Monday, September 19, 2016

:: eight flavors - the untold story of american cuisine ::

I just finished reading Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, and it got me thinking of a drink of the day at Loyal Nine that was rather successful but had not been published here. The author of the book is Sarah Lohman whom I followed on her historical food and drink blog, Four Pounds of Flour for a bit before meeting her in person on her 19th Century Pub Crawl adventure back in 2011. That led to a blog post exchange where Sarah wrote about the return of Damson plum liqueur which I believe disappeared from cocktail books around the 1930s.

Sarah's book discusses how certain outside flavors have entered into American cuisine and been adopted by the masses. She skipped over chocolate and coffee for those flavors have filled up books on their own, but chose to include black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. In each chapter are colorful histories of important but lesser known characters who pushed the flavors along such as the infamous Chili Queens or the 12 year old who figured out how to get vanilla orchids to fertilize and produce vanilla pods with great efficiency. The chapter that got me thinking about drinks I have created was the one on curry powder; I have included my chef's Piccalilli spice blend into two drinks with the first one being our house hot buttered rum batter over the winter.

Lohman's interest in this group of spice blends began on a foodie "curry crawl" through New York City, and she surmises that the Asian Indian ethnicity being the third largest immigrant group after Mexican and Chinese has not hurt curry's acceptance into American cuisine. The book goes into the tales of celebrity chef Ranji Smile who really helped popularize it in the late 19th century; however, curry has been used in America for over 200 years well before Smile's time. The term curry has grown to include spice mixes from other parts of Asian including Thailand and China as well. Curry perhaps got a solid start in early America for several of the spices have antimicrobial properties and are thus good for food preservation.

Curry traveled back from India to England through the British East India Company, and the desire to eat such foods traveled back with the soldiers, merchants, and officials who spent time over there. The British fascination with curry made its way to America in the mid 18th century, with Hannah Glasse's 1747 The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy book becoming popular with the Colonists. Curries then made their way into American-penned books starting with Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife in 1824.
At Loyal Nine, chef Marc Sheehan latched onto the Piccalilli curry spice blend that became popular in America. The term stems from Hannah Glasse's 1747 book with the section on how "to make Paco-Lilla, or Indian Pickle" perhaps as a take on the 1694 recipe to make "Pickle Lila." The spelling settled on Piccalilli around 1799. Recipes vary widely with a subset of mustard seed, turmeric root, and hot pepper being included in most recipes. The first reference to Piccalilli in America was 1856 in a list of imported English goods and later in an 1878 recipe and in 1880s jokes. Our house piccalilli includes mustard, turmeric, hot pepper (I leave this one out of our drink mixes though), and four other spices. After having great success with the spice blend in our Hot Buttered Rum batter (that worked not only with rum but with Malort!), I decided to make a spiced syrup with the mix that later found its way into a drink of the day.
Gulliver's Grog
• 1 1/2 oz Old Monk Rum
• 1/2 oz Batavia Arrack
• 1 oz Piccalilli Syrup (*)
• 1/2 oz Lime Juice
• 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
• 1 dash Angostura Bitters
• 12 drop St. George Absinthe
Shake with ice, strain into a rocks glass, add ice, and garnish with a lime wheel and freshly grated nutmeg.
(*) Sub a turmeric-forward curry powder here at around 1 Tbsp per 1 cup sugar and 1 cup boiling water. Let steep overnight and either carefully decant or strain through a coffee filter.
The idea came to me on my flight back from Tales of the Cocktail this past July with a note to myself to make a Grog with the syrup that I had made a month or so before. However, the drink came into fruition when a regular requested an Indian-inspired drink, and luckily I had the syrup and the spirits handy. For spirits, I opted for Indian rum accented with Indonesian Batavia Arrack. Given the guest's pleasure with the mix, I put the recipe into action as one of our drinks of the day with a similar level of success. For a name, I opted for the 1726 reference to Gulliver's Travels in how the ingredients were quite mobile across the world.

My copy of Eight Flavors was sent to me as an advance copy, but it is available on pre-order on for a December 6th release.

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