03 July, 2008

The Mintiest of Mint Juleps

For Raven, who requested a virtual mint julep.

From Sunday through Tuesday, Ted and I refrain from having a nightcap, just to prove we're not alcoholics. We got the idea from my cousin's wife, Anne (Ann? Shoot, I forget how she spells it), whose family celebrates A.F.J. (Alcohol Free January) each year. Well, "celebrates" might be the wrong word. More like "observes."

Anyway, most of the time we manage to make it all three nights without a cocktail, but sometimes we cheat a little bit--especially now, when the weather is so nice and it's so pleasant to end the day chatting over a cool and refreshing michelada or a frosty He'brew beer.* And when mint is growing like a weed--literally--all over the front yard, what's a girl to do?

Make a mint julep!

Mint growing wild next to the front door. There is so much of it, that I've offerred it to the tenants (who are dragging out the rum for mojitos!) and the neighbors. This photo was taken at 1:15 a.m. or so--only the freshest of mint will do for middle-of-the-night mint juleps!

The first reference to mint juleps is found in an 1803 book by John Davis called Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America, where it is described as "a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning." Gotta love those early Virginians, imbibing first thing in the morning!

My favorite version of the recipe comes from The Buckner Family web site, which I found while surfing, and dates to 1937:

Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon, distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.

In a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.

In each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outsides of the goblets dry and embellish copiously with mint.

Then comes the important and delicate operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until Nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glittering coat of white frost. Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.

When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden, where the aroma of the juleps will rise Heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblet to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.

Beautiful, eh? My own version is a little more crude.

Pour simple syrup in the bottom of a glass. Toss in some mint leaves. Muddle them around with a spoon. Throw in some ice and more mint leaves. Pour in the bourbon and top with a mint garnish.

Our refrigerator at The Box House doesn't have a "crushed ice" feature like we had at the condo; I usually let it sit for a few minutes so the ice will melt and dilute the alcohol. That's two shots of good ol' Kentucky bourbon in there. The glass was one I acquired whilst dumpster diving.

And here's a version from Early Times for those of you who prefer measurements in recipes:

2 fluid ounces Early Times Kentucky Whisky
1 tablespoon simple syrup
Mint sprigs
Crushed ice

Simple Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 bunch fresh mint sprigs

Crush a few mint leaves in the bottom of an 8-oz. glass, then fill with crushed ice. Add one tablespoon of simple syrup and one tablespoon of water. Add 2 ounces of Early Times. Stir gently until glass frosts. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig, sip and enjoy.

Simple syrup directions: Combine sugar and water. Boil for 5 minutes without stirring. Pour mix over a handful of mint leaves, and gently crush the mint with a spoon. Refrigerate overnight in a closed jar. Remove mint leaves, but continue to refrigerate. Stays fresh for several weeks.
Mint Juleps are sooooooooooooooooooo delicious. I can drink them all summer long.

So, what's your summertime favorite? If you include the recipe, I'll whip one up at The Box House in your honor. Don't worry if it's too exotic. Our liquor cabinet borders on the ridiculous with specialties we've collected in our travels. Chances are, we have the ingredients. (Nope, we're not alcoholics. Honest. Just call us connoisseurs.)

Hand me my mint julep, mammny.

Hurry up!
Make haste!
—Langston Hughes,
from "Cultural Exchange"

*I'm not kidding about the beer; Shmaltz brewery distributes He'Brew: The Chosen Beer, with varities such as Jewbelation, Rejewvenator, Genesis Ale, and Messiah Bold. We discovered the brand at the local Jewel grocery store.

For more on mint juleps, check out Joe Nickell's The Kentucky Mint Julep.


Rae said...

Mmmm *hiccup*

I've only just recently started to discover cocktails and mixed drinks, so an ice cold beer remains my summer drink of choice. But I never turn down a margarita or a pina colada!

John said...

God that sounds good. Having lived in the South forever, it seems so wrong that I haven't ever had one. I'm going to see if I can remedy that this weekend.

I've always been a fan of Crown & 7 - all you need is a rock glass full of ice, a healthy sized jigger of Crown Royal and top with 7up.

Lately, I've been drinking a variation of that. I have no idea if it's a real drink or not. It's the same as above, but use dark rum and a couple slices of lime mixed in with the ice.

Both are great for the summer.

Joanne said...

Raven--Tonight is burrito night, and a margarita sounds divine. I'll have to make one.

John--You'll always remember your first. Enjoy that julep! I'll have to try your lime/rum/7up concoction.

Marilyn said...

Joanne, you rock, dear! I love your long drink-obsessed history posts. My parents used to make a drink called a "Banana Banshee" in their swingin' 70's days, and when the dinner company cleared we'd sip the leftovers in our pajamas - oops!

I have a hilarious Jewel-in-Skokie story to tell you. Perhaps in private.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. We don't have anything nearly so interesting planned for the wedding. Just the usual beer and wine. BUT. I'll make you a deal...
You bring the fresh mint leaves and simple syrup and I'll make sure there's bourbon and crushed ice at the cookout on Friday. I have to attend the rehearsal dinner first, but will hurry over for a mint julep! I'm sure I'll be ready for one by then.


Joanne said...

Sandy--We're so looking forward to the wedding and BBQ.

I'll pack some up, but I'm not sure how well the mint will travel. As a back up, I can bring an infusion of mint leaves steeped in simple syrup so we'll still have the minty flavor. Let me know if there's anything else we should bring along.

Marilyn--You've piqued my curiosity. Do, do share the story. (We usually shop at the huge Jewel on Howard at McCormick.)

I looked up the Banana Banshee recipe--sounds decadent.

Jennifer said...

MMmmm... the herb lady at the farmer's market this week sent us home with a HUGE bunch of mint "as a gift" for buying what we ACTUALLY wanted. We thought about making these, but made mint ice tea and lemonade instead. I still ahve a couple of sprigs left... I might ahve to try this!