For our third jaunt into the politics, romance, customs, and (most importantly) drinking in the upper-middle-and-upper-classes as shown in the Anthony Trollope book The Prime Minister, we go on a little vacation. This takes us back into contact with Sexty (!) Parker (for more on Sexty, see The Prime Minister Cocktail Talk Part II), and with his wife, and with Emily Wharton, here using her married name, Mrs. Lopez (for more on Emily and for a brief overview of the whole book, be sure to see The Prime Minister Cocktail Talk Part I, and don’t miss the past Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks). The below quote is a bit long, forgive me! But I didn’t want to miss the so-called bubbly or the not-called (but still seems to be) whiskey toddy. You deserve both – and deserve to read the book, so do if you haven’t.
It was all his ordering, and if he bade her dine with a crossing-sweeper she would do it. But she could not but remember that not long since he had told her that his partner was not a person with whom she could fitly associate; and she did not fail to perceive that he must be going down in the world to admit such association for her after he had so spoken. And as she sipped the mixture which Sexty called champagne, she thought of Herefordshire and the banks of the Wye, and,— alas, alas, — she thought of Arthur Fletcher. Nevertheless, come what might, she would do her duty, even though it might call upon her to sit at dinner with Mr. Parker three days in the week. Lopez was her husband, and would be the father of her child, and she would make herself one with him. It mattered not what people might call him, — or even her. She had acted on her own judgment in marrying him, and had been a fool; and now she would bear the punishment without complaint.
When dinner was over Mrs. Parker helped the servant to remove the dinner things from the single sitting-room, and the two men went out to smoke their cigars in the covered porch. Mrs. Parker herself took out the whisky and hot water, and sugar and lemons, and then returned to have a little matronly discourse with her guest. “Does Mr. Lopez ever take a drop too much?” she asked.
“Never,” said Mrs. Lopez.
“Perhaps it don’t affect him as it do Sexty. He ain’t a drinker; — certainly not. And he’s one that works hard every day of his life. But he’s getting fond of it these last twelve months, and though he don’t take very much it hurries him and flurries him.
Please, I implore you, read the Vanity Fair Cocktail Talk Part I, so you can hear more about the book, where I land on it, and on what seven glasses of Champagne does to you. Here, we’re not going to get too deep into the book proper, as we have a long Cocktail Talk below, and it’s a good one, funny in a tipsy way, full of eating and drinking, featuring some of the book’s main characters, and highlighted by Rack Punch. Rack Punch! A curious thing, Rack Punch. It’s hard to pin down. I mean, I’m sure a genius cocktail historian like David Wondrich would know without looking up from his drink, but I can’t bother him. It’s either punch made with Batavia Arrack (rum-ish spirit made with sugar cane and a bit of fermented red rice), used in many tiki recipes or Arak, the grape-based anise spirit from the Levant area of the Eastern Mediterranean. You look it up and you’ll see Rack Punch using either one or the other (and even one spot that spells it Arrack but talks about it as if it was Arak!). My feel, my lean, as you might say, is it was made with Batavia Arrack. As it’s rum-y, that would match the time, and I don’t think Arak had made the inroads to Britain that rum and relatives had at the time. Also, the basic punch – sugar, lemon or other citrus, water, maybe some spices – would just pair better with it, as opposed to the anise-side, in my view. Both could be delicious, but that’s my take (btw, both spirits are delicious. The below Cocktail Talk is delicious, too).
The two couples were perfectly happy then in their box: where the most delightful and intimate conversation took place. Jos was in his glory, ordering about the waiters with great majesty. He made the salad; and uncorked the Champagne; and carved the chickens; and ate and drank the greater part of the refreshments on the tables. Finally, he insisted upon having a bowl of rack punch; everybody had rack punch at Vauxhall. “Waiter, rack punch.”
That bowl of rack punch was the cause of all this history. And why not a bowl of rack punch as well as any other cause? Was not a bowl of prussic acid the cause of Fair Rosamond’s retiring from the world? Was not a bowl of wine the cause of the demise of Alexander the Great, or, at least, does not Dr. Lempriere say so?—so did this bowl of rack punch influence the fates of all the principal characters in this “Novel without a Hero,” which we are now relating. It influenced their life, although most of them did not taste a drop of it.
The young ladies did not drink it; Osborne did not like it; and the consequence was that Jos, that fat gourmand, drank up the whole contents of the bowl; and the consequence of his drinking up the whole contents of the bowl was a liveliness which at first was astonishing, and then became almost painful; for he talked and laughed so loud as to bring scores of listeners round the box, much to the confusion of the innocent party within it; and, volunteering to sing a song (which he did in that maudlin high key peculiar to gentlemen in an inebriated state), he almost drew away the audience who were gathered round the musicians in the gilt scollop-shell, and received from his hearers a great deal of applause.
Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, what to do with you? I’m talking here about the book by Thackeray, of course, not the magazine. I’ll leave that to people who have read the magazine, and here we’ll stick to the book, which I recently re-read. And it took me a while, I will fully admit. I’ll also admit that the book is a classic, no matter how long it took. I mean, it’s so rich with stuff, in a way, and such a view into a certain milieu of the times, which is in some ways reflection of ones modern (maybe more than some ways). But it’s also a novel that to me reads completely (well, maybe not every single moment), or nearly completely, as if written in the sarcasm font, to bring it modern again. And if Mr. Thackeray, with respect, just scorns every character. Which means – very funny. Very realized characters. Now, he brings it together at the end in a friendlier way, and manages one of the best last lines ever, and when I was done, I was happy to have re-read it, and no doubt many Thackeray scholars if they read this post would school me! Understandably so. So, let’s change the narrative as they say. And instead let me say that I had forgotten how many swell Cocktail Talking scenes he brought into the book. We need to have at least two, maybe four. It makes sense, as Thackeray was known to enjoy, love, adore the clubs of the time (think port, not pulsating music), and not be ashamed to hit the late night brandy dens, etc. I’m all for it! And here we are! Our first Cocktail Talk. With Champagne! Seven glasses! And cherry brandy! And more!
“I think she’s going,” said the Rector’s wife. “She was very red in the face when we left dinner. I was obliged to unlace her.”
“She drank seven glasses of champagne,” said the reverend gentleman, in a low voice; “and filthy champagne it is, too, that my brother poisons us with–but you women never know what’s what.”
“We know nothing,” said Mrs. Bute Crawley.
“She drank cherry-brandy after dinner,” continued his Reverence, “and took curacao with her coffee. I wouldn’t take a glass for a five-pound note: it kills me with heartburn. She can’t stand it, Mrs. Crawley–she must go–flesh and blood won’t bear it! and I lay five to two, Matilda drops in a year.”
March is a celebratory month (as is every month, I would hazard to hypothesize), and celebratory months deserve punches, as you can celebrate by your lonesome, but it’s not really the same as celebrating with a passel of pals or a flock of family. Is it? I don’t feel it is. Those sole celebrators, don’t get up in it. You can have your own stance. Anywho, following along the celebratory-and-punches track, here’s one to consider: Bombay Punch. I have to admit, I’m not sure why it’s called “Bombay,” as it doesn’t contain to my eye any ingredients from the Bombay region – though there are I believe some good brandies made in India, so you could go that route! Brandy being the base here, onto which grape-derived goodness is added nutty maraschino, orange-y Cointreau, apricot-y apricot liqueur, some tangy oj, and some bubbly bubbles. It’s a fruity, bumping, sparkling treat, one ideal for any celebration – though if it is a solo one (as we chatted about above), don’t drink this all at once by yourself.
This quote’s from another story featured in one of the British Library Crime Classics anthologies, edited as always by the indefatigable Martin Edwards (see a couple past British Library Crime Classics Cocktail Talks). This particular collection is called Guilty Creatures, and is roaming with mysteries that circle or feature or highlight or spotlight animals in some way. Being an animal-lover myself, it was an ideal mix of stories for me. Not a lot of Cocktail Talking as you might expect, and (also as you might expect in a collection featuring a range of stories from early-to-middle last century) with a few stories that don’t hit such a high mark, though many, many do. This particular story actually wasn’t one of my favs, but was fun in a way, and has the amazing title “Pit of Screams,” and has snakes playing a big part, and a warning on brandy and Champagne in the below quote that while I can’t agree with, I can certainly understand!
In Togarapore to this day they will tell you that the snakes hypnotized the Rajah so that he fell. But what do you think?
He was giddy from the drink and the sun? Yes, that’s another possible explanation. It is bad to drink brandy and Champagne at midday. But neither is correct. What really killed the Rajah was a tear running down the cheek of that girl wife.
I was a young man in those days, very strong and with hot blood. When I saw that tear I bent, unnoticed, and jerked his ankles so that he somersaulted like the rat he was into the Pit of Screams.
I’ve only yet had one other Cocktail Talk (The Case of Oscar Brodski Cocktail Talk, from the Blood on the Tracks anthology) from a British Library Crime Classics collection, though I hope to have more. These collections (there are a fair amount now, themed often in various ways) bring together some more famous, some less famous, some oft anthologized, some mostly forgotten mystery and crime stories written by British authors mainly in the early part of the last century. They’re loads of fun. Not all the stories are top shelf, but I haven’t read one yet (and I have three of the collections now) that didn’t have some merit. In them, better-known names (the awesome Arthur Conan Doyle for one) sit alongside lesser-known authors, some of whom were renowned during their times, then faded from public knowledge as years passed. As happens! Just today, I was reading the collection called Settling Scores, which contains murders and crimes around various types of sports and sporting events: tennis, golf, squash, boxing, and more, including rowing, which is where our Cocktail Talk comes from, as might be guessed from the story’s title, “The Boat Race Murder.” It was written by David Winser, who had a burgeoning writing career (and doctoring career) cut tragically short by a bomb in WWII. The series editor (and well-known mystery writer in his own right) Martin Edwards provides helpful bios for each author, along with picking the stories. You might think, “sports,” and expect a lack of Cocktail Talking (training and all) – I didn’t expect to find a quote quite right myself. But then came across the below, which is perfect.
You must try and picture a fizz night at Ranelagh. Someone, the coach or some other old Blue, had suddenly produced a dozen bottles of Champagne, and the coach has said that the crew’s been going so well that it damn well deserves the filthy stuff. Actually, as he and everyone else knows, the main purpose of the fizz is to stop the crew getting stale.
Sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics. This here (or, below here) is my recipe for Champagne Punch, the one I picked up from family holiday gatherings when I was a wee one, the one I was making for parties long before even this blog started (so, dinosaurs were walking the earth), and long before I put the recipe in Good Spirits (and probably others books and articles), and long before I started typing this sentence (which is itself rather long now, though not as long as some by, say, Henry James). It’s a basic ol’ bubbly fruity rummy punchy number, not all la-de-da, but very solid, very tasty, and very much a sparkling treat that’s wonderful around the holiday season – which, low and behold, we are now in, or nearly in if you don’t want to jump the gun. A stance I understand, but good to be prepared pals! So, have the basic recipe below in your back pocket – it’s sure to be a hit at your holiday gatherings, which I’m sure will be anything but basic.
Ice (in block form if possible; if not, large chunks)
6 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
4 ounces simple syrup
2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces white rum
6 ounces dark rum
Once 750-milliliter bottle chilled Champagne
Orange, lime, and lemon slices, for garnish
1. Add the ice to a large punch bowl. If using chunks (as opposed to a large block of ice), fill the bowl just under halfway.
2. Add the orange juice, simple syrup, lime juice, and lemon juice. With a large spoon or ladle, stir 10 times.
3. Add the white and dark rums. Stir 10 more times.
4. Add Champagne, but not too quickly. Enjoy the moment. Add a goodly amount of orange, lime, and lemon slices. Stir, but only once.
5. Ladle into punch glasses or festive goblets. Try to ensure that every guest gets a slice of fruit and a smile.
Finally picked up another Henry Kane book (to read more about the solo volume I had previously, check out the Martinis and Murder Cocktail Talks) a few weeks ago, one also starring private eye (or “private Richard” as he calls himself) Peter Chambers. The book follows along our big, smart, tough (but sexy!) PI in his mid-60s manner as he enters the world of large dollar signs and political influence. A world he busts right into, as you’d expect, with good suits, lots of suave action, and lots of drinking. He also shows a nice two-fister or two-gun intolerance for fascists no matter how much they pay – as every single person should of course! This book, like the other I’ve read is pretty fun, moves pretty fast, and opens a fair number of bottles of booze in a bubbly manner. Below, it’s Champagne. Taittinger 1921, if you were wondering!
“Coffee?” he said to his wife. The tall silver urn was doing small business. The big business was at the Champagne coolers.
“Wine,” she said.
“Had you better?”
“Taittinger 1921,” she said. “You bet I had better.” She smiled at me with large white teeth. “Which means I have never had better. Taittinger ’21. The best.”
We drank Champagne, ate, chatted, and ate and chatted and drank.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More