“That sparkling white wine in symbolic, bosomy bottles from that section of France is the very symbol of happiness, gaiety, erotic games and pleasure, poetry, art, the best of Europe imported into the New World, nostalgia, healthful cooking, the afternoon nap, unflappable tempers, and civilization.”
Sounds great, right?
The Merry Mabel recipe is only a few lines long, just a few ingredients, and with the promise of singing at the end, I was pretty confident in my ability to handle this despite my severely lacking cooking skills. While I admit that I stressed over finding preserved ginger (with half of the staff at Whole Foods witnessing this unnecessary anxiety) I was reminded that this recipe comes from a book beginning with the words The Happy Table. I decided to stop stressing. Besides, the alcohol would take care of that stress anyway.
And you know what? It was delicious. A nice garnish of candied ginger on the glass makes it look delicious, too. A wonderful ginger aroma. Exquisite balance of tangy and sweet. The perfect amount of bubbly. You don’t need a party, or a special occasion to make this. Invite a friend, cut up copious amounts of candied ginger, pop some Champagne (remember not to aim it at your friend when you open it (sorry, Caitlin), toast to friendship, sit outside in the pleasant October air, and have a lovely chat around your own happy table.
1 cup syrup from preserved ginger or honey
1 cup light rum
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 blocks of ice
¼ cup chopped candied ginger
2 to 3 bottles Champagne, chilled
Place preserved ginger syrup or honey, light rum, and orange juice into blender. Blend on low speed until ingredients are mixed. Put 1 block of ice into your punch bowl. When bowl is chilled, toss out ice and water and put another big block of ice in middle of punch bowl. Pour mixture over ice and add chopped candied ginger. Add splash of best cognac, then pour in 2 or 3 bottles of very cold Champagne.
Be ready with your pitch pipe; there will be singing.
A few things:
I made a heart-shaped block of ice from the inexplicable heart-shaped container found in the depths of our kitchen. I felt Eugene would appreciate the substitution of heart-shaped ice for block of ice.
Technical difficulties with the blender called for a quick adjustment. Our solution? Imbuing some southern influence by using our Carolina blue UNC cups and shaking the mixture like a martini. Works just as well.
The recipe called for a splash of cognac. How much is a splash? I consulted The Happy Table once again. Eugene addresses every incompetent cook’s fears and assures us that recipes are supposed to be interpreted, not followed precisely. So, I tried my hand at a splash. My friend disapprovingly remarked, “that’s a drizzle, not a splash!” (I think she and Eugene would have gotten along famously.) I splashed a second time. And you know what? That splash was a lot more fun when I wasn’t trying to scientifically approximate a splash. My suggestion? Listen to Eugene Walter and “try what you don’t know, have fun . . . and good eating, you-all!”
Note: Do not eat the candied ginger plain. It will give your taste buds a heart attack.
Another note: After you inevitably eat a piece of the candied ginger, learn from your mistake, and do not try it again. I did this twice. I have no idea why (Yes, I do. It looks like Turkish Delight and makes you feel like you are in Narnia.)
Loving Eugene’s romantic and whimsical writing, I decided to follow the final line of his directions for last week’s Bluegrass Julep: “Sip slowly; don’t use a straw. Between sips, think of someone you love.” And I did. Do it. It makes each sip wonderfully meaningful.
Recipe 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.