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More Southern Food
May 1, 2009
In honor of the Kentucky Derby, which posts at 6 pm tomorrow, a few words about mint (and other) juleps.
There is no alcoholic drink more readily identified with the moonlight-and-magnolias image of the Old South than the mint julep.
The julep has its roots in the English practice of infusing alcohol with fruit, fruit juices, cucumbers or other cooling ingredients in the summertime.
Although there are many recipes for this drink, in its purest (and earliest) form, it consists of sugar, bourbon, mint leaves and ice. This passage from William Alexander Percy’s Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son (1941) is the only recipe you’ll ever need to make a good mint julep:
“Certainly her juleps had nothing in common with those hybrid concoctions one buys in bars the world over under that name. It would have been sacrilege to add lemon, or a slice of orange or of pineapple, or one of those wretched maraschino cherries.
First, you needed excellent bourbon whiskey; rye or scotch would not do at all. Then you put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampened it with water.
Next, very quickly––and here was the trick in the procedure––you crushed your ice, actually powdered it, preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet, so quickly that it remained dry, and, slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, you crammed the ice in right to the brim, packing it with your hand.
Last you filled the glass, which apparently had no room left for anything else, with bourbon, the older the better, and grated a bit of nutmeg on the top. The glass immediately frosted and you settled back in your chair for half an hour of sedate cumulative bliss. Although you stirred the sugar at the bottom, it never all melted, therefore at the end of the half hour there was left a delicious mess of ice and mint and whiskey which a small boy was allowed to consume with calm rapture.”
“Mrs. Harris says, ‘Give her a Corinthian julep if she wants one and by the time I get in the house she won’t know whether I’m wearing a sunbonnet or a crown.’”
Thus wrote ten-year-old Virginia Cary Hudson in O Ye Jigs & Juleps (1900) about this potent Southern libation. The drink draws its name from Paul’s letter to the provincial churches in First Corinthians, Chapter13.
The drink is made in the same manner as a regular mint julep, but with three jiggers of bourbon, one each for Faith, Hope, and Charity.
Yield: 1 serving
- 4 sprigs fresh mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 jiggers (about 1/2 cup) bourbon whiskey
In a silver julep cup or a 12-ounce Collins glass, crush mint leaves and sugar with a spoon. Fill with cracked ice and whiskey. Stir, without touching the outside of the cup, until the outside frosts. Garnish with mint sprig and serve with a short straw.