Summer drinks: Recipes for strawberry-mint limeade, cucumber collins and more

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DETROIT — A battle broke out at this year's Hudson Family Reunion in Atlanta.

Earlier this month, Nora Hudson of Detroit and her Kool-Aid-inspired punch challenged her sister Mary Hudson's herb-infused refresher.

"Her Kool-Aid punch is for kids. Mine is for the grown and sexy," boasted Mary, 57, a Benton Harbor, Mich., native who now lives in Atlanta.

Big dispensers of each punch stood side-by-side at the family picnic. Nora Hudson, 58, an attorney, swears her punch knocked out the competition because her container emptied fastest.

Although the Hudson sisters' competition was all in good fun, summer drinks are serious business as hot partygoers frequently find themselves seeking a beverage to quench their thirst and cool their bodies.

A good summer sip can make or break a party, say folks who shared their favorite drink recipes.

Like good food, drink mixes range from generations-old concoctions that have stood the test of time to new and innovative drinks that are making big splashes at reunions, open houses and backyard barbecues.

"Making good drinks is just something you do when you entertain and you want to make it special," says Doreen Williams, 54, of Detroit.

Williams began experimenting with various drinks about 15 years ago and has since settled on a few that people like best: most notably, her Sassy Sangria Punch, which looks as delicious and refreshing as it tastes.

"It's not an exact recipe," she says. "I start with a basic recipe and add a little of this and that. But whenever I do it, everybody seems to love it."

Mary Hudson's recipe grew from her desire to create a drink that not only tasted good, but is good for you; she relies heavily on fresh herbs like basil and rosemary.

Her sister, Nora, however wanted to create a punch that reminded her of growing up in Benton Harbor where everybody's house had Kool-Aid in the summertime.

"But I didn't want it to taste like Kool-Aid," says Hudson, an attorney.

She began playing with various versions in about 1973 and at some point added Gatorade after learning that people playing outdoors in the heat, need its electrolytes for hydration.

Now her not-all Kool-Aid drink is a hit at family and neighborhood gatherings, summertime or not.

Sy Freilich, 65, of White Lake, Mich., created his Retirement Punch two years ago on Labor Day weekend to celebrate "no more labor," as he and his wife, Diana, retired from the water sanitation business they owned.

Though his punch contains alcohol, he says it's just as good without the alcohol.

"Two cups of this punch and you, too, will feel retired," says Freilich, who makes big batches at the now annual no-more-labor parties they host.

Alcohol also is optional in the Presbyterian Punch created by Karen Kline (as well it should be).

"There isn't a funeral or a gathering that doesn't serve the punch," said Kline, 52, referring to First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak, Mich.

The recipe — a combination of lemonade, cranberry juice, orange juice and ginger ale -- passed down from Kline's grandmother to her mother and now to her has probably been in the family for better than 50 years.

"The reason it's such a good recipe is that it's easy," said Kline.

And it's adaptable — for kids' parties as well as adult-only gatherings when just a shot of Limoncello liqueur adds a seductive punch.

John Makris' punch also was inspired by his mother, Sophia Makris, a native of Greece who prided herself in being a great hostess.

"I hung around the kitchen and watched her cook and I vowed that when I grew up, I'd throw great parties like her and develop my own punch," said Makris, an attorney from Troy, Mich.

Necessity led Eric Botten, 37, to his potion's popularity. Botten, an engineer, began bartending to help pay his way through the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Now his Life's A Peach, cocktail has made him and his drink a hit at his Grosse Ile, Mich., home.

"It's a mix of sweet and sour and the vodka adds a little kick," he explains.

Cucumber Collins With Blueberries

Makes: 1 drink. Preparation time: 5 minutes. Total time: 5 minutes

Adapted from Food and Drink magazine, summer 2009. Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

1/2 cup seeded and chopped cucumber

Ice

11/2 ounces gin

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons simple syrup (see cook's note)

1/4 to 1/3 cup club soda

Cucumber slices, blueberries and mint leaves for garnish

To a cocktail shaker, add the cucumber and muddle to extract all of the juices. Fill the shaker with ice and add the gin, lime juice and simple syrup.

Shake and strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with desired amount of club soda. Garnish with a cucumber slice and fresh blueberries.Cook's note: To make simple syrup, cook equal parts sugar and water over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Cool and refrigerate.

Lemon-Limeade With Muddled Strawberries And Fresh Mint

Makes: About 12 cups. Preparation time: 20 minutes. Total time: 20 minutes

From and tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups water

3 cups frozen unsweetened strawberries

Juice of about 6 to 8 lemons

Juice of 4 to 6 limes

1 bottle (1 liter) club soda

Handful of mint leaves

In a small saucepan, mix sugar with water and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and simmer about 10 minutes or just until sugar dissolves. Do not allow it to color. Remove from heat and cool completely. The mixture will become syrupy as it cooks. In another saucepan, place the frozen strawberries and 1 cup water. Cook until berries are soft. Use masher to mash the berries. Strain liquid into a bowl.

Juice the lemons and limes; you should have at least 11/2 cups of juice. Pour the juice into a pitcher or beverage server. Add the cooled simple syrup and the strawberry liquid. Add the club soda. Add ice cubes, lemon slices and mint leaves.