September 19, 2013
It’s September 19, which means it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, your once-a-year opportunity to embrace linguistic absurdism and greet your friends and colleagues with a cheery “Ahoy, matey!” Started in 1995 by John Baur and Mark Summers, the holiday is celebrated all over the world with the official Talk Like a Pirate Day website offering a vocabulary crash course in English, German and Dutch. But really, what’s a holiday without food to enhance the celebration? While we all have a communal sense of how pirates talked—or how we like to think they talked—our sense of how pirates ate sits, by comparison, in uncharted waters. Pirates had to survive on more than a bottle of rum.
From a food standpoint, a pirate’s life was problematic. Being at sea and without easy access to major seaports meant that there was rarely a steady supply of food and hunger was a regular aspect of day-to-day living. Much of their lives were spent on board a ship, and perpetually damp conditions put normal pantry staples such as flour and dried beans at high risk of mold. Climate also presented preservation problems: if sailing in warmer regions of the world, such as the Caribbean, keeping fresh fruits and meats was near impossible. Fresh water was also difficult to keep during long sea voyages because it could develop algae scum. By contrast, alcohol would never spoil, making beer and rum the preferred preferred beverages. Rum, in addition to being consumed straight up, was used along with cinnamon and other spices to sweeten stagnant water and make grog. Dried meats and hardtack, a relatively shelf-stable biscuit, were regular parts of a pirate’s diet, although the latter was frequently infested with weevils.
With such a bleak dining situation, what’s a pirate to do? For one, they pillaged. For pirates sailing the waters of Spanish America, beef was a hot commodity for pirates as a single head of cattle could go a long way when it came to feeding a hungry crew. In 1666, French pirate François l’Onnais promised to leave the Venezuelan port city of Maracaibo if, among other riches, he was supplied with 500 head of cattle. In 1668, Henry Morgan, the namesake of the rum, invaded Puerto del Principe in Cuba, also demanding a ransom of 500 cattle. And in 1682, Captain Jean Toccard took the Mexican port of Tampico for the sole purpose of slaughtering cows for provisions. In addition to beef, turtle was also a valued source of protein, and ideal in that it was readily found along beaches and could be kept alive and serve as a source of fresh meat when out to sea.
Pirates also had to be resourceful with the staples that they had—especially when it came to making pickled and salted foods palatable. In the West Indies, a popular pirate dish among marauders was salmagundi, a stew of the odds-and-ends of meat and vegetables thrown into a communal pot and heavily seasoned. In his book Pirates and Piracy, author David Reinhardt provides a litany of ingredients one might find in the cauldron and the manner of preparation:
Included might be any of the following: turtle meat, fish, pork, chicken, corned beef, ham, duck and pigeon. The meats would be roasted, chopped into pieces and marinated in spied wine, then mixed with cabbage, anchovies, pickled herring, mangoes, hard-boiled eggs, palm hearts, onions, olives, grapes and any other pickled vegetable available. The entire concoction would then be highly seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, and mustard seed and soaked with oil and vinegar.
Legend has it that Bartholomew Roberts, whose years of marauding earned him the posthumous Forbes magazine distinction of being one of the highest-earning pirates, was eating salmagundi when he was attacked—and killed—by the Royal Navy ship HMS Swallow.
The historical pirate diet may not appeal to the modern diner. Nevertheless, for those wishing to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day to the hilt by setting an appropriately-themed spread, you have a few options. The New England Pirate Museum has a freeform salmagundi recipe that’ll allow you to make the classic pirate meal, but without all the pickled and salt-cured ingredients. You can also use the day as a personal challenge to raid ye pantry and figure out how you can turn the provisions you have on hand into a hearty stew.
Although grog in its original conception was utilitarian more than anything else, it has since been re-imagined as a cocktail to be enjoyed for its palate-pleasing merits. Check out these three on-the-rocks versions of the cocktail here, with recipes using a variety of rums paired with grapefruit, lime and orange juices. You can also enjoy your grog hot, spiced with cinnamon and brown sugar. If you’re dying to try hardtack, recipes and videos are out there to show you how to make this classic survival food. Personally, I’d dive into a package of Wasa crackers and call it a day.
Breverton, Terry. The Pirate Dictionary. Canada: Pelican, 2004.
Marley, David F. Daily Life of Pirates. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012.
Hamilton, John. A Pirate’s Life. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company, 2007.
September 11, 2013
In January, a single bluefin tuna was purchased by a wealthy restaurateur in Tokyo for nearly $2 million—something of a publicity stunt yet indicative of just how much the modern sushi industry values this creature. Japanese chefs handle cuts of red bluefin flesh as reverently as Italians might a white truffle, or a French oenophile a bottle of a 1945 Bordeaux. And a single sliver of the fat, buttery belly meat, called toro, or sometimes o-toro, in Japanese, can pull $25 from one’s wallet. The bluefin, truly, is probably the most prized and valuable fish in the world.
But it wasn’t always this way. Several decades ago, the very same fish were essentially worthless worldwide. People caught them for fun along the Atlantic Coast—especially in Nova Scotia, Maine and Massachusetts—and though few ever ate their catch, they didn’t usually let the tuna go, either. During the height of the tuna sport fishing craze in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the big fish were weighed and photographed, then sent to landfills. Others were mashed up into pet food. Perhaps the best of scenarios was when dead bluefin tuna—which usually weighed at least 400 pounds—were dumped back into the sea, where at least their biomass was recycled into the marine food web. But it all amounts to the same point: The mighty bluefin tuna was a trash fish.
The beef-red flesh, many say, is smelly and strong tasting, and, historically, the collective palate of Japan preferred milder species, like the various white-fleshed fishes and shellfish still popular among many sushi chefs. Other tuna species, too—including yellowfin and bigeye—were unpopular in Japan, and only in the 19th century did this begin to change. So says Trevor Corson, author of the 2007 book The Story of Sushi. Corson told Food and Think in an interview that an increase in tuna landings in the 1830s and early 1840s provided Tokyo street vendors with a surplus of cheap tuna. The meat was not a delicacy, by any means. Nor was it even known as a food product. In fact, tuna was commonly called neko-matagi, meaning “fish that even a cat would disdain.” But at least one sidewalk sushi chef tried something new, slicing the raw meat thin, dousing it in soy sauce and serving it as “nigiri sushi.”
The style caught on, though most of the chefs used yellowfin tuna. Occasionally, chefs made use of large bluefins, and one trick they learned to soften the rich flavor of the meat was to age it underground for several days. The way Japanese diners regarded raw, ruddy fish flesh began changing. This marked a turning point in the history of sushi, Corson says—but he points out that the bluefin tuna would remain essentially unwanted for decades more.
In the early 20th century, sport fishing began gaining popularity in the United States and Canada—and few fish were more exciting to hunt than the giant bluefins that migrated about the Atlantic and passed through near-shore waters in New England and southeast Canada. In Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, interest in catching giant bluefins proliferated among wealthy boat fishermen armed with enormous, crane-like rods and reels, and in 1937, local organizers held the first International Tuna Cup Match.
The event became a festive annual gala of wealthy boatmen vying for victory. Naturally, it was also a brutal bloodfest. The 1949 event saw 72 bluefin tuna landed—the highest number ever caught in the 28-year span the derby was held. The fish were giants, averaging 419 pounds. Such exact measurement depended on subduing and killing them, and almost certainly, most were later discarded. Author Paul Greenberg writes in his 2010 book Four Fish, which profiles the bluefin as among the world’s most important seafood species, that just like the Japanese at the time, “Americans considered bluefin too bloody to eat and had no interest in bringing home their catch.”
Many—probably thousands—of enormous bluefins caught last century by sport fishermen were killed, hoisted for photographs, then either thrown out entirely or sold to processors of cat and dog food.
The dramatic turnaround began in the early 1970s. Beef had become popular in Japan, and with a national palate now more appreciative of strong flavors and dark flesh, bluefin tuna became a desired item. It was also about this time that cargo planes delivering electronics from Japan to the United States and returning home empty began taking advantage of the opportunity to buy cheap tuna carcasses near New England fishing docks and sell them back in Japan for thousands of dollars.
“Bluefin tuna is an amazing example of something we have been made to think is an authentic Japanese tradition,” Corson says. “Really, it was a marketing scheme of the Japanese airline industry.”
Corson says that advancements in refrigeration technology at about this time facilitated what was growing quickly into a new and prosperous industry. Now able to freeze and preserve all the tuna they could carry at sea, operators of huge fishing vessels were able to return home with lucrative hauls. By the time sport angler Ken Fraser caught a 13-foot-long Nova Scotia tuna in 1979 that weighed 1,496 pounds, things had changed for the bluefin. People were still killing them—but not wasting them.
Even sport fishermen often purchased commercial licenses, intending to sell what they caught to the Japanese sushi market. Giant bluefin would no longer be sent to pet food factories. The species had become a delicacy. The popularity spread back across the ocean, and soon Americans developed a taste for bluefin meat. By the 1990s, the bluefin tuna was wanted almost desperately worldwide.
The rest of the bluefin story has been told many times, but the worsening scenario mandates a quick recap: The Atlantic species has crashed from rapturous, water-thrashing abundance to scarcity. It has been estimated that a mere 9,000 adults still spawn each year in the Mediterranean. A British scientist named Callum Roberts estimated that for every 50 bluefins swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in 1940 there was just one in 2010. By most accounts, the population is down by more than 80 percent. The Pacific bluefin, smaller and genetically distinct from the Atlantic species, has fared better over the decades, but the relentless sushi industry seems to eventually catch up with all fatty, fast-swimming pelagics. Fishery scientists recently estimated the Pacific stocks to be just 4 percent of their virgin, pre-fishery biomass. Ironically, in the days when the bluefin’s value has never been higher, sport fishermen are increasingly releasingthe tuna they catch.
Corson, once a commercial fisherman himself, no longer eats bluefin.
“It’s not even that good,” he says. “It’s got this distinct, not-so-subtle, tangy iron flavor, and it melts in your mouth. This makes it very easy to like.” Too easy, that is. Corson says that “old-school sushi holdouts who are still loyal to the older version of sushi” share the same opinion. Among these diners and chefs, the melt-in-your-mouth sensation that has proved so marketable and so devastating to the bluefin tuna is considered simplistic and unsophisticated. “They consider [bluefin] toro to be sort of for amateurs,” Corson says. Instead, traditional sushi connoisseurs enjoy the often crunchier, more subtly flavored muscle tissues of animals like squid, clams, various jacks, flounder and, perhaps most of all, sea bream, or Pagrus major.
To help reveal to others the authentic history of sushi and just how gratifying it can be to eat lesser known species rather than the blubbery bluefin tuna, Corson leads regular tasting classes in New York City. “I’m trying in my own little way to show one person at a time how great traditional sushi can be,” he says. Bluefin is not on the menu at these events.
Whether the culinary world will embrace the true traditions of sushi and turn away from bluefin before the species goes commercially extinct is unclear. Corson notes that he has never seen a species go from coveted delicacy to reviled junk fish. “It’s usually a process of expansion,” he says.
Indeed, restaurant owner Kiyoshi Kimura’s purchase of a 488-pound bluefin for $1.76 million at the Tsukiji fish market this January indicates that the bluefin is more valued than ever now. We might drop our jaws at this, thinking it obscenely wasteful. And though it was similarly wasteful to grind countless big tuna, from head to tail to toro, into cat food, it does seem that the bluefin might have been better off had we just gone on regarding it as trash.
September 10, 2013
The American superhighway system is dotted with some truly bizarre and unique roadside attractions. There are dinosaurs, Cadillacs stuck in the ground and kitschy souvenir stops with advertisements of questionable taste. But for those drivers with some extra time on their cross country trips, they should add these large, statue versions of everyone’s favorite foods to their itinerary. We’ve narrowed down the cornucopia of foods to 10 must-see, “World’s Largest” food-related attractions for your hypothetical (or real) adventure.
1) Strawberry—Ellerbe, North Carolina
The Berry Patch, off of old Highway 220, in Ellerbe, North Carolina, got its start as a small patch in 1995 run by the appropriately monikered Berry family. In 2002, they built the self-described “World’s Largest Strawberry” to house their homemade ice cream shop. The 24-foot tall building is made from sheet rock and polyurethane foam molded to its berry shape. There are a few other self-proclaimed largest strawberries: one worth highlighting is this 130-foot tall berry water towerin Poteet, Texas.
2) Peach—Gaffney, South Carolina
Once you hit I-85 West leaving from Charlotte, North Carolina, toward Atlanta, Georgia, look up. The world’s largest peach structure in Gaffney, South Carolina, a peach-painted water tower also known as the Peachoid, stands at 135 feet tall and holds one million gallons of liquid. The giant peach (No, James and his friends do not live inside) was commissioned by the Board of Public Works in Gaffney in 1981. The foundation used no less than 10 million gallons of concrete and the 60-foot leaf along the side of the peach weighs seven tons. As the story goes, the people of Gaffney picked the peach tower because at the time of its construction, the local economy was dependent on peach orchards. The water tower served as a (large) reminder that Georgia, known as the “Peach State,” produced fewer peaches than Cherokee County. Today, South Carolina produces over 200 million pounds of peacheson average a year, second to California. (Georgia is the third largest producer).
3) Peanut—Ashburn, Georgia
Floodlights shine on the World’s Largest Peanut located off of I-75 in Ashburn, Georgia. The peanut, which hovers above an impressive crown, was built in 1975 and designed by A.R. Smith, Jr. to honor the state’s official crop. (Georgia produces almost 50 percent of the total United States peanut crop). The monument became an official state symbolin 1998.
4) Field of Corn—Dublin, Ohio
On an acre-and-a-half plot in Dublin, Ohio, 109 concrete ears of corn stand at six feet, six inches apiece—an agricultural community in transition. Artist Malcolm Cochran, created this field of statues in 1994 as a memorial for the now-fallow corn field that once occupied the land. On this site, Sam Frantz and his family had been a leading corn hybridizer from 1935 through 1963. It’s “not unlike a cemetery —and a surprising roadside attraction in the tradition of coffee shops that look like a giant cup and saucer or diners in the shape of hamburgers,” Cochran said in an email. Head to the Osage Orange trees at the west side of the location to learn more about the town’s agricultural history.
5) Egg—Mentone, Indiana
There isn’t a whole lot to see driving through north-central Indiana, until you get to Mentone: the self-proclaimed “Egg Basket of the Midwest” and home to what the town considers the World’s Largest Egg, a 3,000-pound concrete structure in a bank parking lot near the town’s center. The structure was most likely built in 1946 to promote the Mentone Egg Show.
6) Popcorn Ball—Sac City, Iowa
In 1995, Sac City, Iowa (locally known as the “Popcorn Capital of the World”) built the first of three giant popcorn balls—a 2,225-pound mound of syrup and popcorn. That same year, a team of Boy Scouts beat the city’s record and by 1997, the original Sac City ball was blown up at the Sac County Fair. But in 2004, Sac City went at it again when a local popcorn factory made a 3,415-pound ball, currently housed in a small building off of Highway 20. When the 3,415-pound record was beaten, in 2009, construction of the latest and greatest popcorn ball weighing in at 5,000 pounds began. Two hundred fifty-three volunteers gathered in Sac County to construct the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball. (Ingredient breakdown: 900 pounds of popcorn, 2,700 pounds of sugar and 1,400 pounds of Dry syrup mixed with water). It held the record until this August when a group at the Indiana State Fair, built a 6,510-pound popcorn ball, beating Sac County’s- record by 1,510 pounds, but the Indian ball was pulled apart to feed livestock at the end of the festivities. Sac City’s ball remains the largest popcorn ball still intact.
7) Watermelons—Green River, Utah and Luling, Texas
If you want to see giant melons of the water variety, you’ve got two choices: the watermelon tower in Luling, Texas and the 25-foot slice of painted wood in Green River, Utah. The water tower in Texas presides 154 feet over a watermelon patch—a tribute to the local melon industry. Each year at the Watermelon Thump festival (named for the way you thump a melon to test its ripeness), locals enter the seed spitting contest or claim the “Thump Queen” crown. Green River’s melon is less like a tower and more like a parade float. The formerly motorized melon slice makes appearances during the region’s Melon Days festival each year. Both places claim to be the watermelon capital of the United States.
8) Pistachio—Alamogordo, New Mexico
In the middle of the southern New Mexico desert, along U.S. Highway 54, a 30-foot-tall pistachio stands as a monument to Tom McGinn, founder of McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch. “I wanted to erect a proper monument that would represent his enormous passion for the creation of a pistachio farm in the bare desert,” Tim McGinn, the founder’s son, said in an interview with the Alamogordo News in 2009. The giant nut is covered in 35 gallons of paint and is anchored by nine feet of concrete. McGinn based the design off of a nut hand-selected from his crop of pistachios.
9) Donut—Inglewood, California
Homer Simpson would go bonkers for this roadside sculpture built in 1954. You may recognize the massive pastry on top of Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood, California from Randy Newman’s video “I Love LA,” or from the film Mars Attacks. The drive-in style building, designed by Henry J. Goodwin in 1953 has several locations in the area—four of the original giant donuts survive, most of which were constructed with a 32 and one fifth-foot diameter. A fun thing about a giant donut: sometimes, you can throw basketballs through its center.
10) Artichoke—Castroville, California
Castroville, California, is the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World” and the 20-foot tall artichoke made of rebar and concrete built in 1963 by Ray Bei, founder of Ray Bei’s Giant Artichoke Restaurant and Fruit Stand, is a stunning reminder of the region’s main crop. A pit stop here offers artichokes prepared pretty much any way you can imagine, though fried is probably your best bet. The annual artichoke festival takes place in May to celebrate the Monterey Bay County’s famous food. Fun fact: in 1948—11 years before the festival began—a young starlet named Norma Jean, later known as Marilyn Monroe, was crowned the first Artichoke Queen in Castroville. The sash she wore is now on display in the Castroville Chamber of Commerce.
August 30, 2013
Cocktails are having a moment right now, but they’ve been iconic motifs in literature for the past century. They define characters, offering a window into their tastes and personalities—who could picture James Bond without his “shaken, not stirred” martini? Cocktails drive storylines, clearing paths toward delight, despair or some combination of the two. In some cases, they come to represent the authors themselves, whose lives were as colorful as their prose. And of course, each cocktail has a life of its own—the more obscure the origin, the better. Drinking might not make a great writer, but it does sometimes make a great story.
Read on for five famous cocktails and the literary moments they inspired:
Ramos Gin Fizz
The Ramos gin fizz is a New Orleans classic invented in 1888 by Henry C. Ramos of the Imperial Cabinet Saloon. The recipe calls for egg white, flower water, dairy and vigorous shaking for three to ten minutes. The drink became so popular in the 1910s that Ramos had to employ 20 to 30 “shaker boys” to keep up with demand. Despite its long prep time, the gin fizz is meant to be consumed quickly, especially as a cool refreshment on a hot summer day.
On one of histrips to New York, Louisiana “Kingfish” Huey Long had a bartender flown in from the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, he said, to “teach these New York sophisticates how and what to drink.”
Watch a bartender make the Ramos gin fizz:
In Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins, Dr. Thomas More defies his egg white allergy by downing gin fizz after gin fizz with Lola, his lover. “These drinks feel silky and benign,” he muses—until seven fizzes later, he breaks out in hives and his throat starts to close. More’s brush with death mirrors Walker Percy’s own: the writer once went into anaphylactic shock after drinking gin fizzes with (luckily for him) a Bellevue nurse. Percy later wrote in his 1975 essay, “Bourbon”: “Anybody who monkeys around with gin and egg white deserves what he gets. I should have stuck with Bourbon and have from that day to this.”
(The recipe below, along with all the others in this post, is courtesy of Philip Greene, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail and author of To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion. Greene recently hosted the Smithsonian Associates seminar, “Literary Libations.”)
1 ½ oz Citadelle gin
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz fresh lime juice
1 tsp sugar or ½ oz Fee Brothers rock candy syrup
1 oz half and half or cream
3 drops Fee Brothers orange flower water
1 egg white (pasteurized optional)
Place ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice. Shake vigorously for 2-3 minutes. Strain into a chilled Delmonico or short Collins glass. Top off with 1-2 oz seltzer water.
“Mad Men” fans may recognize the gimlet as Betty Draper’s drink of choice, but her own generation likely knew it from Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye. “A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else,” Terry Lennox tells the detective Philip Marlowe. “It beats martinis hollow.”
Lennox’s one-to-one ratio is too sweet for most modern drinkers. These days, gimlets are typically made with fresh lime juice instead of Rose’s syrupy cordial (and with vodka instead of gin). But Rose’s did have an edge in shelf life: as seen in Green Hills of Africa and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Ernest Hemingway opted for gimlets on safari, probably because Rose’s was less likely to spoil.
Legend has it that the gimlet was named after Dr. Thomas Gimlette of the Royal British Navy, who used the citrusy drink to stave off sailors’ scurvy—or after the device, called a “gimlet,” used to bore holes in lime juice casks.
2 oz Hendrick’s gin
1 oz Rose’s lime juice
Shake on ice until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge or wheel.
Few cocktails are as maligned as the brandy Alexander, a rich concoction containing cream and chocolate liqueur. The drink is believed to be a Prohibition innovation, made with “enough sugar and cream to mask the foulest of bootleg hooch,” writes Wall Street Journal cocktail columnist Eric Felten. Since then, this “milkshake,” as John Lennon liked to called it, has acquired a reputation of femininity and ostentation. In Ian Fleming’s short story, “Risico” (later adapted into the 1981 film, For Your Eyes Only), the drink is used as a “secret recognition signal” between James Bond and a CIA informant, Aristotle Kristatos. Fleming writes: “The creamy, feminine drink was so much cleverer than the folded newspaper, the flower in the buttonhole, the yellow gloves that were the hoary, slipshod call signs between agents.”
The brandy Alexander also figures in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee’s nightmare portrait of marital dysfunction. The drink takes George and Martha back to a more innocent time in their relationship, when the latter would order “real ladylike little drinkies” including brandy Alexanders and gimlets. “But the years have brought to Martha a sense of essentials,” says George, “the knowledge that cream is for coffee, lime juice for pies … and alcohol pure and simple … here you are, angel … for the pure and simple. For the mind’s blind eye, the heart’s ease, and the liver’s craw. Down the hatch, all.”
1 ½ oz brandy
1 oz cream
1 oz crème de cacao (brown)
Shake with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg.
To make a real whiskey sour, ditch the sour mix for fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. This cocktail, first described as a “whiskey crusta” in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 book How to Mix Drinks, was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway’s—and made for one eventful night with F. Scott Fitzgerald, recorded in A Moveable Feast.
Hemingway was an up-and-coming writer, and Fitzgerald a literary star, when the two first met in France in 1925. According to Hemingway’s memoir, Fitzgerald became hysterical one night after having too much wine. He worried that he would die from “congestion of the lungs” and wondered aloud who would take care of his wife Zelda and daughter Scottie. Hemingway recalled trying to calm him down: “If you want to do the best thing to keep from catching cold, just stay in bed and I’ll order us each a lemonade and a whisky. . .” Hemingway was irritated by the whole “silliness,” but said that “you could not be angry with Scott any more than you could be angry with someone who was crazy. . . it was hard to accept him as a drunkard, since he was affected by such small quantities of alcohol.”
Whiskey sours also make an appearance in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1966). The novel opens with Oedipa Maas going through the motions of her dull life as a housewife—Tupperware parties, Muzak, lasagna making and the “mixing of the twilight’s whiskey sours against the arrival of her husband.” But it’s the whiskey sour that makes the cut in John Crace’s satirical “digested read” of the novel, indicating that the drink was especially emblematic of Maas’s domestic malaise.
1 ½ to 2 oz. Wild Turkey bourbon
½ oz Fee Brothers rock candy syrup
½ oz fresh lemon juice
Shake well with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
H.L. Mencken once wrote that the origin of the Bronx cocktail was “unknown to science” (“all that is known is that it preceded the Bronx Cheer”), but a popular story credits Johnnie Solon, famed bartender of the Waldorf-Astoria, with inventing the drink circa 1900. Solon reportedly named the Bronx cocktail after the Bronx Zoo: “I had been at the Bronx Zoo a day or two before, and I saw, of course, a lot of beasts I had never known. Customers used to tell me of the strange animals they saw after a lot of mixed drinks. So when Traverson [head waiter of the dining room] said to me, as he started to take the drink in to the customer, ‘What’ll I tell him is the name of this drink?’ I thought of those animals, and said: ‘Oh, you can tell him it is a “Bronx.”‘”
The Bronx cocktail caught on in the 1910s and ’20s, rivaling the Manhattan and the martini in popularity. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, orange juicing is mechanized at the Gatsby mansion to keep up with Bronx cocktail demand: “Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.” And in This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine consoles himself with a round of Bronxes after getting dumped by Rosalind.
In his 1940 autobiographical work Dusk of Dawn, W.E.B. Du Bois draws a caricature of a hypocritical white minister as a well-bred man in Brooks Brothers clothes who “plays keen golf, smokes a rare weed and knows a Bronx cocktail from a Manhattan.” For the record, the main difference between the two cocktails is the liquor—a Bronx is made with gin and a Manhattan with rye. But, according to the 1934 film version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, the “important thing is the rhythm. . . . a Manhattan you always shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time. . .”
1 ½ oz Citadelle gin
½ oz Martini sweet vermouth
½ oz Noilly Prat dry vermouth
½ oz orange juice
Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Thirsty for more drink-related programming? Check out the upcoming Smithsonian Associates seminar, “Mad Men Style: Janie Bryant on Fashion and Character,” on September 9, 2013, which will feature a tasting of Mad Men-inspired cocktails.
August 23, 2013
On August 28, 1963, over 200,000 people peacefully marched between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial to show support of President John F. Kennedy’s civil rights and to bring widespread public attention to end segregation in public schools and the federal implementation of fair employment practices to prevent job discrimination. The March on Washington was a watershed moment in human rights history that helped to get the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed into law. Organizing an event that large was a formidable task in and of itself, requiring the coordination of grass roots groups to drum up participants and raise the funds to travel to DC. Tackling the issue of handling food for the masses was another issue entirely.
The Chicago Tribune anticipated a bleak sustenance situation. “Tomorrow, should the nation-wide turnout for the march swell from 100,000 demonstrators to 200,000 or more, there may be shortages of food. Even access to portable toilet facilities and to temporary drinking fountains attached to fire hydrants may be at a premium.” March organizers advised participants to bring their own water jugs and two boxed lunches. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apples were recommended as a durable foodstuffs and discouraged anything with mayonnaise as it would spoil in the summer heat.
In New York, volunteers showed up at the Riverside Church at 3:00 AM to make bagged lunches The bagged meal, comprised of a cheese sandwich, mustard, marble cake and an apple, could be purchased by marchers for 50 cents. Working in shifts until 4 in the afternoon, the assembly line crew paused once for a few words from Dr. Robert Spike, director of the Commission on Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches: ”As an act of love, we now dedicate these lunches for the nourishment of thousands who will be coming long distances, at great sacrifice to say with their bodies and souls that we shall overcome.” In all, 5 tons of American cheese went into the 80,000 lunches that were loaded onto refrigerated trucks and shipped down to Washington.
Early reports estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 demonstrators would be in attendance. Fearing unruly behavior, the District of Columbia placed an unprecedented ban on the sale of liquor, beer and wine from 12:00 am on the 28th through the following morning. This extended not just to standalone liquor stores, but to the city’s bars and restaurants. (The only holdout was the House of Representatives cafeteria, which traditionally had beer on the menu and served it on the day of the march. The rest of the city being dry did nothing to boost sales.) The policemen, national guardsmen and others charged with maintaining order were forced to forego their lunch breaks that day and ate boxed lunches while at their posts: two sandwiches, a piece of cake and juice. Rioting did not occur as anticipated.
A mile or so north from the National Mall, on Washington’s U Street, also known as the “Black Broadway,” the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl served people in town for the march. Per the Washington City Paper, Ben’s cofounder Virginia Ali recalls, “I remember the enthusiasm of many people about going down there to march for equal rights and jobs.”
After the day’s scheduled events ended, a delegation of march leaders—which included A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King, Jr.—met with President Kennedy at the White House where they were served tea, coffee, canapes and sandwiches and discussed the prospect of civil rights legislation passing. Kennedy was obviously impressed by demonstration, saying that “the cause of 20,000,000 Negroes has been advanced.”
Activist John Lewis was also in attendance and recounted meeting the president to author Michael Fletcher in an exclusive Smithsonian magazine interview. “He stood in the doorway of the Oval Office and he greeted each one of us, shook each of our hands like a beaming, proud father.” And yet, there were no great dinners or parties to celebrate the day. “I don’t believe as a group that we got together and had a meal,” Lewis recalls. “But some of the young people in SNCC were able to pick up a hamburger, a sandwich here and there, get a soft drink, lemonade. But we were just pleased that everything had gone so well.”
Even the language of dining was used to describe the event. In his response to the march, activist Malcolm X thought that the organizers and the participation of liberal white groups inappropriately toned down the feelings of anger and inequity that initially fueled the gathering. “It had become an outing, a picnic,” he wrote in his 1964 autobiography. “What originally was planned to be an angry riptide, one English newspaper aptly described now as ‘the gentle flood.’”
The New York Times used the same metaphor to describe the day, but saw the situation differently: ”The picnic atmosphere that pervaded much of Wednesday’s march should not be misinterpreted as betokening any lack of determination on the Negro’s part to insist on the rights he has been so long denied. Rather it was an affirmation of his confidence in the efficacy of an appeal to national morality to make true the dreams so eloquently evoked by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the shadow of the Great Emancipator. It is up to all of us to make certain those dreams are not destroyed.”
For more on the 1963 March on Washington, read our oral history from the movers and shakers who made that demonstration a resounding success.
“On the March.” Newsweek. 2 Sept. 1963.
Petersen, Anna. “80,000 Lunches Made here by Volunteers for Washington Marchers.” The New York Times. 28 Aug. 1963.
Pakenham, Michael. “Rights Marchers Are Sightseers, Too!” The Chicago Tribune. 29 Aug. 1963.
Rich, James. “1,686 Chicagoans En Route to Washington.” Chicago Tribune. 28 Aug. 1963.
Robertson, Nan. “Capital is Ready for March Today; 100,000 Expected.” The New York Times. 28 Aug. 1963.
“The March in Washington.” Time magazine. 30 Aug. 1963.
Wicker, Tom. “President Meets March Leaders.” The New York Times. 29 Aug. 1963.