When temperatures reached sweltering degrees on the sprawling sun drenched plateau of Johannesburg, as kids we would for the most part seek relief around swimming pools. This is where I grew up in the summer – around a shimmering, rectangle of turquoise. Now and again on weekends, we would trek to the Vaal River. Its water is murky with silt, hence its name in Afrikaans meaning dull or grey. These were always exciting outings, with extended family, on the river banks underneath endless rows of enormous willow trees that drooped down into the water.
Now I live in a land of lakes – the names of which conjure up images of quintessential Canadiana – Mushamush, Pockwock, Banook, Chocolate, and Shubenacadie. In the summer, when the sun is shining this where Nova Scotian’s find respite from the hot, humid days and while away the hours swimming in icy, coca cola colored waters of most of the lakes. The lake below our forest has become our essence of a Canadian life. When describing our life in Nova Scotia to friends and family in South Africa, it is our life lived around our lake that forms the narrative.
By now we can almost tell the months of the year, by the changing colors of the water. In May, when the snow has melted and the first clear, bright day appears, the water is an emerald green, its temperature still frigid. In June, when the ground starts to warm, we make our way down through the forest to test the “swimability” of the water, its arctic blue still too cold to swim in. The honeyed light of late summer in August turns the water almost violet. This is our favorite time – the pink and yellow star-faced lilies are in full bloom, the upright purple pickerel weed and cats tails line the edge of the water, the ducks lie sunbathing on the dock and the water is finally warm enough to swim in.
These long lazy summer days call for long lazy summer cocktails, sipped slowly on the edge of the lake. A combination of wild mint growing profusely in my garden, Colombian friends and excellent small batch rum in Nova Scotia, has to add up to Mojitos. Rum is an integral part of Nova Scotia’s history - it is as much a part of the culture as seafarers, pirates and fisherman. The lore of its lucrative rum-running past hits on the romantic and historical appeal of the spirit. Our favorite micro distillery, Ironworks, in the world heritage fishing village Lunenburg, are creating excellent quality, handcrafted products using all natural ingredients. The mint infused simple syrup (recipe below) adds an extra layer of zingy, mintyness.
Wild Mint Mojitos
Yield: per drink
A few leaves of fresh mint
1 ounce lime juice (about ½ a lime)
1 ½ ounces mint infused simple syrup (recipe below)
2 ounces light rum
Wedge of lime to garnish
1. In a highball glass place the mint, lime juice and simple syrup into a highball glass and muddle.
2. Fill the glass with ice and add the rum. Stir together and top with sparkling water and garnish with a wedge of lime.
Mint Simple Syrup
I have mint growing in my garden that overruns everything if not kept in check, so this is a perfect solution to using large quantities of fresh deliciousness. I make a mint infused simple syrup that I keep on hand for cocktails, milkshakes and for the sparkling mint drink we discovered at LeHave Bakery. Yield: 1 ½ cups 1 cup fresh mint leaves and stems chopped 1 cup water 1 cup white granulated sugar 1. In a small saucepan over a medium heat combine the sugar and the water.
2. When the sugar has completely dissolved, remove the pot from the heat. 3. Pour the syrup over the mint leaves and stir. 4. Cover the saucepan with a lid and let it steep on the counter until the syrup has cooled for about and hour. It’s important to cover it because the essential oils in mint can escape with the steam.
5. When the mint is cooled, strain the syrup into a sterilized jar, and discard the mint. Store it in the fridge; it will last for about 3 weeks.