Along The Wine Trail, and What Tea Found Thereon September 18th, 2011 at 10:08 pm
My recent dearth of posts to my own food blog (thank you Rose, for still being active in my absence!) can only be attributed to a week of allergies followed by a week of bronchitis. I’m slowly recovering from the bronchitis, physically weak but mostly able to breathe again, although my medication, including a codeine-based cough syrup, means that I’m forbidden (tragedy of tragedies) to drink.
But my recovery means that I’m now well enough (even though I’m still a bit weak, woozy, and dizzy) to tell you a story that is in very small part a recipe but in a larger part a romance, in the more classic meaning of the word, where I embarked upon a voyage that I thought was going to be one of humorous novelty, and discovered I had opened a door into a world that I had not known existed, and a kinship with someone who died long before I was born.
Some of you might know that I had a great-grandfather named G Selmer Fougner, who, from 1933 to 1941, was the chief wine columnist for the New York Sun (the newspaper of “Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus,” fame. He is often touted as journalism’s “first wine writer,” as his column started just on the heels of Prohibition’s repeal, and he went on to write about food in a way that is luxurious, decadent, and verging on sinful as he operated at the peak of the Great Depression. But I’ve also heard that what he did was afford people who could not eat as he did a sort of vicarious entertainment, the same way that movies of the 1930s allowed people a view into fabulous and wealthy homes.
Now, most of you know that I’m not much of a wine drinker. I don’t dislike wine, and I will certainly have a glass now and then, but I’ll almost always choose gin, whiskey, or beer over wine.
So the existence of “Baron” Fougner remained an entertaining tidbit that I’ve sometimes mentioned at parties, or am now-and-then confronted with by someone with a particularly rich knowledge of wine lore, like my eighth grade science teacher. But other than the pride of such an interesting role in the history of journalism, it wasn’t too much to me.
Then, this summer, I was looking for gifts for my father for his birthday, and thought it might be a treat if I could find one of G. Selmer Fougner’s books, unsure whether my father had all of them. I started doing a search, and discovered the following:
Along the Wine Trail, Volume II: Distilled Spirits
This was followed up by a third volume, also on spirits.
I asked my mother if she knew about this. And, lo and behold, I discovered that we were in fact in possession of a full bound set of all five volumes of Along the Wine Trail.
So I started reading. And I discovered that this book included recipes. Not only did it include recipes, but it included recipes in the guise of entertaining stories about my great-grandfather’s experiences mixing, ordering, and drinking cocktails.
All kinds of cocktails.
I started in the beginning of the recipe section, with the first recipe in the book, which, of course, was The Martini. I went on to the French Martini, and then to the Bronx Cocktail.
And here is my great-grandfather’s “recipe” for The Old Fashioned Cocktail, transcribed word for word.
The following letter from a “Wine Trail” follower will interest those who favor the Old Fashioned Cocktail:
“After reading your articles in The Sun for several weeks, I should like to ask you a question which confuses many of my friends. What is the preferred recipe for an Old Fashioned Cocktail? A few days ago one of my guests asked the waiter for one and specified a piece of orange, a piece of lemon, a slice of pineapple and a cherry, and the waiter, who was German, responded with: ‘Ach! Vot you vant is vegetable soup.’
“Personally, I have tasted Old Fashioned Cocktails which made me think my head was on fire, and then I have tasted a variety which made me forgive all my enemies and fill me with a desire to give all I have to the poor.”
The waiter may have thought he was being funny, but he showed rare ignorance of the requisites of his job. Some of the best recipes for an “old fashioned” call for all the fruit mentioned. Oscar of the Waldorf specifies as follows: 1 lump of sugar, 1 jigger of rye whiskey, 1 cherry, 1 dash bitters, 1/2 slice orange, 1 stick fresh pineapple and a lump of ice.
Charles C Mueller, pioneer bartender of some of hte finest hotels and clubs, uses the same ingredients, while this writer prefers the simple form containing merely the sugar, dissolved in a few drops of mineral water, rye whiskey, a dash of bitters, a lump of ice and a piece of lemon peel twisted on top.
There is something magical, to me, about being able to share a cocktail with a man who died nearly forty years before I was born, but who left me a legacy that I might appreciate more than anything else he could have given me.