Karen Barnaby: ‘Fresh water’ drinks to brighten up your summer

Make one of these drinks and give a heartfelt toast to everyone who made it possible — and remember to include yourself in the toast

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Summer drinks Pineapple Limeade, Melon Seed and Honey Milk, and Hibiscus Orange Cooler: Learning, and loving, the ways of agua fresca.
Summer drinks Pineapple Limeade, Melon Seed and Honey Milk, and Hibiscus Orange Cooler: Learning, and loving, the ways of agua fresca. Photo by Karen Barnaby

This summer offering is inspired by three things: Refreshment, agua frescas, and using everything up.

In 1990, I had the privilege of working in Cuernevaca, Mexico, as a private chef. Of course, I fell in love with the local food market, the scene of many “firsts” for me: Goat tacos, corn ice cream, nopales, cherimoya, sapote, fresh tortillas, huitlacoche and tomatillo salsa quickly rose to the top of my playlist.

One of the more fascinating stands displayed large, hive-shaped glass containers filled with vibrantly coloured and milky liquids. I was enthralled by the variety of the offerings, as not only did the drinks look beautiful, but the taste lived up to the way they looked. These were agua fresca, or “fresh water,” made from fruit, seeds, vegetables and grains. I became a regular, drinking my way through them, and learning the ways of agua fresca from the proprietor.


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Moving into using everything up, waste is a part of every step of the food journey. It starts with the grower, to the wholesaler, then the retailer and lastly the consumer.

An incredible amount of resources go into bringing one food item to our table and when it gets tossed, all of the work that went into it gets tossed away with it. Along with the food item, the energy of all the people who made the food possible is tossed out as if it was nothing important.

Since 2017, I’ve worked with a non-profit social enterprise called Goodly Foods that uses what we term “misfit” and surplus produce from farms and wholesalers to make simple and satisfying soups and stews. Being a part of this enterprise soothes my soul. Finding opportunities to make the most out of food is now an enjoyable, creative challenge for me.


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Refreshment awaits. Make one of these drinks and give a heartfelt toast to everyone who made it possible and remember to include yourself in the toast. You did good.

Melon Seed and Honey Milk.
Melon Seed and Honey Milk. Photo by Karen Barnaby

Melon Seed and Honey Milk

When you eat a melon, freeze the seeds to make this drink. Cantaloupe, honeydew, muskmelon or any melon seed will work. The texture is creamy with a background melon and cucumber flavour from the seeds. Freezes cubes of melon to use in place of ice cubes when serving this.

The spent seeds can be used as a skin exfoliant.

1 cup (250 mL) melon seeds and their surrounding flesh, from about 3 melons

3 cups (750 mL) cold water

pinch of salt

1 tbsp (15 mL) honey

1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) pure vanilla extract

Combine the melon seeds and half of the water in a blender. Blend on high until the seeds are finely ground. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve, reserving the liquid and return the solids to the blender. Add the remaining water and blend again. Strain and compost the solids. If there are any fine particulates in the milk, strain once more to remove them. Stir in the salt, honey and vanilla. The milk will separate upon standing, shake before serving and serve chilled.


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Makes approximately 4 cups (1 L)

Pineapple Limeade.
Pineapple Limeade. Photo by Karen Barnaby

Pineapple Limeade

The scent when cooking this is very similar to the mouth-watering aroma of a pineapple upside-down cake baking. Using perfectly ripe pineapples will give you the best tasting drink. As an added bonus, you can grow pineapple tops into plants in the spirit of enjoying everything the pineapple has to offer.

You have the option of using white or brown sugar — I use brown for the subtle caramel flavour, while using white will give you a lighter-coloured golden drink. This makes a moderately sweet and tart beverage — add more sugar and lime juice if you wish. Freeze cubes of pineapple to use in place of ice cubes when serving.

rinds, cores and trimmings (except for the crown) of 2 well-washed pineapples


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16 cups (4 L) water

1 cup (250 mL) brown or white sugar

1/2 stick cinnamon

4 1/2-inch (1.25 cm) thick slices fresh ginger

pinch of salt

finely grated zest of 1 lime

1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice

Cut the trimmings roughly into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces. Combine with the water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil, turn down to a lively simmer and cook until the liquid has evaporated by three-quarters, 45-60 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Strain, pressing on the solids to release the liquid. Compost the solids. Stir in the lime zest and juice. Serve chilled.

Makes 8 cups (2 L)

Hibiscus Orange Cooler.
Hibiscus Orange Cooler. Photo by Karen Barnaby

Hibiscus Orange Cooler

Hibiscus calyxes go by the lovely name of flor de Jamaica in Spanish.They are usually called hibiscus flowers in retail markets. You can find them in the international aisle of large grocery stores and Latin American grocers.


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This recipe makes a tart, ruby red concentrate to dilute with water or sparkling water. Start with 3/4 concentrate and 1/4 water or sparkling water. Use the juice from the orange to top it off.

1 cup (250 mL) loosely packed dried hibiscus calyxes/flowers, about 2 oz (60 g)

4 strips orange peel with no white pith

4 cups (1 l) water

1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar

Quickly rinse the hibiscus in a bowl of cold water and drain. Place in a pot with the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering for 30 minutes, remove from the heat and cool. Strain, pressing down on the solids to remove all the liquid. Compost the solids. Chill before serving.



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