Start to Finish: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
Difficulty: Intermediate

No matter what the label claims, old-fashioned lemonade doesn’t come from a bottle or a drink dispenser. Making the real thirst-quenching version requires squeezing the juice from fruit, adding a combination of sugar and water, then pouring it over ice for the consummate summer drink.

Homemade lemonade takes a bit of physical effort, but fresh versions are worth it. Plus, you can adjust the ratios of tart to sweet to your liking. Simply stirring lemon juice, sugar and water together results in an unpleasant drink with a lips-puckeringly sour base and a sugary sweet bottom layer. The key to homemade lemonade is making a sugar syrup, rather than purchasing one, so that the natural sweetness infuses throughout.

  • 1 cup granulated, white sugar 
  • 1 cup water 
  • 6 to 8 whole lemons
  • 4 to 6 cups water 

In a medium pot, stir together the white sugar and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly to make sure the sugar doesn’t burn the bottom. Reduce the heat to low and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes or until the sugar grains have dissolved. The liquid may be lightly yellow, but don’t cook until it’s golden or brown or you will have created a thick caramel. Remove from the heat and cool. Store in a glass jar.

Squeeze the juice from the lemons using your hands or a juicer. Strain out any seeds and, optionally, pulp. Place the juice in a large pitcher or jar and add just 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar syrup and 4 cups of water. Stir, or cover and shake thoroughly. Taste and adjust sweetness and water content to your taste. Serve over ice with a slice of lemon for a garnish.

A small lemon contains 1/4 to 1/2 cup of juice, depending on its size. You’ll need fewer large lemons to make a batch of lemonade. Lemons with a smooth rind and heavy feel tend to be the juiciest. Avoid lemons that are green; they usually have less juice for squeezing.

Instead of granulated sugar, use honey, agave nectar or even Sucanat — a type of unrefined sugar. Note that you’ll still want to follow the process of making a simple syrup with these sweeteners because it provides the easiest distribution of sweet flavors in the lemonade. The cooking time for syrupy sweeteners will be less than those made with sugar. For an easy flavor addition, boil fresh mint leaves, peeled ginger or fresh thyme in with the simple syrup.