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Jul 4, 2011 12:19 PM

A martini in time w/ a Ransom note

Recently came across a copy of Bull Cook and Authentic Historic Recipes and Practices by George Leonard & Berthe E. Herter (1969).

Some excerpts ...

"The martini drink has become America's most popular hard liquor drink for two reasons.
1. It gives you more raw alcohol for your money than any other drink and hence more of an alcohol jolt.
2. Americans want to escape from reality and use martinis as an anesthetic not actually as a drink.
The way martini drinks are made in America, they are about the poorest excuse for an alcoholic drink that you could find, actually no better than drinking Sterno canned heat strained through bread, the national drink of the bum jungles."

The authors attribute the original martini to the 18th century German composer J.P. Scharzendorf and offer this recipe:

"Take two ounces of Genievre ... Add one ounce of dry white wine such as Rhine wine or Chablis. One sixteenth level teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Stir well and serve as cold as possible. You will note that there is no vermouth, or olive in the genuine martini. Vermouth is nothing but a cheap spice flavored white wine and was originally made in order to get rid of wine too poor to sell on its own. The idea of using vermouth in martinis was the sole idea of unscrupulous importers of vermouth who simply wanted to promote its sale and are the kind of people who will do anything to make money. The idea of putting an olive in a martini was the idea of Robert Agneau, French New York bartender who put in the olive to try to conceal the raw alcohol taste of martinis served in the United States with the salt of an olive. It helps very little."

Brilliant, bat-shit insane, or tired old-hat for the cognescenti?
All perspectives welcome!

On a more recent historic note, gave Ransom gin out of Oregon a spin (chilled\straight up).
If I had been served this blind, I would have thought it was a subtle anejo tequila.
Is this character typical of Old Tom gins or specific to this label (the cardamom)?
Summer & tall drinks ... this gin seems as if it could mix well and rub tanned shoulders.

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  1. Well, 35 years ago or so, I was a Herter's customer (the company sold fly-tying supplies and outdoor camping, hunting, and fishing gear). I read Bull-Cook then and found it peculiar. I re-read it a few years back and found it insanely wrong in almost every regard, but wrong in a most provocative way -- it forced one to consider one's assumptions and validate them against the very peculiar and strongly-held prejudices of George Herter (as to what one gathers about his relationship with Berthe from his comments in the book, perhaps the less-said, the better). Bull-cook is a provocative and amusing book, but not one that I would cook from or even believe.

    1 Reply
    1. re: johncb

      My brothers and I were Herter's disciples in our youth; we memorized their catalog, thick as an old Sears catalog, and quizzed each other. The charges against them for importing rare bird feathers for fly tying appears to have been their death knell.

      Prolific writer as GLH was, he also published "How to Live With a Bitch and Avoid Killing Her". We joked about buying it for our dad after an incident with our new stepmom. What really went on in Waseca, Minnesota?

      I still have 2 GLH knives! Sam Fujisaka was also a major Herters fan. George taught Sam and me how to skin a squirrel in 60 seconds, and many other maneuvers.

    2. While I don't know anything about his historical attribution of the creation of the drink, I do agree with the rest of his diagnosis. He's certainly correct about the origins of vermouth, and probably about the olive.

      I'm not sure when the "vodka martini" gained favor (or if it was popular when that was written), but that's how I thought of martinis growing up, and the martinis I sampled were certainly not not quality drinks. I could only stomach the "dirty" version, and he's dead on when he says that the whole point of the olive (and extended to the juice) is to cover the jet fuel flavor of a badly crafted drink. At some point I decided that I couldn't stand the things and didn't try one again for years.

      Only much later, after I started to experiment with gin, a lot more vermouth, and a lemon twist rather than an olive, and after I learned how to properly stir a drink, was I able to return... And not very often. I still don't think it's a very interesting drink, and he's probably correct when he says that for most people it's simply a quick way to get a buzz.

      By the way, agreed that Ransom is insanely good. Before using up my bottle I used it successfully in a number of classic drinks, and also had it neat a couple of times. No chilling required, in my opinion--it's pretty much perfect as-is.

      1. A better socio-historical perspective on the Martini can be found in Lowell Edmunds' _Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail_ (can be found for 1 cent + $3.99 shipping on Amazon).

        I disagree with the assessment of vermouth since it excludes the medicinal reasons why it was created. But yes, poorer quality wine is often used, but not always. Barolo Chinatos are one example but many place it in the category of quinquinas and not in vermouth proper.

        1. I have both of his books (the other is called, "George the Housewife"} and both are great fun but not to be taken seriously. Want a good read about booze in the USA? Go to "The Hour" by Bernard DeVoto--just as opinionated as Herter but a lot less crazy (DeVoto was a well known writer and critic)...the book dates from the early 1950's...

          6 Replies
          1. re: penthouse pup

            Bernard DeVoto believed that there were only two cocktails worth having, the Martini and a slug of whiskey (with or without bitters). So that pretty much sums up what a curmudgeon he was.

            Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail by William Grimes, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury, Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis, and How's Your Drink? by Eric Felten are all good reads.

            1. re: yarm

              Agree on all points. But Old DeVoto still strikes a chime...

              1. re: yarm

                "Bernard DeVoto believed that there were only two cocktails worth having, the Martini and a slug of whiskey (with or without bitters). So that pretty much sums up what a curmudgeon he was."

                I hate to admit that is where I've been for a while, spirits-wise. I have low tolerance for any sweet or close-to-sweet alcohol concotion which therefore knocks out a lot of drinks, like Irish whisky neat, and feel that most mixed drinks are absolute rip-offs ratio-wise and poorly made. Except for a few exceptional bartenders, I make my martinis at home, then stand out on my porch and scream to the kids, "get off my lawn!"

                1. re: EarlyBird

                  Odd. I don't find Irish Whiskey sweet. Perhaps I misunderstood your comment.

                  I too have a low tolerance for sweet cocktails, with some exceptions (e.g. a Manhattan). You might try exploring the wide world of bitter. You might find cocktails that combine bitter, sweet, and sour appealing. It is a whole new world, and the acid will tame that sweet. I've come to like some sweet/bitter drinks too, like a Negroni.

                  Campari and soda can be made as tart as desired with the addition of enough lime or lemon. The Paper Plane (and its variation Paper Airplane) are terrific bitter/sweet/sour cocktails.

                  Just a thought. For a long time, I drank almost nothing but Martinis, Scotch neat, and beer. I then discovered the huge variety of flavors that are possible with "grown up" cocktails. Kindred Cocktails grew out of my desire to catalog and share these recipes.

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                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                    Hi Dan,

                    Yes, I wrote a terrible sentence. I don't find Irish whisky sweet. I mean to write that I prefer that to sweet drinks.

                    I've not reached out beyond these items I listed too much in terms of mixed drinks. Thanks for putting this idea in my head. I'll hvae to check out some of these drinks.

                    1. re: EvergreenDan

                      Although I typically like my martinis glacial & clean (ie w/o the shake slake) ... (that come-hither, sweet, botanical nose), I don't object to a bitter tinge to introduce an additional note ... Cynar, Aperol, or one of many Amaros.

                      To digress ... locally, Hendricks and Fernet Branca (each, not together) have drawn considerable attention recently.

              2. I think I was most drawn by "their" voice ... direct, bald, natural.
                Clearly, exception can be taken.

                What works for you in this heat?