Aunt Daisy's Perfect Lemonade

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Chef Gillian Clark says her aunt Daisy wasn't the greatest cook in the world. She overcooked chicken and burned toast; but she made the perfect lemonade.


For our food commentator, Gillian Clark, these sweltering summer days are cooled a little by memories of her Aunt Daisy.

Ms. GILLIAN CLARK (Chef-Owner, Colorado Kitchen): My kids don't always clean their room or pick their coats off the floor. I tell them about my Jamaican Aunt Daisy. I wish I could bring her back from the dead to intimidate them as she did me and my brothers and sisters. My father said it was because she was Jamaican.

Long ago, when my great grandfather and his sister were leaving their parents' home in Barbados to make their mark in the world, my great grandfather relocated to Panama to help build the Canal. His sister Daisy left for Jamaica.

We were living in an upscale community in New York when Aunt Daisy came to live with us. She was old, but she was strong and could stand on her feet for hours. She had made her living as a domestic. With her charming Jamaican accent and obsessive need for clean, she was the most sought-after maid in town.

I was just starting elementary school. I'd witnessed unspeakable acts of playground cruelty. When my mother told us that Aunt Daisy would be working as a domestic in town, my ears got hot. What if Aunt Daisy went to work for someone in my class? It would be fodder for recess ridicule that Clover Drive Elementary had never seen.

They'd leave Jimmy the Bed Wetter alone and pounce on the girl whose aunt cleaned toilets. But by the time I got to school, I realized I wouldn't have to hold my head high and repeat the sticks and stones mantra. Aunt Daisy would never work for a family like that. She was incredibly proud. She'd starve before she took a job in a house where she wasn't greeted with a good morning.

While she lived with us, Aunt Daisy would march us down to help with the laundry. She insisted that we keep quiet when an adult entered the room and exchanged pleasantries with her. She made us make our beds and be thankful for the small things in our lives.

When I was older, I noticed my father did everything in his power to keep Aunt Daisy out of the kitchen. She couldn't cook. Worse yet, she couldn't cook and didn't know it. Nobody overcooked a chicken like Aunt Daisy. She could reduce the poor bird to a crispy sack full of sawdust and bones.

In the morning, we'd find Aunt Daisy burning toast. She'd spread butter on the square of charcoal and insist that it kept her regular. One morning we sat sad-faced around the dining room table, our bowls empty and the boxes of cereal unopened. There's no milk, we told Aunt Daisy. She pulled the O.J. out of the fridge and poured it over her cornflakes. What's wrong with the orange juice?

Did Aunt Daisy cook for her families? She worked in houses where if the cleaning took too much of her day and there was no time to cook, the family made reservations. But there was one thing that Aunt Daisy always had time for. Lemonade.

The first time I had her lemonade I was visiting her at work. The family was playing tennis in the backyard, and Aunt Daisy was bringing them a pitcher. I had helped her with the dishes, so she poured me a glass. It was the perfect balance of sweet and tart. It seems that in Jamaica, Aunt Daisy always had plenty of lemons and sugar. That hot July afternoon, I forgot all about the overcooked chicken and burnt toast. Aunt Daisy was the greatest cook in the world.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: Gillian Clark is the chef-owner of the Colorado Kitchen, a restaurant in Washington, DC. Just ahead, tales of the Hammond B3 organ.

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