We’re celebrating the publication of The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink, a collection of recipes, short essays, and witticisms written by Eugene Walter (1921-1998) and edited by Donald Goodman and Thomas Head. Goodman and Head are currently sweeping the deep south on a five-state book tour after kicking things off by lifting a glass at the grave of Walter himself. You can see their schedule and plan to catch them at one of their remaining stops in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or Tennessee. Or follow along on the Facebook page to see photos of events along the way.
But who was this Eugene Walter fellow, you ask? There is no better way to get to know him now than to read this book. But here’s a sampling of who he was. He was a charmer, a foodie, an Alabamian who made his way to New York, Paris, Rome, and back again to Mobile. He was a man of letters, a hoarder of recipes, cofounder of the Paris Review. He was a lyricist, a film actor, a puppeteer, a radio host. Perhaps most of all, he’s just the kind of person you’d want at your dinner table, or, better yet, on your front porch with an aperitif.
Each Thursday in October we’ll be sharing with you some fabulous recipes from the book Walter described as “an ardent survey of southern beverages and a grand selection of southern dishes employing spiritous flavorings” (translation: southern cocktails & food dishes that call for a splash of booze). They’re eccentric, inspiring, and a delight to read (even if you’re nowhere near a bar or kitchen). Don’t worry about following the recipes to a T—just take pleasure in the words of a man who knew how to have a good time and wanted everyone else to have one, too.
So phone a few friends and make plans for a weekend brunch. Tell them you’ll be serving bluegrass juleps and lamb chops with mint julep sauce. Here are the recipes.
Bluegrass Julep (circa 1912)
1/2 cup spring water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
handful of mint sprigs
Take a dipper of water from a limestone spring and dissolve enough granulated sugar in it to give a fine oily texture, then set it aside. Take a goblet of sterling silver (or, in an emergency, a tumbler of cut crystal) and a single medium-sized leaf of mint, selected for succulent tenderness and plucked from the living plant not more than 10 minutes before. Using the back of a sterling spoon, bruise the leaf gently yet pursposefully against the inside of the goblet and heap full of fairly fine-cracked ice made from limestone spring water. Pour straight bourbon whiskey slowly into the goblet, letting it trickle through the ice at its leisure until the vessel is almost full. Set aside for 1 minute. Add the sugared water, a tablespoon or so, until the goblet threatens to overflow. Garnish the rim with 3 freshly picked mint sprigs. Do not stir. Let stand in a cool springhouse or icebox until the frosting on the goblet or tumbler is thick. Sip slowly; don’t use a straw. Between sips, think of someone you love.
Lamb Chops with Mint Julep Sauce
1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons best bourbon whiskey
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup white vinegar
12 4-ounce lamb chops
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Chop mint fine; mix with bourbon, sugar, and vinegar. Put in bowl, cover, and chill. Pat lamb chops dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute chops in melted butter and oil over medium heat in heavy skillet, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare, a minute longer if you prefer more done. Put 2 chops on each plate and pour sauce over. Brown rice is good with this, or boiled barley. Serves 6 polite guests, 4 greedy-guts.
Recipes from The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink, edited by Donald Goodman and Thomas Head. Copyright © 2011 by Donald Walter Goodman.