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1940s Archive

Here’s How

Originally Published October 1942

Last month we guided GOURMET’s readers on a leisurely sipping junket around that charming necklace of Latin American republics lying to the South of us. This month, let’s climb aboard our magic jigger and whisk about the world, at home and abroad, searching for “specials” and “bests” from club, ship, yacht, hotel, and personal hearth that seem worthy of recording in the bar log.

To this skeptical mind, a special is any drink known or preferred in any locality, and approved through test of time. Some specials are immortal; some, but average; and some are freaks fit only for the drain. By and large those specials of club, hotel, and ocean liner average far better than personal inventions, for these professional conceptions are traded for cash, and can gain fame only through the critical approval of strangers unbiased by any strong personal affection for the parent.

But I regret to report that when it comes to sampling and passing on the more personal type of specials, the kind that is cooked up during sane or insane moments by friend, future farther-in-law, boss, fiancé, landlord, creditor, or debtor, we try chancey ground. Each step must be suspect, each sip taken cunningly, carefully, each verdict rendered with the quintessence of tact, or we become hoist—or flattened—by the petard of our own trusting soul! Just why some inventive ghoul of the corkscrews should believe that all good drinks must have six ingredients has never been clear; just why we need to dump equal parts of gin, Cherry brandy, Bénédictine, Cointreau, Grenadine, Cayennne pepper, and Absinthe into his Waring Blender—along with a casual egg white and half a lemon—and call it the John Smith Leopard’s Milk Special, you will never know. But beyond first gulp—and first gripe—it may cost you a life-long friendship to convince the author that his fruit of the jigger has no patent on immortality.

Yes, personal drink specials are like limericks. To whip one up is in trifling; but to compose something that catches on, that sooner or later may come bouncing back from say. Bombay, Buenos Aires, or even Brooklyn, is just about as heady wine as any man can expect from this rather scrambled existence in which we live and have our being. It so happens that I have but two American friends who have composed limericks worthy of passing notice. Oddly enough, one of these is the proud father of three very fair limericks now in general circulation from coast to coast. Like these limericks, the personal drink special must have merit to catch on; and even then, through mildly reckless flourishing of the jigger, both the famous and the lesser one sometimes must be approached with the careful technique that is advisable in trying to find a wounded African lion in tall elephant grass.

One and all, these personal liquid whimsies are admittedly cooked up for three purposes, and three alone: to pick you up, to mow you down, or concerning those whose names appear on the distaff roster, to remove—putting it mildly—the more comely, nubile samplers from the ranks of those still able to claim a veritable biological integrity. Any drink inventor claiming otherwise, lies in his teeth! But inasmuch as the latter condition seems to have been more or less cricket straight down from the days of Adam’s cider mill, let’s not judge too harshly. Out of affection for GOURMET’s readers, however, we shall label all such liable formulæ, so that that they may be approached discreetly and advisedly, with forewarning and forearming, or else, in the instance of such case-hardened alimentaries as mine, boldly and come what may—pull-devil-pull-Baker, catch-as-catch-can or Græco-Romon style, best two falls out of three, take no prisoner, use no hooks, and bury your own dead.

To begin with, there march three specials based on Tequila, now available on the shelves of most spirit dispensers, the first of which, for no particular reason, is the Mexican itch, which is merely our old affliction, the Swiss Itch, in Latin clothing, and which has not the slightest thing to do with any epidermatic disturbance.

Place 1 jigger decent Tequila before you. In the small valley between thumb and forefinger—pressed together—place ½ teaspoon salt. In the right hand hold a cut half of small green lime. Lick up the salt, suck the lime, and while this is more or less on the tongue, toss off the Tequila in typical frontier days fashion.

Actually I met this physical shock one chilly February morning in a cantina on the Vera Cruz water front, after a full hour wrestling with a heap of baggage obviously gaining neither value nor beauty by standing uncovered in the rain. Without offense to our brothers South of the border, I can testify that Vera Cruz owns no claim to operating-room cleanliness; and to insure bald truth this listening post must state that Vera Cruz lower town runs Djibouti, Benares, and King David Street in Jerusalem a fine photo-finish for top honors in dirt. But this Mexican itch gave me strength to collect my family and take the train for Orizaba—and this speaks more volumes that you well ever know.

Tequila Fresa, or Strawberry Tequila, is another Mexican thought that is a cinch to do. Our party had two bright young Mexican friends who lived out near the odd, moderne concrete structure that Diego Rivera and his striking wife evidently consider a residence of distinction and originality. Their names were Xavier and Perico, and they had adventured even more than the rest of the Mexican chaps we had met. They had traveled around the world, hunted ducks on the chain of lakes dotting the Valley of Mexico, shot turkey and deer in the hills, spent summers in their mild, walled-in palace in Cuernavaca, dodged sliding snow and rolling boulders climbing the snow-capped volcano (active) of Popocatepetl, and even followed for miles under a range of mountains a subterranean river that the natives shunned as being haunted. We pumped them for recipes for food and drink, this strawberry-hued affair being one they recommended. I mentioned it last month, but it bears ample repeating.

Find a 2-quart jar with a sealer top. Into this put 1 quart stemmed, washed, cut up, and crushed strawberries dead ripe. Pour in 1 bottle Tequila. Seal tightly, and allow to stand for 2 to 3 weeks. Strain through a double cheesecloth, and you will find a lovely thing, a rosy liquor with its rude sharpness blunted, yet with the kick of a mule. It may be poured over ice, sweetened to taste, and consumed as is, for a quickie, or as a julep over fine ice, or frozen with cracked ice in the Waring Blendor, with the addition of the juice of ¼ lime for tartness, in tropical style á Daiquiri. Color, a lovely rose; flavor, unique.

Under other covers we have mentioned a tall drink originated as a special by Berta, the smart Mexican lady who maintains an interesting little café on the plaza, diagonally across the Southwest corner from the lovely cathedral in Taxco—a fantastic edifice built at the cost of some fifteen millions by the French miner de la Borda, in gratitude for the huge fortune in silver he had taken from the country round about. Here you get a view of mountains spilling down, down into a fiery sunset that is one of the prime views on earth. Here at Bert’s—or Bertita, as she is usually called—American artists and visitors from many lands gather at five, for their sundowners. Here is one special, á Bertita.

Squeeze 1 cup strained juice as follows: 1/3 lime, 2/3 orange. Put in a shaker with fine cracked ice and 1 cup Tequila. Shake hard, and pour into tall fluted glasses, or into big flat Champagnes, along with some of the ice. Garnish with a stick of fresh pineapple. My variation: substitute pineapple juice for orange.

In other, happier days in the 1930’s we had occasion to fly in one of sturdy two-motored K.L.M. Fokkers from Batavia, Java, to Soerabaja, along with Ruth Elder, our fiancée and her mother, and a group of friends—all of us planning to beat our world cruise ship to Bali. This bit of byplace involved on overnight trip on one of those immaculate little ships of the K.P.M.—Koninklijke Pakvaart Maatschappij to us!—making the loop of Singapore, Batavia, Soerabaja, Makassar (on Celebs), Balikpapan (on Borneo), Manila, and return. She was called the Melchior Treub, after the famous Holland Governor; and she was further called a “pig boat,” Since Bali furnished not only very fancy ladies in sarongs, but also a particularly toothsome form of sway-backed porker that every wealthy Chinese in the Eastern tropics prefers to any other flesh.

Methusaleb J. Minas had been cabled to meet us in Bululung with motor cars. Everyone ws happy. The captain of the Treub and his officers couldn’t have been nicer. At five, intead of the tea you get on a lime-juicer, or the boullon and cocktails you get on any other ship, they served us what apparently were small porcelain egg cups filled with a delectable and heady yellow cold custard, the name of which slips us, but which is like a French Sabayon with the velvet glove removed. You eat it with a spoon; it can be served hot or cold; and like the marvelous Peking Tiger’s Milk described in the August GOURMET, this little business can also be “food, drink, and lodging.”

To serve 4, put the yolks of 4 fresh eggs into a double boiler along with ¼ cup each of brandy and either Madeira, Marsala, or a good domestic white wine, preferably one made of Scuppernong grapes. Whip until the mixture is frothing, then add egg whites, well-beaten. Keep beating as the heat rises in the double boiler, until the mixture is stiff. Add more sweetening at first, if it is desired. Take the custard off and turn it into a bowl, whipping it now and then until it is cool. It may be served hot or cold; if you want it hot, heat the cups—egg cups or demitasses—before-hand. Use all wine if less alcohol is desired. In the East Indies Batabia Arak is used instead of brandy, but the latter does very well. And finally, remember never to boil, or the mixture will certainly curdle.

Firpo’s, in Calcutta, is one of the few really smart joy spots in all India, despite romantic travel tales. Here everyone gathers to make it more or less a Bengali Stork Club. On my last visit I saw Walter Camp, Richard Halliburton, Ruth Elder, and a very lovely young lady who, the popular prints tell us, is doing well in the current cinema under the name—unless I am mistaken—of Merle Oberon. I also met one of the world’s great drinks—Firpo’s Balloon cocktail, a stout fellow indeed, and so named because three are alleged to send one bobbing around the ceiling. To fabricate: 1 jigger each of good Rye and Absinthe, or Pernod Veritas, 3 dashes Orange bitters, and 2 teaspoons fresh egg white. Shake hard, and dish up in big saucer Champagne glasses—and watch your P’s and Q’s.

At the Eastern & Oriental in Penang and at the Penang Cricket Club several interesting drinks were added to the Baker bar log. Among the perennial run of gin pahits, pegs, gimlets, gin slings, and all such famous tropical fodder, the so-called East India House Special is worth your indulgence. This same pleasant cocktail was found pretty much throughout the whole British East, in those amiable days …. To a 2-ounce jigger of brandy add 1 teaspoon ordinary soda fountain type pineapple syrup, 1 teaspoon Maraschino, 1 teaspoon Curaçao, 1 teaspoon strained lime juice, and 3 dashes Orange bitters. Shake with fine ice and serve in a Manhattan glass, letting a trifle of ice remain.

As many readers of GOURMET know, the debonair young sportsman Paul Dubonnet has been wise enough to test California wine of the southern French type, and having found a fine base for his apéritif, is in production bottling Dubonnet veritable at his Philadelphia plant. Experts affirm its excellence, and we cannot tell it from the French bottling. Its price, furthermore, being relieved of ruinous import duties, is kinder to the purse. Dubonnet, like Angostura, Chartreuse, Bénédictine, Drambuie, and other potables, is one of those jealously guarded family secrets, so all we can know is that it is a blend of Bourdeaux type wines and bergs and bitters of varying sorts, to agitate the gastric juices. But secret or no, it’s sound liquor.

Oddly enough we did not meet our first Dubonnet mix in the Café de la Paix, but in a tiny bistro in Villefranche, where we disembarked along with other companions for a visit to Monte Carlo. This Dubonnet Méditerrané Special was brewed this way …. 2 parts dry gin, 1 part Dubonnet, ½ teaspoon lemon juice, 3 dashes Orange bitters; shake and serve. We found a twist of orange peel used after pouring vastly superior to the Orange bitters—more aromatic. Incidentally, we serve Dubonnet as an apéritif by pouring it over a wine glass filled with fine ice and pointing it up with a bit of lime juice, with the peel twisted on top at the last. A trifle of Grenadine is often admired by the ladies.

Coming home from Yoko, also in pleasanter days, we met up with a young American who started out on the schooner Chance with a batch of other Yale gentlemen headed around the world. But this chap, Clymer Brooke by name, dropped off at Tahiti, for reasons not relevant to this thesis, and migrated to Moorea, the lovely smaller island lying across from Papeete with its tumbled peaks against the horizon. Here Clymer hobnobbed with native royalty, got interested in a vanilla plantation, and generally enjoyed life. This drink is an addition from his bar log. Take a small thin goblet or wine glass, and chill. Into a bar glass or a Martini mixer put 2 jiggers brandy, 2 teaspoons strained lime juice, ditto yellow Curaçao and Grenadine, and either donate 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 full pony Nos. 1 and 2. Créme de Vanille. Stir in with a cup of fine ice, and permit some of the latter to go into tumbler or goblet. Garnish with a stick of rice pineapple—a lot of this month’s drinks seem to take it!—and consume. The ladies like this one, for it is fairly sweet.

Now for three specials involving Kirschwasser, usually known as Kirsch. Like Hollands, Kirsch is an acquired taste; and I have wondered for years why so many Americans ignore it completely. It is a unique, potent spirit, made from certain wild black European cherries in Alsace and Switzerland. The ripe cherries are put into wood vats and mashed and mixed with wooden paddles, stones and all. It is the flavor of these stones that make Kirsch so distinctive, that give it the taste of bitter almonds. Like Absinthe and Jamaica rum, only a little is needed in most cocktails, since its potent taste cuts through other ingredients.

The Green Star I met in Gibraltar one cold January day after hours of climbing through the permitted parts of the Rock. This drink was the gift of a British army officer returned from a ski-leave in the Bavarian Alps. To 2 ounces Kirsch add 2 teaspoons Curaçao, and flavor with green Créme de Menthe to suit your taste—about ½ pony being right. Shake with big ice; and serve in a large Manhattan glass, with a twist of orange peel on top. Like a Stinger, the Green Star must be cold.

One miserable slushy day in early February we came down to Athens lower town after skidding, in the name of art, about the whole Acropolis—from Parthenon to Erectheum, to the peerless little temple of Athena Nike above the Western wall—undoubtedly to the improvement of the mind, but definitely to the detriment both of the seat of this historian’s trousers, and of the structure beneath that insubstantial covering. At the Grande Bretagne Hotel, however, I found sympathy and succor. The Greek equivalent of a femme de chambre did a passable cross-stitch job on the trousers; and with other fabric the little aged Greek bar master attended to the inner man.

He had, he advised me, been active in liquors for forty-odd years. During much of the time he had amused himself by casting up strange and weird mixes. Those impossible to absorb he promptly cast into limbo—and he pointed to a fancy blue-glazed gaboon of the right classic design. Those worth remembering he drank and noted down. The pick of the lot were what he entitled his Grande Bretagne Specials, Nos. 1 and 2.

Your traveling warden tested both, and both were equally good; both deserve permanent niches in the bibulous hall of fame. No. 2 requires 1 jigger dry gin, ½ pony Kirsch, 3 teaspoons or less (to taste) of strained lemon juice, 1 teaspoon or slightly more of egg white. Shake hard, and pour into a chilled Manhattan glass; float ½ teaspoon dry Cherry brandy or Cordial Médoc on top. Juggle the amount of Kirsch to suit personal taste; a little sugar is optional—very little.

During a honeymoon spent in rural England, in Boxmoor, and still within lucid memory of this desiccated and doubtless failing brain, we always headed into London town every week or so for a bit of city life—in a raffish Morris car constantly ailing with mysterious female complaints, yet somehow managing to get us and a dickey—rumble to us—full of our fanciest clothes into town. Here we put up at the Savoy—nowhere else on the glove is there a spot quite like this hostelry!—and here one afternoon we met a cocktail known as Hands Across the Sea, which I was informed had won a blue ribbon or something at the recent International Bartenders’ Competition. It merited registration, and here is the platoon of the strange bottle-fellows that go to make it. Take ¼ jigger each of Bourbon, Créme de Menthe, strained grapefruit juice, and dry white wine; sweeten with 2 teaspoons or less of maple syrup; shake hard and serve in a Manhattan glass. We were informed, with importance, that this work represented, in order of ingredients used, the United States, France, South Africa, Alsace or the Champagne country, and Canada.

Now in closing I list a Manila cocktail known as “Hoop Punch”—it’s supposed to make you roll merrily along!—which was made in its best form at the Army-Navy Club, especially by the Chinese bartender that “Monk” Antrim employed as his No. 1 at the huge Manila Hotel that he managed in those past, pleasant days. I might state that this one should be approached discreetly, advisedly, and with an eye to the nearest exit—toward which one walks, does not run, in case the battle-axe drops at the base of the brain.

To a 2-ounce jigger of brandy add ½ pony Curçao, a 1 1/2-ounce jigger or slightly more of Port wine, and 2 teaspoons—to taste—of strained lime or lemon juice. Shake hard, and pour into a big saucer Champagne glass. A little fine ice left in is optional.

And so salud y pesetas, and hasta la vista—in November.