Drinks - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
Sometimes I feel that I ought to have been born a hundred years ago—or even a hundred and fifty; and yet at other times I realize that had I been, I would have missed knowing all the nice people I do know and whose friendship I value so highly. But never does this back-to-the-past feeling so obsess me as when I lift a rare, old, deeply cut wine-glass. How many people realize what a great part the glass itself plays in the enjoyment of a famous vintage. Few I am afraid in these days of hard drinking, and notwithstanding the nation-wide calamity that has befallen us, I believe that statistics will show that never has there been such hard drinking in these United States as since the Promulgation of the Eighteenth Amendment. There is no art, no real pleasure in the imbibing of cocktails, raw spirits and what are called "short drinks" ; nor is there in long drinks, that merely serve to slake the thirst. Thirst, save in the desert or on the derelict is a habit and he who drinks for the pleasure of drinking does not drink to quench his thirst. Tell me, oh, ye double-distilled Prohibitionist, what harm is there in a man sipping a glass of '47 port—a glass that holds but a large tablespoonful—gazing at the wonderful reflection of light through the deeply eut facets, inhaling the delicious aroma, the bouquet of the vineyards, toying with it for the best part of an hour?
There is something about a glass of port that makes one feel almost poetic, Heaven knows that I hold no brief for poets, but occasionally one does come across a fine thought in verse, though it may be precious seldom. Most of the poets seem to be inspired by an attack of the liver or are the victims of unrequited love, and who can blame any self-respecting lady for refusing the amours of a poet? But there is something about a glass of port, its glorious color, its depth of richness, far finer than the costliest ruby, that sets one dreaming and takes one away for a few moments from this sordid twentieth century. A glass of '47 is the elixir of life.
'87 was another wonderful year. I was fortunate enough to be a youngster just emerging from my 'teens when '87 began to be recognized as a wonderful wine. It was good then; it is superb now.
What a shocking thing for a boy, not twenty, to take an interest in wine, is it not? No, not at all for—breathe it gently-I had the good luck to obtain a clerkship in a very old established wine business. And in those days, wine was one of the few -trades one could enter without fear of losing that awful and terrible bugbear "caste.'' Snobbery is the worst of the minor vices and yet without snobbery the world, as we understand it, could not exist. We know what the lack of snobbery has done for poor Russia; we can imagine what will happen to the rest of the world if the snobs be eliminated. Vice is but virtue carried to excess and snobbery is merely another name for self-respect exaggerated, and nowhere is it more rife than in what is called a democratic community. Snobs abound-in the home, in the office, in the church, the village, the community, everywhere. Down at heart we are all snobs and if one has only a sense of humor it is supportable, nay amusing.
The scene of my early labors was a delight. The office was spacious with large windows. In the winter a comfortable fire burned in the large open grate in the outer office. Green silk curtains screened the lower part of the windows from the vulgar gaze of the passerby, and corresponding green silk curtains screened the upper part of the desks from the customers or visitors who chanced to call. The ledgers were so Iarge that it was as much as I could do to carry them from the safe to my desk. Quill pens had retired in favor of steel ones on my entry, as had the sand-box in favor of blotting-paper. There was no evidence of wine about the place—that would have been vulgar—but the atmosphere was charged with a delicious blend of the sweet aromae of wine, brandy and corks, that came up from the cellar. The chief, a most polished gentleman of the old school, only used his private office when some particularly particular customer came in or when he sampled some new vintage. And re-member this, oh ye ignoramus, in sampling wine, it is only tasted, not swallowed; and it is only tasted after having passed the test of smell. I have often seen him with six or seven glasses of wine before him,—each glass with a hidden label on the foot, reject four or five on the bouquet alone and then the remaining ones would be tested and arranged in their order of merit before the labels were looked at. And then came the final test of color. A special old Waterford glass was used for this. It was most beautifully cut though the lip was as thin as a visiting card. The stem was a trifle dumpy because it had been broken many times ,and blown together again, and with each re-pair, so had the stem shrunk. Then there was a special glass for claret, one with an out-turned lip, He liked this because it distributed the bouquet. Now the dock glass you will remember is slightly larger at the bottom than at the top, the alleged object being to concentrate the bouquet so that it escapes just below the nostrils; but the dock glass was invented or evolved by some sordid utilitarian and not by an epicure. The glass should be wide enough at the top to admit the nose of moderate proportions, for the bouquet of the vintage is of as great importance as the taste.
Champagne should not be taken from a tumbler except as a "corpse reviver"' in the forenoon, and at that hour and, for that purpose, an inferior wine is as suitable as a good one, especially if it be "Niblitized," that is, has incorporated in it a liqueur glass of brandy and a squeeze of lime, with the rind dropped in the glass. Neither the palate nor the stomach is in fit condition to receive champagne before eight p.m., and then it should be taken from the thinnest of thin glasses, either of the trumpet or inverted mushroom shape. Those champagne glasses with a hollow stem are delightful if the stem be kept perfectly clean, but it is difficult to expel from it all the water in which they are washed and sometimes this will turn musty and flavor the wine. On principle I am against hollow stems except as curiosities. Nor do I like colored glasses, except for hock which is apt to be slightly cloudy, but I have refrained from drinking hock since 1914 and I hope that every patriot will inflict this little penance on him-self, just as a reminder that the Great War was not waged in vain. The wines of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal will surely suffice without our having to draw on those of the erstwhile Central Empires.
I have always loved the tall, graceful, thin-stemmed sherry glass, and here again one can no more enjoy a glass of Montilla or Amontillado out of a port glass, than one can a glass of Cockburn or Kopke out of a sherry glass. One might as well try to play tennis in a football suit. It can't be done.
One of my most cherished memories—one that constantly recurs to my mind, was my one and only taste of "Duke's Montilla." This was a special sherry of the vintage of 1815, shipped over when the Duke of Wellington was at the zenith of his popularity and named after him by the grateful Spaniards. What higher compliment could they pay him? My dear old chief was sick unto death and the doctor said he could have anything his soul craved.
He desired a bottle of "Duke's Montilla," but he was too far gone to take more than a sip, so his son, one of the rarest of mortals, brought the remains of the bottle back to the office so that I might taste it. "You may," said he, "never get another opportunity." I never have had, but I can still taste that glorious wine—three times round the Cape, ten years in wood and some fifty-five in bottle.
When my own time comes I fancy that a glass of Sande man '64 would be a fitting stirrup-cup, but before I die, the gods willing, I shall go to Spain to revel in the Bodegas of Jerez. For years I have had a standing invitation to visit the Garvey cellars. I want to taste the "natural" wine of Spain, the wine that has no added spirit, the wine of which a parson once told me "you can drink a bucketful without knowing it." And then a Spanish friend who was describing a bull-fight to me, finished with: "And then ze bull, ten minutes after he is keeled, zey serve hot bull sandwiches with a glass of Manzanilla. Ah! but it ees gr-r-r-neat !"
Much excellent glass is made to-day but it does not compare with old glass. It is whitish and cold to the eye and it has not the rich, diamond-like sparkle. Cut glass is better than engraved glass for wine, for, however beautiful the engraving may be, the design will cloud the wine instead of reflecting it. And then there are those wonderful old tumblers, portly enough to necessitate a full-sized hand to grasp them, but glasses that have the ring of a fairy bell. Each one hand-blown, flawless and perfect, the base ground on a wheel to flatten it, and left ground without being polished. There is something about them that denotes the master craftsman who ,excelled in the work he loved. I am the happy possessor of four such tumblers, tumblers which were full grown and of man's estate long before the Boston Tea Party, and when this fair land still chafed under the yoke of the oppressor.
Most of our ugly glass dates from what we call the Victorian period though that is really a libel on the name of the Great Little Lady. It should be called the Prince Consort period, for it was he who, taking a profound interest in "art," imported all those horrible ideas from Germany. This country suffered equally badly through the invasion of the "forty-eighters." It is only within the last few years that we have been able to attempt to get away from its influence. Glass is still handicapped and daily, hourly, one can see hideous, heavy, thick cut glass of bad design in any jewelers' or house-furnishing store.
Glass is really a man's passion. Few women care for it. And yet one of the keenest appreciators I ever met, who really loved her glass, was a dear old lady of seventy—an old lady who wore a lace cap decorated with ribbons which partially hid the chenille net in which she wore her hair. Her dress was flounced silk and for high days and holidays a claret colored brocade. Her shoes were black cashmere with elastic side-springs and patent leather toes. In her presence one thought of lavender, and could scarcely realize she lived anywhere but in Cranford. Her greatest pleasure was to gather her friends around her, and as to her family, she knew each one personally even unto the third and fourth generation. Was it not Carlyle who said that every one had a tile or two loose, but that some people's tiles were looser than others? Well if it wasn't Carlyle it doesn't much matter—it is equally true whoever said it, but the dear old lady, as far as I knew or know, had but one tile loose and that was on the subject of temperance She was positively insane on the matter of wine, spirits and beer. She would allow none in her house, but she did make most delicious, appetizing and captivating "fruit juices," as she called them. She declared that if any one did not like her fruit juices he could stay away, but as for having any of those "filthy French or Spanish wines in my house! Why, my dear, you may not believe me, but my cousin Alec Shairp—that is, he's my second cousin, his dear mother was my father's first cousin— You remember the Shairps of St. Andrews don't you? Well, he told me that when he visited a vine-yard in Spain when he was stationed at Gibraltar, he actually saw the filthy Spaniards treading the grapes with their naked feet! And they never wash you know. Did you ever hear of such a thing? I scarcely know whether to believe him or not-he was a terrible tease. No, I wouldn't have any such stuff in my house, I can assure you. I should think not indeed. The very idea !" And so she would go on, talking by the yard without a pause, and generally she would end up with, "Now you try a glass of my elderberry (or grape) juice with a seedy biscuit and tell me what you think of it."
The last time I visited the dear soul, as I said good-by she pressed into my hand a small package saying, "A little present for a good boy who comes to see an old woman. You may turn up your nose at it now but the time will come when you will find it mighty useful."
Opening the package when I was alone, I found a sprig of rosemary, to which was attached a tiny label inscribed For Remembrance, and also a little red leather-covered book filled with angular writing in faded brown ink. The opening page had on it merely:
"My favourite Verse.
1 Timothy v, 23."
and I found that the little book contained recipes for the little old lady's famous fruit juices. I cannot do better than copy them verbatim.
If you would make a delicious beverage from the juice of elderberries, to every gallon of berries, which should for preference be plucked from the stalks, allow three pounds of sugar and not more than four gallons of spring water. Crush the fruit with a wooden pestle till the juice be expressed and place it and the sugar in an earthen crock. Add one gallon of water and stir till the sugar be melted and then add the rest of the water. Cover the crock with a clean cloth, over which a flat board cover should be placed. Then keep the crock in a warm, even temperature and stir daily. At' the end of about fourteen days you will notice that the cloying sweetness has disappeared and the juice has a pleasant taste. It is now time to place it in bottles or casks. If you make a large quantity a cask is the better, but I only make small quanti-ties for the use of my dear guests, and therefore I place it in bottles for three or four days leaving the corks loose, after which I place one raisin in each bottle and drive the cork home. It must now be kept in a very cold cellar or the corks may blow out, because for some reason the juice gets very lively and sparkles like the water at Vichy Springs, where my dear mother took me when I was a little girl. Juice from elderberries gathered in August will be fit to drink the following May.
P. S. If you do not put in the raisin, the juice may not sparkle but the flavor is just as good. This still juice Is particularly good mulled on cold winter evenings, with a slice of lemon and a lump of sugar, with a little grated nutmeg. It is very useful in sickness and will often ward off a bad cold. With it I cured my niece, Matilda Brown, of the croup.
There are so many different kinds of grapes and the preserved juices are so different, that it has always been a puzzle to me why the juice varies so. But though I always make the beverage the same way the character of the juice is seldom the same. This may be because I do not take particular notice of what grapes I use, nor do I worry about the exact maturity of the fruit. But this I have noticed; that unripe or partially ripe fruit makes a sweeter juice than ripe grapes. But I am always careful to stack away each batch of juice together, so that I do not get them mixed, and I also label them. My crock in which I make all my juices contains only five gallons and one year having many grapes I made three batches. They were all excellent but quite different in character. The early batch was stout and full, the second lighter in body with a rather pleasant acidity-very fine to drink throughout dinner—and the thirds light in body and color and sparkling. My cousin, Alec Shairp, Captain in the Marines, and who loved to shock me, declared that No 1 was like Burgandy, No 2 like Claret, and No 3 like Champagne. But he was a terrible tease and of course I wouldn't have such things in my house. But it was a great joy to see how much he appreciated my homemade juices, and with each bottle he became more charming and amusing. Dear Alec.
And this is how I make my preserve: ---
I pick the grapes at noon when the sun has thoroughly dried them from the morning dew, because if they be gathered while the dew or rain drops be still on them, the juice will mildew. I pluck them from the stalk and crush them, always being careful that no metal touches them. That is why I never use a cider press. To each gallon of grapes I allow half-a-gallon of spring water and one pound of sugar, thoroughly dissolved. I cover it with a cloth and place the crock in a warm corner of the kitchen and stir it with a wooden spoon every twenty-four hours. At the end of fourteen days, or less if the weather be very warm, I strain and bottle it, leaving the corks loose for three days. Then I cork it down and it is ready for drinking the following spring.
For this recipe I have to thank my dear cousin Amelia Parkhurst-she is considerably my senior—and she told me at the time, that it was given to her by the Earl of Peterborough. It appears that while she was staying with the Earl, the Prince Regent invited himself to the house, much to the old earl's annoyance. When he was leaving , and was thanking his host for the hospitality shown him, he remarked,
"I shall certainly come again, if only to drink some more of that excellent champagne."
"I am so glad your Royal Highness approves my home-made rhubarb wine," replied the Earl with a courtly bow.
Amelia says the Regent's face was a picture, but the Earl's object was attained. He was bothered no more with Royal visits.
And this is how the Earl treated his rhubarb:
To every 5 pounds of rhubarb pulp allow one gallon of cold spring water; to every gallon of liquor allow 3 pounds of loaf sugar, 1/2 oz. isinglass, the rind of one lemon.
Gather rhubarb about the middle of May, wipe it with a wet cloth, and bruise it with a mallet in a wooden tub. When reduced to a pulp weigh it, and to every 5 pounds of pulp add one gallon of cold spring water; let these re-main for 3 days, stirring 3 or 4 times a day. On the 4th day press the pulp through a hair sieve, put the liquor in a tub and to every gallon add 3 pounds of sugar. Stir in the sugar till it is quite dissolved and add lemon rind. Let the liquor remain and in 4, 5, or 6 days the fermentation will begin to subside and a crust or head will be formed. This should be skimmed off or the liquor drawn from it when the crust begins to crack or separate.
Put the liquor in a cask and if after that it ferments, rack it off into another cask and in a fortnight stop it down.
If the liquor should have lost any of its original sweetness add a little more loaf sugar, taking care that the cask is full. Drive home the bung and store in a cool cellar. Care should be taken that the temperature does not go too low during the winter.
Bottle it off in February or March and in the summer it should be fit to drink.
It will improve greatly by keeping.
For this recipe and also for that of the Dutch Cordial, I have to thank my dear friend the Abbé Rougevin. His housekeeper Marianne makes it for him every year, and it was she who wrote out the directions for me, but her French is so incredibly bad, that I had the greatest difficulty in making them out. But by the process of experiment, I eventually deciphered them both and they are very excellent. The Dutch Cordial—a wine-glass of it taken before dinner, serves to pique the jaded appetite, while the Raisin Juice is very good to drink throughout a simple meal.
Take a five-gallon jar and into it put 4 lbs. of seeded raisins chopped fine, 4 lbs. of white sugar, 2 lbs. of yellow corn-meal, and over it all pour 2 gallons of boiling water. Then let it cool and when it is 80° Farenheit add two cakes of yeast stirred with a little sugar till it creams. Stir once a day for eleven days and then filter through a fine cloth. Let the filtered liquor stand a few hours till it throws some sediment to the bottom of the container, and then re-filter it through filtering paper. Then bottle it. Be careful that the jar in which the juice is made is kept in a warm, even temperature, and also be sure the water is not too hot when the yeast is added.
5 lbs. of seedless raisins
Put all the ingredients into a crock, dissolving the yeast in a little sugar and adding to it one pint of warm water.
Leave the mixture for two weeks. After three or four days push down the oranges to allow the liquid to wet them.
Repeat this in another three or four days, but do not stir the liquid. At the end of two weeks, filter through a fine cloth and filtering paper, and bottle. Note that the raisins are not chopped, the water is not boiled, and the liquid is not stirred.
I give these recipes for what they are worth and because I consider it as the only recompense I can make for an old lady's forethought. It only goes to show what excellent house-wives there were in a bygone age but I would draw my readers' attention to the fact that by the law of the land, beverages must not contain more than one half of one per cent of alcohol, and if in the preparation of these juices a greater quantity of alcohol may be developed, they must take steps to reduce it in accordance with the law. I might also mention, that before incorporating these recipes in this book, I took the precaution of asking the Attorney General to give a ruling on the subject, and received the following reply:
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
In compliance with your letter of June 15, 1922, requesting to be advised relative to the legality of publishing recipes covering the use of fermented fruit juices, you are advised that the law prescribing the duties of the Attorney General does not permit him to give official opinions to others than the President and the heads of the several executive departments of the United States. This principle, repeatedly declared by former Attorneys General, was in 1878 well expressed by former Attorney General Devens, as follows:
The authority of the Attorney General to render his official opinion is limited by the laws which create and define his office and does not permit him to give advice at the call of either House of Congress or of Congress itself, but only to the President or the head of an Executive Department of the Government. The absence of authority to respond to calls for legal opinions coming from sources other than those prescribed by law was early in the history of the Government suggested, . .
by the then Attorney General, Mr. Wirt, and no change in this respect has been made by the law creating the Department of Justice. The view thus taken has been invariably observed by my predecessors, including Attorneys General Taney, Crittenden, Bates, Evarts, Williams. (15 Ops. A. G., 475, 476.)"
The rule thus stated as a rule of law may also be regarded as a rule of necessity. So many are the requests coming to the Department for advice on difficult legal questions that, were all to be properly examined into and answered, the efficiency of the Department in the performance of its regular legal duties would be seriously affected.
For these reasons it is impossible for this Department to comply with your request.