Tag Archive for 'alcohol'

Mint Juleps? Yarm!

Mint Juleps?  Yarm!

I was reading about bootleg bourbon and came across a note about the fermentation stage. Grind up a bunch of corn, mix with water, warm up, and then leave it in the woods to get stanky. Kind of like coming back from a week’s vacation to discover you forgot to wash out the polenta pot, except with bourbon, you do it on purpose. So that’s kind of gross, but it gets better.

Back in the day I baked lemon bars and forgot to cover them up before going to bed. I came back and there were tiny mouse footprints all over the lemon curd. Similarly, the bootleggers hop in their Charger and peace out back to their farm leaving a giant cauldron of corn goo in the woods. And approximately the same thing happens to the goo that happened to my lemon bars. Which, again, is kind of nasty. And, again, it gets better.

Possums being the horrible reprobates they are will find the corn mash, climb in, and start chomping. Unfortunately for the possums and also for the corn mash, they don’t hold their liquor too well. They have a tendency to get super drunk, pass out, and drown in the mash. But hey, a little possum never hurt anyone, right? So we’ll go ahead and distill the mash.

I shouldn’t like mint juleps, I really shouldn’t. Or any other cocktail made of bourbon. I know about the possums in the bootleg stills. I shouldn’t be able to calmly sip a julep from a sweating glass, but you know what? I can do it. No possum’s going to be the boss of me. And anyway, look at these gorgeous cups.

The julep has been around a long time. It shows up in Beeton’s. And I found a bunch of old recipes for various versions. Though I notice that neither of these use any possum bourbon:

Put into a tumbler glass some powdered sugar, a bunch of spear-mint, a wine-glass of sherry wine, the same quantity of brandy, and fill the tumber[sp] with broken ice.

Mint Julep
.–To equal quantities of rum, cognac, and sugar, add fresh mint, herb, and fill the glass half full with gin and water.

So what’s my point? Don’t have one. It’s summer. I’m going home and have a julep.

Capturing Early Summer

Capturing Early Summer

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I’m cooking.” –Julia Child

Here it is June, somehow, and I find myself thinking about strawberries. I wondered if Beeton thought of strawberries in June as well. The BOHM has very few strawberry recipes: a simple one for strawberries and cream, which I will be trying tonight, a jam and a jelly recipe, and lots of advice for arranging fresh fruit on trays and platters in pleasing pyramid and tower shapes. The unspoken message here, I suppose, is that strawberries are excellent fresh and enjoyed with no adulteration.

Beeton tells us that the name “strawberry” is derived from

an ancient custom of putting straw beneath the fruit when it began to ripen, which is very useful to keep it moist and clean. The strawberry belongs to temperate and rather cold climates; and no fruit of these latitudes, that ripens without the aid of artificial heat, is at all comparable with it in point of flavour. The strawberry is widely diffused, being found in most parts of the world, particularly in Europe and America.

This is a popular story that I had heard well before reading it in Beeton’s, but by some accounts, untrue. It looks like another case in the English language where the meaning is assumed to be very literal (strawberries=berries bedded in straw) much like “forcemeats,” which meant “spiced meat” rather than the very literal “filling that is stuffed (forced) into other meats.” I know I am going all Captain Obvious on this topic, but I do like how English is never as simple or literal as it may seem on the surface.

So, strawberry pyramids seem like a fun way to impress guests, but what if it is 1865 and you want to save strawberries to enjoy later? I decided to Preserve Strawberries in Wine [1595]. The wine it calls for is madeira or port, which is something I enjoy, but do not have a lot of taste or experience in. I am much more of a sauvignon blanc person–very fruity, green wine suits me.

I went to a local wine shop where I knew they would know MUCH more than I did. I chose some midrange-priced, “rainwater” madeira, with the intention of sweetening it, and thinking I would drink the leftovers. I am having a small glass as I write this–delicious.

Two Pounds of Strawberries

The recipe is very simple: stem and hull the strawberries and cover them with sweetened madeira. This is where we get into trouble with Beeton’s. How long do we keep them for? Strawberries float, is that a problem for rot? John Smythe, our pickling master here at TQS, has advised me to “weight” the strawberries using a plastic bag filled with water as is sometimes done with pickles. I think I am going to give them a day or so to see if the berries become wine-logged and sink on their own.

Strawberries in madeira

I used two pounds of strawberries, three ounces of sugar, and a bottle (750 ml) madeira. My plan is to pull some out in August and test them, and slice them over ice cream or poundcake. The rest I will pull out during the holidays–I think they could be very interesting as a compliment to the rich meats served at that time. I am sure I will do something with the leftover madeira as well–it could be easily reduced to be a dessert sauce, I think.

One more thing that I am very excited about that I should have done months ago:

EXACTLY Three Ounces

A food scale! Even if it is not perfectly accurate, it got decent reviews and will cut out a lot of my careful math and guesswork.


1595. INGREDIENTS – To every quart bottle allow 1/4 lb. of finely-pounded loaf sugar; sherry or Madeira.

Mode.—Let the fruit be gathered in fine weather, and used as soon as picked. Have ready some perfectly dry glass bottles, and some nice soft corks or bungs. Pick the stalks from the strawberries, drop them into the bottles, sprinkling amongst them pounded sugar in the above proportion, and when the fruit reaches to the neck of the bottle, fill up with sherry or Madeira. Cork the bottles down with new corks, and dip them into melted resin.

Seasonable.—Make this in June or July.

1595. Preserved Strawberries in Wine [My version]

1 750 ml bottle rainwater madeira
3 ounces sugar
2 lbs. hulled and cleaned strawberries

In a wide-mouthed jar, stir sugar into wine until dissolved and then add strawberries. Screw on lid and hope for the best! I’ll let you know.

Grenadine in the 1800s

Grenadine in the 1800s

Bartenders have always seemed arcane to me.  They’re separated from the crowd by a waist-high wall surrounded by mysterious substances in bottles.  Ask them for a drink by a strange name like “Rusty Nail” or “Bay Breeze“, and they start pouring, stirring, and shaking moving so quickly who knows what went in.  And with a flourish, you receive a sweating glass.  Abracadabra, basically.

I’m going to take a look at one of the mysterious ingredients that was present in Victorian cocktails.  I think of grenadine as sweetened food coloring.  Actually, these days that’s what it is.  Most bars in the States use Rose’s Grenadine, which is food coloring and corn syrup.  But in Victorian times, grenadine was fruit flavored syrup, usually made from pomegranate juice.  The name is from the French word for pomegranate, though it can be made from cherry, currant, or raspberry as well.  Regardless, it is always a red sweet-sour syrup.

Pomegranates trees were grown in glass houses in Victorian England.  But the climate wasn’t right for setting fruit out of doors.  Still, there were close-by sources of pomegranates to make grenadine syrup.  Pomegranate trees were planted widely all over the Mediteranean.  Grenada in southern Spain is even named after the pomegranate.  And something like a modern Italian soda made from grenadine syrup was available in France.  “…In the French cafes, the visitor will find a number of light beverages that will not compromise his health, such as the fruit syrups, Orgeat or Grenadine, with seltzer water…”

In modern times, pomegranates are known as a good source of antioxidants which are thought to have various health benefits.  Victorians didn’t know about antioxidants but they also considered pomegranates health food.  Lord Bacon recommended wine made from pomegranates as a remedy for liver problems.  And recipes for pomegranate syrup show up in druggist and pharmacist literature of the 1800s.  This is just a guess, but the use of grenadine in cocktails may possibly be an outgrowth of an older use as an aperitif or digestif.

Here’s the recipe I used to make pomegranate syrup:

  • 16 oz. pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. vanilla extract
  • 16 oz. syrup
  • sufficient soda foam

I couldn’t figure out what soda foam was, so I skipped it.  I’m hoping it was either a preservative of some kind, and keeping the syrup in the refrigerator will cover for it, or they just meant to serve the syrup with enough soda water to make a nice drink.  Syrup usually means simple syrup, but modern grenadine is insanely sweet.  So I went 3 to 1, water to sugar, instead of the usual 1 to 1.  The result was brown rather than red, started with a strong vanilla burst (I’d go with 1/4 oz. next time), and tasted fruity instead of New Jersey.

grenadine ingredients

grenadine ingredients

How did it work in cocktails?  First I made Italian sodas.  Those are just soda and syrup, so I thought it’d be easier to taste the difference.  The tasters could tell the difference, but generally liked New Jersey better.  They said it tasted a lot sweeter.  I assume that’s because of the corn syrup and because the Roses doesn’t have the sour ingredients like lemon and pomegranate.  The kid picked the bright red one because she liked the color better.

italian soda

italian soda

Next I made Singapore Slings from this recipe:

  • 2 shots gin
  • 1 shot cherry brandy
  • 1 shot lemon juice
  • 1 tsp grenadine

The tasters either couldn’t tell the difference or guessed wrong which was which.  Not surprising really.  Flavor-wise, there’s a lot going on in a Singapore Sling.

singapore sling

singapore sling

I’m a bit disheartened about how this turned out.  I love how classic bars still have weird ingredients that are made in a monastery from a secret combination of herbs.  Some of the inventors might have called themselves alchemists or wizards.  My sample size was two, but apparently people like corn syrup and food dye better than fruit juice and romantic history.

–update 5/5/2010–  I made another batch of grenadine with a lot less vanilla.  The flavor still came through extremely strong.  Apparently if you don’t want it to taste like vanilla, don’t put any in.  Yeah, I perhaps ought to have figured that out.  In other news, I gave most of the first batch to some friends of mine.  According to them, it makes amazing cherry cokes.  Which is strange because it contains no cherries.  The human tongue is a strange and wonderful creature, I guess.

Victorian Boat Drinks

Victorian Boat Drinks

Ah yachting in the Caribbean.  Blue sky, sun-drenched ocean, warm breeze through the sails, and something lovely in a coconut with an umbrella.  This is the life…or it will be this decade next century.  For now we’re in the British Navy of Queen Victoria (god bless her) sailing in a tall ship and our boat drinks are a bit more utilitarian.  Now get up those rat lines and reef the top gallants; there’s a blow coming.  Or you now, something like that.  Moving on.

Navy sailors generally had enough to eat and drink and it wasn’t all ship’s biscuits and salt pork, either.  Most ships spent from a third to a half of their time close enough to land to get fresh food and drink.  Everything from loading to maintenance to docking was done by hand and took a good deal longer than today’s landing of a container ship with the aid of a couple of diesel tugs, emptying out the holds with giant cranes, and warehousing the containers by computer management.  During the times they were close to shore, they made every effort to get fresh food, even carrying live cattle for eating en route to avoid dipping into preserved food a bit longer.

But when ships did put to sea, they could be out of touch with shore supplies for quite awhile.  By the Victorian era, marine chronometers were routine equipment aboard Royal Navy ships.  This meant navigation improved to the point that getting lost was unlikely.  Even so, 2 months sailing to cross the Atlantic wasn’t out of the ordinary.  In addition to sailing time, we’re talking about warships, which means when they get to their destination, there still may not be fresh food.  If they’re going to blockade a port or if the captain gets into a diplomatic tiff with the locals, re-supply from shore may be cut off, and they might still be eating salt pork.

While at sea, food could be stored without too much trouble.  Here’s a list of supplies Loaded onto the frigate Doris in the early 1800s:  “…the Doris was loaded with beef, pork, bread, flour, tobacco, butter, raisins, sugar, cocoa, peas, oatmeal, lime juice, lemon juice, red wine, brandy, and rum.” But water was a different matter.  After two months in a barrel, algae and slime will grow.  Might as well drink out of the fetid pond.  But mix in rum and lime juice and you’ll hardly notice the horror you’re consuming.  At least that’s the theory.

Grog was a combination of lemon or lime juice, water, rum, and cinammon.  It was served at noon every day as a 1/2 pint of rum mixed with a quart of water, for a 1:4 ratio.  Lauchlin Rose (of Rose’s mixers) had patented preserving citrus juice in 1867, and the vitamin C in the juice was added to the grog to prevent scurvy.  I imagine it helped with the whole tastes-like-drinking-out-of-the-pond-problem, as well.


19th Century Gator Aid

Grog was for ordinary sailors and ratings, though if I was an officer, I imagine I’d have had some.  But the midshipman and officers had at least one drink peculiar to themselves.  Pink gin was a mixture of Angostura bitters and gin.  The bitters was a cure for seasickness.  However the taste was, well, bitter.  Mixing with gin makes an interesting pinky-orange drink with the bitter taste mostly submerged underneath the feeling that you just bit a Christmas tree which is what drinking gin always reminds me of.

pink gin

Close-up of Pink Gin

After trying the pink gin and the grog, I definitely prefer the grog.  The gin was like a bitter martini, but the grog was a lightly alchoholic, mildly spicy thirst quencher.  Sort of a gator aid for 19th century.  Of course, I didn’t make it with pond water.

Christmas Punch

Christmas Punch

For Christmas dinner this year, I wanted to make a traditional Victorian punch.  My first step was Mrs. Beeton’s to get an idea for what was expected.  Her recipe is pretty standard.  (paragraph 1839)

  • 1/2 pint of rum
  • 1/2 pint of brandy
  • 1/4 lb. of sugar
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoonful of nutmeg
  • 1 pint  of boiling water

OK, fair enough.  Half spirits and the other half water served hot with sugar, spice, and lemon.  That’s pretty-much a modern toddy recipe.  But after the punch recipe, Mrs.  Beeton goes on to list other ways of making punch.  She’s got everything from the same recipe except chilled, to punches based on wine, substituting 19th century lemon flavoring for the lemon, and even a recipe for mint juleps.  Hmmm, it sounds like I can I make whichever one I want and not go far wrong.

Punch recipes were brought to England from India early in the 1600s.  The basic recipe called for some type of booze, sweetener, citrus, water, and tea or spice.  Most punch in England was based on wines or on spirits native to Europe like brandy or whiskey.  But Jamaican rum was incorporated after it became available around 1655.  And punch recipes had traveled to the New World, returning as cocktails like the mint juleps Beeton mentions.

Hmm, so by Victorian times, punch could be hot or cold, based on wine or spirits, and incorporate a wide variety of mixers.  It could even have referred to a classic cocktail like a flip or the almost direct descendant of punch, the sour.  In that case, I believe I’ll have to make them all.  For the holidays, I decided to start with a classic Planter’s Punch, because I wanted something cold.  And all of the ingredients would have been available in a Victorian kitchen.

  • 6 parts rum
  • 3 parts lemon
  • 1 part grenadine ← This ingredient might be a stretch as the history of grenadine is a bit murky, but raspberry syrup would have been available which is pretty close in flavor and appearance.
  • dash bitters

And here’s the finished drink in all its glory.  It was delicious.

Planter's Punch

Here’s a flaming version of punch, which I need to try.  Everything’s better when it’s on fire.