As an aside, I pretty much avoid sugar at all costs and instead opt for honey or maple syrup when I need sweetener. But on the rare special occasion, I'll indulge. In those instances, though, I still opt for raw, organic sugar. In this recipe, my sister replaced sugar with organic evaporated cane juice. Evaporated cane juice is a healthier alternative to refined sugar. Both sweeteners are made from sugar cane, but evaporated cane juice doesn't involve the same degree of processing that refined sugar does. So unlike refined sugar, it retains more of the nutrients found in sugar cane. Still, though, I'd reserve consumption of cane juice for special occasions (like a sister's birthday). In fact, next time I make this recipe, I'll probably try honey and see how it works. I think it would work fine since you melt everything into a liquid anyway, but the jury's still out. If you try it with honey, let me know what you think.
2 cups organic evaporated cane juice
12 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 24 lemons
2 cups vodka
Fresh raspberries for garnish
In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups of water with cane juice and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a large glass measuring cup. Discard thyme. You should have 2 cups syrup. Cover with plastic and let chill in the refrigerator.
In a large serving pitcher, stir together lemon juice, vodka, and chilled syrup. Divide evenly among eight glasses filled with ice. Garnish with thyme sprigs and fresh raspberries. Serve immediately.
(recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living, July 2003)