A Novel Idea – Why don’t we make a cocktail?

by Columbine Quillen on April 13, 2010

Most recently I was asked by the Library to be a part of A Novel Idea which is one of the coolest literary programs I’ve ever been privy to (saying a lot since my mother and father are both writers, my mother is also a librarian, and my sister has spent her entire career in either a bookstore or a library).  Every year Deschutes Public Library chooses one book and then spends a month bringing that book to life in every dimension imaginable.  They will hold discussion groups about the book, show movies and documentaries that pertain to the genre or era of the book, encourage reading of similar books, have storytellers tell their tales related to themes in the book, invite the author to speak about his/her book, and lastly have a food and cocktail demonstration pertaining to the book’s genre.

This year’s book is The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which I highly recommend reading.  The story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi and is the tale of the affection shared between black nannies and the white children they raise.  The intrigue of this story is that the love they share is a dirty secret that no one will own up to as they all are afraid of what it means to cross these strict racial lines that are commonplace in 1960′s Mississippi.  The story is smartly written through three different characters, which brings about a dynamic that couldn’t be achieved with one narrator.

So this is my challenge: to create two cocktails that bring together the issues of the book – racism and love; are typical to the South and the 60s, and can be made easily by the modern day home mixologist.  I am also trying to only use gin and vodka as Bendistillery has been kind enough to donate the spirits for the presentation.

The first drink will be a gin julep.  It’s a spin off the mint julep which is a staple to Southern cuisine and is traditionally made with bourbon, sugar, and mint.  I am going to steal the smash idea from my favorite cocktail guru Jerry Thomas which involves steeping the mint in the spirit rather than muddling.  This way I can do the cocktail in bulk without much effort.  A little sugar, some fresh lime, and a dash of soda water will finish this drink off gorgeously.

Gin Julep

2 ounces of Cascade Mountain Gin

8 mint leaves

2 tablespoons sugar

1.5 ounces of fresh lime

1-ounce soda water

Tear the mint leaves in half and place them in the gin along with the sugar.  Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes.  After steeping, stir the sugar into the gin.  Add fresh lime.  Stir and add ice.  Top with soda water.

As for the next drink – I am excited to use vodka because the 50′s and 60′s is when vodka came to popularity in the States.  We can thank James Bond for his vapid expression, “Shaken not stirred,” which helped bring the martini to popularity and thus send vodka on its trajectory of becoming America’s favorite spirit.

When I think of Mississippi, I think of cotton and pecans.  The pecans are easy – I make a lot of orgeat (almond) syrup for the bar which is a traditional cocktail staple.  So instead of using almonds, I’m going to use pecans.  As for cotton – I am going to use a maple cotton candy, which I love this idea of as there is a lot of discussion in the book about North vs. South and I think that the maple brings that dichotomy into the drink.  Furthermore, pecan and maple taste delicious together.  To add some depth and complexity to the drink, I’m going to steep ginger tea bags in the vodka to create ginger vodka and then to balance the cocktail I’ll be using fresh lemon juice.  The cotton candy will be a used as a garnish meant to dip into the cocktail so the drink will be mixed a bit tart with the cotton candy bringing perfect attunement to the drink.

As this cocktail is created exclusively for the book – so should be its name.

The Help

2 ounces of ginger vodka

1 ounces of fresh lemon juice

1.5 ounces of maple pecan syrup

small ball of maple cotton candy

Put the ginger vodka, fresh lemon juice, and maple pecan syrup in a shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously until ice chips form.  Strain and place a small ball of cotton candy of the rim of the glass.

To make ginger vodka take a fifth of Crater Lake vodka and let six ginger or lemon ginger herbal tea bags soak in it overnight.

To make maple pecan syrup – one-cup maple syrup, one quarter cup white sugar, one-cup water, and one-cup pecans.  Bring to a boil and immediately take off the heat.  Allow to cool and sit overnight.  Strain the pecans the following day.  If you have pecan extract – you can add a couple of drops to enhance the flavor of the syrup even more.

To buy maple cotton candy – please use this link.

- Columbine Quillen
I am a mixologist bartender and this is my blog.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby April 13, 2010 at 6:47 pm

What a fabulous event, and what an awesome library for thinking of such innovative ways to celebrate. I love your drink ideas, especially the maple and pecans representing north vs. south. Brilliant! Best of luck.

Columbine Quillen April 21, 2010 at 10:39 pm

So I actually made the pecan syrup for The Help Cocktail and came across a couple of hold ups. One – the maple syrup I bought from Cash n Carry had saccharin in it (who knew that there was such a thing). So beware. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry I’m sure I would have noticed, but I was and I grabbed the biggest bottle of “maple” syrup I could find. Fortunately, we have a lot of real maple at the restaurant – not quite sure what to do with the saccharin “maple” – maybe donate it to a diet pancake house or a food bank specializing in creating cancer patients.

2) Thought that an easy way to enhance the pecan flavor in the syrup would be to add pecan extract – which is not available at any store in this entire town and I didn’t have enough time to order online. With only five days before the event – I had to make pecan extract which is easy – but time consuming.

3) The maple syrup is not as sweet as I thought it was going to be – so when I added the lemon juice I was quite heavy handed and then spent the next half hour tweaking the flavor of the drink. So whenever using maple as a sweetener, if you are using citrus to counterbalance, add only a small bit at a time.

In light of all this – The Help Cocktail’s recipe has been slightly changed. (Which I have changed above.

Wondering how to make pecan extract – quite simple actually

Pecan Extract

Take a cup of pecans and place them in boiling water for about 90 seconds. The reason you are doing this to boil out the tannins (which are bitter) without boiling out the flavor. Take the boiled pecans and place them in two cups 151 rum. Let them sit for three weeks, strain the pecans and you will have a gorgeous pecan extract. (I unfortunately didn’t have three weeks to let the flavor extract – but I still got some pecan flavor in five days. The longer you let it sit, the more the flavor will seep into the spirit – but eventually no more flavor is left in the nuts. This extract has a very long shelf life and needn’t be refridgerated – however I tend to keep such things in the refrigerator as it always helps to keep the flavor from fading.

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