Russian Spiced Tea

“Mom, you made spiced tea? Yum!” I would cheer when I walked in the door of our house on a fall afternoon. The smell of the Russian Spiced Tea was instantly recognizable, its sweet perfume infusing the house with a potpourri of autumnal smells. It was one of the official heralds that Fall had finally arrived.

Growing up in the central part of Florida, the first days of fall were long-awaited and I greeted them with enthusiasm. It was usually some time in early November before I actually felt like I needed a long-sleeve shirt and I looked forward to the first exhilarating walk to the bus stop in the morning when there was a nip in the air, the acorns were crunching underneath my feet and I was finally free of the heavy humidity of the summer.

I was no different from the rest of my fellow Floridians who tended to get over-excited at the prospect of finally getting to dig out the sweaters and boots that had spent so much time stored away. Also, I found it somewhat difficult to get into the spirit of the holiday season when it was 85 degrees and I was wearing shorts and flip-flops. So, forgetting for the time-being that in a few months the novelty of bundling up in heavy layers every time I left the house would have worn off, I delighted in my refreshed wardrobe, the occasion to pull on my corduroys and hear the familiar ffft, ffft when I walked and to finally get to dress the part for the holiday season.

In our house, the cooler weather meant that the row of sliding glass doors that ran the length of the back part of the house would be opened to allow a cool, salty breeze to whip in from the bay beyond our back yard. Even our miniature toy poodles sensed the change in season and would race up and down the hallways as fast as their 5-inch long legs could carry them in spasms of excitement, a behavior that someone in my family had aptly named “the zips”.

These were also the evenings when we would have dinner outside on the back patio, now made available for dining in comfort since we were finally free from the summer heat and the ever-present plague of mosquitos. I remember these nights with special fondness because on nights that we ate outside we took the time to sit and talk as a family after dinner. We were free from the television and other pressing issues like homework and laundry that had to be dealt with inside the house. Dinner outside was a rare and relaxed treat.

And when autumn arrived, my mom would make a big vat of Russian Spiced tea. This was my favorite Fall tradition. Aside from the obvious ingredient–tea–the recipe included orange juice, cinnamon sticks and cloves, as well as a generous serving of sugar. It had a heady aroma that right away made me want to pull on a sweater and curl up with a book. It even tasted like fall with its cinnamon and the cloves that had a sweet and slightly stinging, but not-unpleasant, aftertaste. So enjoyable and remarkable was the spiced tea to me, that today even a faint whiff of a clove cigarette can trigger my olfactory buds into a memory of these pleasant days.

A few years ago, when I was selling my first home, I made sure to always have a pot of the tea simmering on the stove when the house was being shown. I had read somewhere that baking bread or cookies could help set the mood and make your home stand out to prospective buyers and I couldn’t think of a more inviting scent than Russian Spiced Tea. I can’t say if it was even partially due to the tea, but the house did sell quickly.

I’ve carried on the tradition of making spiced tea in my own home. This year I gave my four-year old daughter a sip for the first time. She made a face and quickly spat it out. “Hot!” she said. Her young taste buds might still be too undeveloped to enjoy the warm and spicy drink, but I hope in the years to come she’ll like it as much as I do and that maybe the first pot made in Fall will hint to her about the promises and excitement of the holiday season. I hope someday the scent of my mom’s spiced tea will remind her of spending time with family and feeling warm and cozy and that, as it always did for me when I was a little girl, it will give her a sense that she is right where she belongs and that everything is as it should be.
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RUSSIAN TEA RECIPE

Make tea with 1 qt. water and 3 tea bags.
Boil 3 qts. Water, 2 cups sugar, 3 sticks cinnamon, 2 tsp. whole cloves for 45 minutes
Add 1 can (6 oz) concentrated orange juice and ½ c. lemon juice
Mix all together.

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