Summer officially arrives in the U.S. tonight at 11:59 p.m.

This is the year we make friends.

Life’s too short to dread the humidity, chlorine, and mosquitoes big enough to rape a chicken. And the sweating. The sweating! No, I’m not going to focus on that.

Last January, Gourmet printed “What Is Southern?,” a previously unpublished essay by the late Edna Lewis, one of the South’s most celebrated chefs. Here’s the part that caught my attention:

“Southern is a hot summer day that brings on a violent thunderstorm, cooling the air and bringing up smells of the earth that tempt us to eat the soil. Southern is Tennessee Williams and Streetcar … Southern is a pitcher of lemonade, filled with slices of lemon and a big piece of ice from the icehouse, and served with buttermilk cookies.”

Now, there’s a vision of summertime in the South I can get behind.

I promised myself I’d bake buttermilk cookies for the first day of summer, and I did. Sweet and lemony, with a slightly tangy glaze. Cakey on the inside, crispy around the edges. They sneak up on you.

In fact, the experience was so nice, I’ve decided to kick off The Buttermilk Cookie Experiment: a summer of learning how to make classic Southern foods. Fried chicken. Biscuits. Fried green tomatoes. Peach cobbler. Lane cake.

So, welcome, Summer. Bring your appetite. Skip the swimsuit.

Buttermilk Cookies

From “Gourmet”(January 2008)

Makes about 5 1/2 dozen cookies

    For Cookies:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk
    For Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two large baking sheets.
  2. Whisk together flour, zest, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla.
  5. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in batches at low speed, beginning and ending with flour mixture, until smooth.
  6. Drop level tablespoons of dough about 1 1/2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are puffed and edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes per batch. Cool cookies on sheets 1 minute, then transfer cookies to racks.
  7. To Glaze the Cookies: Whisk together all glaze ingredients and brush onto tops of warm cookies. Let stand until cookies are completely cooled and glaze is set.