to have in the refrigerator for her children to enjoy all summer. Unfortunately, I hadn't measured as I mixed up the tea-like concoction.

With a few sprigs of rosemary from the farmers market, fresh mint from my flower garden and honey from a friend's hive, I measured and mixed up another batch in an amount more manageable for the home refrigerator.

Juicy, tart lemon slices lose their sharp edge when matched with the pine and floral fragrance of fresh rosemary and exquisite, sweet honey. The pungent flavor of fresh rosemary is quite distinctive and can easily overpower the more delicate essence of honey and lemon. One six-inch sprig is all you'll need for a gallon of Cooler. Add the warm, sweet touch of mint to this blend and you wind up with a drink that will soothe, cool and relax with every swallow.

I suggest using organic lemons in this Cooler. Free of chemical sprays, they are available in most grocery stores these days. Honey, a sustainable, natural sweetener made from the nectar of flowers, is good for you. If the only honey you've ever tasted has come from a squeezable bear or a plastic packet in a diner, you are in for a magnificent taste treat when you try honey made by bees in your area and harvested by local beekeepers. You'll discover not all honey tastes alike. If you don't have a beekeeping friend, look for local honey at your favorite grocery store or farmers market.

Lemon, Honey and Herbs Cooler will adapt to many of your favorite herbs as we continue through the summer. Try fresh sprigs of thyme, lemon verbena, lavender, lemon grass, spearmint and yes, even basil.

Lemon, Honey and Herbs Cooler

3 quarts water (12 cups)

3/4 cup local honey

2 lemons, preferably organic

1 (6-inch) sprig fresh rosemary

12 sprigs of mint, snipped from the top of stems

Ice cubes

Extra lemon slices and mint sprigs, for garnish

In a saucepan, heat 4 cups of the water with honey. No need to boil. The mixture just needs to be warm enough for the honey to melt as the mixture is stirred. Remove from heat and set aside.

Wash and dry lemons. Cut both ends from lemons and discard. Slice lemons into thin rounds. Place in the bottom of a 1-gallon pitcher or jar. Muddle the lemons slightly with a wooden spoon. Pour in honey-water mixture and the remaining 8 cups of water.

Place rosemary and mint on work surface and bruise the leaves by pounding a few times with the bottom of a glass custard cup or a rolling pin. This will release the flavorful oils from the leaves. Add bruised herbs to mixture in pitcher. Stir well. Refrigerate, covered, several hours or overnight. When ready to serve, fill glasses with ice cubes. Pour Lemon, Honey and Herbs Cooler over the ice. Garnish each glass with fresh lemon slice and a sprig of mint. Makes 12 cups.

Tips from the cook

--Muddle, or gently smash up, the lemons to release some of the tart juice from each slice.

--When your fresh herbs begin to bloom, freeze the flowers in ice cubes to add to summer beverages. Thyme or lemon thyme is a delicate little flower that will look beautiful in this Cooler.

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