I must have been about twelve, because it was my brother's First Communion. Old enough to know better, I guess.
It was May, and the adults had all gone inside to escape the unseasonably warm and humid afternoon. Four or five of us had stayed outside, and were fooling around on the swing set. Across the yard, on the concrete slab my father had constructed around the kamado (which my father owned because a simple barbecue grill would have been too commonplace, and my father hardly ever did anything that was common), I saw it: the sangría pitcher, emptied of everything but the fruit. I don't know whose idea it was first, but someone dared someone, and it became funny for my brother to feed me drunken fruit bits while I hung there upside down on the monkey bars.
I was probably lucky I didn't choke, but that particular thought never crossed my mind on that mosquito-filled day. I was thinking, instead, about how sweet the fruit was, how refreshing, how cold, still, even though the liquid was long gone.
At some point, an adult remembered us and came outside to find out what we were doing; upon finding me, mouth full, breath ever-so-slightly alcoholic, she started laughing, and informed my father he might want to bring his pitcher inside.
My father prided himself on his sangría, and along with kamado-grilled sausage sliced on the diagonal and served with tiny colored plastic forks, it was the staple of every summer gathering at our house. In Spain, children were permitted to drink some version of this (wine watered down with sparkling water), so we were allowed small sips, too. As I grew up, I'd open the freezer to find large plastic sherbet containers full of fresh-squeezed Valencia oranges (with chunks of orange added), awaiting the next event. Once, after my father died, I found some orange-ice blocks in the freezer, and I spent months wondering what would become of them, now that the sangría-maker of our house was gone.
Years later, when I ran my first trip for students and faculty to New York--a trip that nearly ended in disaster because of a bus fire and two hour wait for a new bus between two exits from the Holland Tunnel--I bryought the group to the restaurant of a family friend in the Ironbound, where she poured sangría for everyone (an act to which administrators turned a blind eye that night), and to this day, former students and faculty still remember that trip, still talk--laughing--about the sangría, which was my father's recipe. I've sometimes wondered about origin of the word "sangría," which means "bloodletting"; red tint of the traditional version aside, it always seemed to me to be a violent word for something so congenial.
I don't know why it took me so long to make it myself, but the other day, going to a friend's house for a girls' night in, I decided to bring some. I made orange juice ice cubes, as my father would have done, and when they were sufficiently frozen, pulled out the pitcher that he used to mix his drinks in: the one he'd brought back from Spain. I found myself wishing I could call him, to make sure the proportions were right, to ask about varieties of apples, the size of orange slices--really, to hear him swell with pride as I mixed his recipe with a split wooden spoon, as he used to do.
After I let the orange juice ice cubes melt a bit, watching the air condense on the bottom of the pitcher, I poured myself a glass; it was exactly right, tasted like the summer of my youth. We lingered over dinner and glasses, enjoying each others' company and conversation. And the next morning, I sat contentedly at my kitchen counter, popping small bits of leftover soaked fruit into my mouth for breakfast, feeling a strange urge to hang upside down.
My father would share his recipe this way: "one third, one third, one third." Which, of course, meant nothing unless he also happened to tell you that the "thirds" were orange juice, wine, and 7up (not Sprite, and for God's sake, not diet).
Squeeze as many Valencia oranges as you can stand. Measure the juice so you know how much you have, and pour it (along with a bit of coarsely chopped orange) into an ice cube tray, preferably one that makes large cubes. Freeze well.
When the orange cubes are set, place them into a large pitcher. Add as much red wine and 7up as you had orange juice. If you don't think you'll have enough to drink, go ahead and add some orange juice (don't bother to freeze it first), with more wine and 7up.
Toss in a few Braeburn apples and at least one more orange, both coarsely chopped. Let the whole thing sit for about half an hour before serving. Taste it before you pour it for everyone else. No one will be the wiser.