Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Egg Whites and Flappers

Life is full of history lessons.  Yesterday, I had an interesting history lesson conversation with my mother.  Not exactly a verbal conversation, this one was via text messaging while we were both watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick "Prohibition" documentary that airs on PBS this week.  

Two weeks ago, I was honored and thrilled to be asked to demonstrate prohibition-era cocktails for the reception that the Chicago History Museum was hosting for the "Prohibition" documentary release.  I've always been a huge fan of Ken Burns' work - I could smell the baseball field and a catcher's mitt while watching "Baseball."  My heart was heavy as I experienced "The Civil War," and I can still smell the gunpowder and feel the pain that every American endured during this time of our country's tumultuous period of history, as told by the master documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  I needed a partner-in-crime to help execute this event the way Ken Burns would make his documentaries.  I enlisted the help of my most awesome friend, Ms. Lynn House of Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago, and we decided to educate the public by recreating The Bee's Knees and the Clover Club cocktail for this amazing event. 

The Bee’s Knees
Beefeater Gin, Honey Syrup, Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

The origin of the Bee’s Knees cocktail is lost to history, but we do know that it surfaced sometime during Prohibition, which is about the time that the phrase “the bee’s knees” popped up. The drink’s name may have originated from “flapper chatter” of the 1920’s and means 'the height of excellence.' Chances are very good that this prohibition-era cocktail was created to mask the raw juniper taste and smell of bathtub gin.

Clover Club Cocktail
Plymouth Gin, Raspberry Syrup, Egg White, Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

The Clover Club originated at the Old Belleview-Stratford; and, chances are, was created by George Charles Boldt, the first manager of the old Waldorf-Astoria, circa 1904 (but could be as early as 1881).

This leads to the conversation my mom and I had via text message while watching "Prohibition": 

Mom: "What cocktails did you do for this "Prohibition" show?
Me:  "The Bees Knees and The Clover Club"
Mom:  "I've never heard of those" (not surprising, she doesn't drink gin)
Me:  Quick description of drinks/history in short text message
Mom:  "Why do you put egg white in a drink?  I heard you use it in several drink recipes"
Me:  "It gives a nice velvety texture and froth to a drink"
Me:  "Wasn't Grammy a flapper?" (referring to my great-grandmother)
Mom:  "Yes she was and went to opium dens"
Me:  "Seriously???"
Mom:  "Grammy left no stone unturned.  She was a fantastic person I always loved talking to her.  You called her MeMe"

In a small text message conversation, my mom learned why we use egg white in cocktails and I learned that my great-grandmother was even more incredible than I thought. Perhaps the next cocktail I create should be named the "MeMe Robertson", for the flapper in us all.

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