War’s end freed the flesh, as well as the spirits
Cocktail time in Galveston on June 18, 1865, was not a chamber of commerce kind of evening for the bustling port city on the Texas coast.
Apart from the fact the bloodiest, most destructive war ever fought on U.S. soil had ended a few months earlier with Texas on the losing side, the city also was teeming with strangers. About 2,000 strangers, all dressed in blue uniforms and determined on being hosts, not guests.
Led by Union Gen. Gordon Granger, the 2,000 were the occupying army of Texas.
It was a situation both humiliating and terrifying for island residents, and it’s safe to speculate that any cocktails served that evening in the city’s splendid homes were probably gulped, not sipped.
On the following morning, according to an oft-repeated and disputed story, Granger was at the corner of 24th and Broadway, looking from a second-floor balcony out over a crowd of people. He was at Ashton Villa, the first all-brick structure built in Texas, which had only been completed four years before. Granger began dictating the new laws of the land, finally unrolling his General Order No. 3. In less than a minute, he promptly freed all the slaves of Texas.
It was with that order issued 150 years ago this month that Juneteenth was born. There were celebrations, there was dismay and disbelief, and undoubtedly, regardless of mood, there was drinking.
History, of course, focuses on the dramatic social changes that the war’s end brought, so it’s easy to understand how this historic day isn’t known for the changes it would bring to the Texas coast’s history of food and drink.
On the Gulf Coast, the reopening of trade along the Galveston wharves brought back the imported rums, Canadian whiskey and other liquors, ales, wines and cordials the Civil War blockade had cut ruinously thin. While Texans had not forsaken drink — home brews and hooch certainly were in supply — the finer stuff had been both exorbitantly expensive and even harder to find since it had to come through Mexico and then overland to Galveston or through blockade runners.
More importantly, however, the fine folk of Galveston discovered that while they had been fighting the fight, folks in the rest of the country had been cocktailing the cocktails. There was in full swing a new craze that was taking the afternoon drink to a whole new level. Even the rum had changed with Bacardi, then based in Cuba. In 1862, the company introduced a white, filtered, lower-proof version that quickly gave rum entrance to finer parlors and upscale taverns.
Bourbon, long a favorite among Texas sippers of all social levels, was not so fortunate. Almost all production of the aged whiskey was in the South before 1860. The war had closed or destroyed the majority of distilleries, and it would be years before it could make a substantial comeback. Rye whiskey was the common substitute.
It was also in 1862 that a New York man by the name of Jerry Thomas produced the first drink book ever published in the United States. This flamboyant showman — he was known for pouring flaming alcohol between two hand-held glasses so as to produce an “arc of flame” — is probably the first true mixologist in the country. “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion,” published in 1862, not only made him a famous and wealthy man, but for the first time, set the principle recipes of hundreds of cocktails that before had relied on oral interpretation.
For the record, it would almost seem the first third of the book was its full title: “How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion, Containing Clear and Reliable Directions for Mixing All the Beverages Used in the United States, Together With the Most Popular British, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish Recipes, Embracing Punches, Juleps, Cobblers, Etc., Etc., Etc., in Endless Variety.”
Suddenly, hotels and saloons everywhere outside the South were finding the joy and profits of selling mixed drinks. At the end of the war, the book and its recipes found their way to places such as New Orleans, the place credited with the country’s first cocktail, the Sazerac. Interestingly, this classic Southern cocktail was soon being served using easier to find rye whiskey instead of cognac.
Because Thomas loved to travel — travel that before the war had him serving up cocktails in St. Louis, Chicago Charleston, New Orleans and San Francisco — his collection of recipes represented all areas of the country.
And the book hardly took sides in the war. Among the popular recipes it offered was “General Harrison’s Egg Nogg.” No one in the North seemed to have any concern Harrison was a major general of an infantry regiment for Georgia.
Among the drinks some might recognize today that first appeared in “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion” are the Fizz, the Sour, the Flip and the most familiar today, the Tom & Jerry.
Other drink books, such as the 1869 “Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks” by William Terrington, followed. And just a few years later, Thomas updated his book with more cocktails, including the first written recipe for the Tom Collins.
With the occupying army in Texas, and especially with other nonmilitary arrivals associated with it, came the country’s new fascination with cocktails. Within a few decades, drinks from both Thomas’ and Terrington’s books could be found at social gatherings spots, saloons and hotel taverns.
Juneteenth did indeed mark the end of a horrible period in history and the beginning of a national struggle to be better in so many ways — the way to imbibe being one of them.
It’s well worth a toast.
General Harrison’s Egg Nogg
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 or 3 small lumps ice
Add all the above ingredients except the cider to a large tumbler, fill with cider and shake well.
“This is a splendid drink and is very popular on the Mississippi River. It was General Harrison’s favorite beverage.”
From “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion” by Jerry Thomas, 1862
Nectar for 90 Degrees in the Shade
1/2 cup whiskey
1 bottle soda water, chilled
Lemon ice (composition not described — try freezing lemonade in ice cube trays).
Put a lemon ice in a soda water glass, add one half gill of whiskey and a bottle of iced soda water, mix and serve.
From “Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks” by William Terrington, 1869.
A Splitting Headache
2 quarts ale
1/4 pint rum
1/4 pint lime juice
6 cloves, crushed
Into one-quarter pint of rum, put six crushed cloves and a little cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Strain in an hour, with pressure, add an equal quantity of lime juice and two quarts of bottled ale.
From “Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks by William Terrington,” 1869.
Tom and Jerry (also known as Jerry Thomas)
1/2 cup Jamaica rum
12 eggs, separated
5 pounds of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup brandy (served separately, see recipe)
In a punch bowl, beat the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, and the yolks until they are as thin as water, then mix together and add the spice and rum. Thicken with sugar until the mixture attains the consistency of a light batter. To serve to customers, take a small bar glass, and 1 tablespoon of the above mixture, add 1 wineglass of brandy, and fill the glass with boiling water, grate a little nutmeg on top.
From “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion” by Jerry Thomas, 1862