This afternoon I was trying to think of what single thing best represented the zenith of so-called “western civilization,” a term I employ rhetorically with apologies to my Chinese and Middle-Eastern friends whose ancestors were busily cranking out one early scientific discovery after another while western barbarians were still squatting in the dust and filth, puzzling over bird entrails when they weren’t stabbing and clubbing each other over acorns and cold rabbit meat.
I considered the grand accomplishments–splitting the atom, traversing space and diving to the bottom of the sea. Amazing stuff, but perhaps too complex–space travel still beckons back to the world war 2 era Nazi rockets and that embarrassment of embarrassments, Sputnik. I entertained life-changing breakthroughs like immunizations and vaccines, central heating, Mark Chagall. Central heat was a big one, and so too indoor plumbing–but none of these things, with the possible exception of Chagall, are what I was looking for. I wanted something…you know…important.
I worked it down to two things: the runner up was the guy who invented hot showers. That was truly visionary. Warm baths, of course, were a wonderful but inevitable step forward from the time man harnessed fire, and I love a good steamy bath–and better still a soak in a hot tub (shout out to the person who invented added bubbles and invented the Jacuzzi–you deserve your own post). It took a real visionary to come up with the idea of spraying that hot water on our heads, on our slumped shoulders, on our knotted, exhausted backs. So that’s number two.
And the number one, pinnacle achievement of western society, the creative endeavor that marks the ingenuity, inventiveness, and distinctively decadent essence of what it means to–well–civilized?
Ladies and Gentles, I give you THE BLOODY MARY.
Skeptical? Allow me to elaborate: it is at one indulgent and nutritive, combining alcohol and the dual life-extending elixirs, tomato juice and hot sauce along with vitamin C from tomato and lemon juice, fiber from celery, and even the powerfully anti-oxidant properties of freshly ground pepper. And did I mention it has vodka?
That brings us to the second point: it is subversive. Vodka has been perfected by Russians, but is employed in various decadent western concoctions, albeit usually for the unique and exaggerated reputation for being unobtrusive. “You can’t smell vodka” and “you can’t really taste vodka” are recurrent mantras, and incorrect–it smells, and if you’re spending your money wisely it tastes–but it is stealthy. Like the commies. (you had to know I’d bring this around). It takes a real American to take the Russian national passtime–“would-ka”–and turn it into decadent and occasionally effete drinks. Inversely, there is something about Vodka insinuating itself into breakfast, the very core of our society, that must be more than mildly disconcerting to the insanely patriotic crowd
Not that Vodka is by nature effete. Or Russians. And certainly not Bloodies. Even with the celery, a Bloody Mary is about as masculine as you can get this side of rye whiskey–and rye whiskey isn’t going to pass muster with your mother in law at Sunday Brunch. Indeed, the Bloody Mary is the crowning achievement for Vodka, which has been sullied over the years by it’s employment in all those frou frou drinks, not to mention (with apologies to The Dude) the abominations know to the world as “white russians.’ Because: blech.
Ironically (given my recent posting history), creation of the Bloody Mary is generally attributed to a Frenchman, Ferdand Petiot, who claimed in 1921 to have invented the ambrosia-like concoction in a joint called Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, a watering hole popular with Ernest Hemingway and other American expatriates in post World War 1 France–where is clearly made an impression. Petiot would later immigrate to the USA, where he became a quasi-legendary New York City bartender–and his clientele would follow. A more thorough history is summarized on the official wikipedia Bloody Mary page, and I won’t trouble you with it here, except to point out that the dates in the wiki don’t quite add up, but the general story is correct. In essence, Petiot was not the first guy to dump Vodka into tomato juice, but he’s one who added to and refined it.
There are countless variations of the drink–if you go in for that sort of thing. Personally, I’m a man of absolutes: I like to find what works for me and stick with it. I find that the more you fiddle with a Bloody, the more you undermine the very nature of it’s essence. With that in mind, I call attention to the infamous–and, I believe, definitive–Bloody Mary, as described by Ernest Hemingway in a letter to his friend Bernard Peyton in 1947. It is simple, authoritative, and untrammeled by trends or the instinctive, desperate attempts of johnny come latelys to associate themselves with the glory of this beverage by “distinguishing” their interpretation from countless others.
Hemingway Bloody Mary Recipe
To a large pitcher (anything smaller is “worthless”) add:
1 chunk of ice (the biggest that will fit)
1 pint of vodka
1 pint chilled tomato juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 jigger fresh lime juice
Pinch celery salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch black pepper
Several drops of Tabasco”
“Keep on stirring and taste it to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.”
- Hemingway’s recipe will kick your ass–at 50/50 it is strong, even for me.
- The Bloody Mary is a drink that is neither pretentious or suitable for hipster-style sentimentalism for Vodka you drank mixed with Hawaiian Punch and canned Pineapple at the drive-in movie theater back when you were a cheese-eating high school boy. Very cheap Vodka will ruin your drink–no $6 bottles of Nikolai here, please–with it’s caustic, chemical fire, but the subtlties of expensive Vodka will be lost to the spices in the drink. Look to spend around $20– Tito’s and Luksusowa are recommended. Note: Neither is Russian. Tito’s is distilled in Austin, TX and Luksusowa is Polish.
- Lemon juice will do in a pinch, and some find it preferable.
- The drink can easily be adapted to make individual servings…I start with two shots of vodka from the freezer, about 8 ounces of cold tomato juice, appropriately smaller pinches of spice (the easiest thing to do is mix a teaspoon each of celery salt, cayenne, and black pepper and then add a hearty pink of that mix), along with “a dash and a splash” of Tabasco and Worcestershire respectively. Next, cut a thick slice of lime, then halve it to make two wedges. Squeeze the juice from one half into a drink shaker, add all the other ingredients except the ice, and shake gently (not stir) to mix. Pour over large ice cubes crammed into a 14- or 16oz tumbler and add the over lime wedge to the lip of the glass, where is can be squeezed onto the top of the drink then thrown in on top.
- Avoid shaking the drink with the ice in the shaker and, even more importantly, never ever make this drink with crushed ice, which melts too quickly and alters the proportions of the drink to its detriment.
- Always sip the Bloody Mary–some bars will give you a straw, but regard that as a test of character and avoid it at all costs.
- Finally, some folks salt the rim of the glass as one would a Margarita–while tasty, I find it excessive.