Wild River Review
Wild River Review
Connecting People, Places, and Ideas: Story by Story
May 2010
Open Borders
 

April 14, 2010

The New Journalism? What is It?

Filed under: WRR@LARGE — Tags: , , , , — joystocke @ 9:43 am

Editor’s Note:  The following email was sent to our Wild Table Editor, Warren Bobrow.  It speaks to our mission to publish thoughtful, edited pieces. As we enter our fifth year, we hereby launch, The Slow Web Movement:

“I’ve been in journalism for more than 30 years, all my working life and so have been swept up in the devaluation of the American press and all the effects both cultural and personal.

I’ve seen Newsweek,the magazine where I used to be a copy and layout editor, become a shadow of its former self, and I’m seeing most newspapers stumble all over themselves trying to stay viable on the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the digitalization of the media and for an oldster (over 50), I’ve embraced it and kept up pretty well.

When I was still an editor, I was the first person at the Courier News, to start shooting videos,human interest, feature videos, as did others, but at the time there was no audience for them.

They were presented properly on our site, but apparently the only videos that get big numbers are crimes and disasters. To that end, The New York Times, which invested millions in their online technology, is the only major newspaper with a decent multimedia interface.

Because the corporate masters are trying to straddle both the print and Web platforms without doling out anything more resources, staffers like me are being worked to the bone as our bosses demand variations of product on our blogs, on Twitter, in photo galleries – and all the while we must still maintain a volume of feature-length stories for print as well!

And editorial standards for the print stories remain more exacting than the loose, first-person, more colloquial reports that are the norm for blogs.

Any single one of these efforts could occupy a staffer full-time, but we’re expected to do it all, with daily and weekly deadlines, and I’m seeing my colleagues burn out around me, as am I. However, even if there weren’t a recession, I’m a single mother with a son about to enter college, so I won’t be taking it easy any time soon!

I think you’re very talented, with a great photographic eye and you pick up on good details for stories — but for your purposes, what I think doesn’t matter, now that I’m a reporter too, not a Gannett editor.

First, they did away with the locally zoned community life sections I was editing, then when I was editing and laying out the editorial pages, they regionalized that and switched from the only paginating software that I knew… so I would have been out on the street with the other 90,000 Gannett Inc. employees who were ousted in the past couple of years if I hadn’t developed cred with my bosses and proved my knowledge of and interest in my specific area of interest, the food world, to them…

Name withheld by request.

Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review.

Warren Bobrow created the Wild Table Blog.

To support our mission, please consider making a donation.


October 21, 2009

The Basics Series: A Cast Iron Pan: full of memories

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Cast Iron is THE pan for making cornbread! Photo: Warren Bobrow

The Basics Series: The Cast Iron Pan
Fall is time to bring in a new member of the family to your kitchen. I say family not in the sense of the word as a blood relative-but moreover a family member that will be with you for the rest of your life and perhaps for that of your offspring. This new family member will be as trusted as your grandparents and as giving to your inner self as a glass of fine Kentucky Bourbon. Take this new family member in your hands-admire its heft-the dark glow of the material-the sticky coating covering the surface that will cook a thick slice of sugar cured bacon, a ham steak or a few fried local eggs. Touch this living history and hold it in your hands. Feel the weight. What is this history? Simply put, your new family member is a Cast Iron Pan. If you take the time to season it properly, it will become part of your
family. Shrimp n’ Grits will be stirred and greens cooked low and slow until they release their inner liquids- their pot likker’.   No chemicals or electronically bonded non-stick stirring devices will ever touch it. Only my old hand crafted wooden spoons will touch the inside of my new cast iron pan, and if used correctly, this pan will last a lifetime and then some.  Right now it is dull gray, but given a bath of pork belly or some slowly caramelized onions, the pan will take on an inner glow of contentment.  The time taken now to seek the darkest seasoning will follow this pan throughout its memory.  Years from now- when the pan is used to craft a BLT, it will know- deep inside- the first time bacon touched its cold iron alloy and gave the bacon a warm welcome as if to greet an old friend.

My old cast iron pan came from near Savannah, Georgia out in the real Low Country. Yemassee to be exact. I received it as a gift from a former client who was giving away her kitchen mementos. She said that this cast iron pan had been to “Montana and back, mostly on foot”  Her family’s family cooked in it she said.  It was used to make many a meal over the years. It is not a fancy pan, but it does have a non-stick finish that shines!  I cooked for her a few times- she asked me if I liked cast iron since I always wanted to cook out of that one pan.  I remember replying that it was all I used at home in Charleston.  Then it became mine…This kind of history places my cast iron pan in the annals of early culinary history. Many an egg slipped into this pan not knowing that someday another fried egg would slip out… a century or so in the future. To think of a perfect little chicken, frying gently in my cast iron pan, brined in salt water, then battered in seasoned buttermilk and panko Japanese bread crumbs, or the bacon that cooks low and slow until crispy for my late season heirloom tomato BLT sandwich, or even the perfect cornbread that was made in it almost 150 years prior-gives me pause…

The standards of Southern Cooking in this pan, has always mesmerized me with its inner energy and the flavors contained deeply within.  Some of these memories are passed on in the form of stories. Others are passed on to future generations in the form of passing a cherished cast iron pan on to another generation.  The non-stick coating only comes from years and years of cooking low and slow.  Blackening a piece of freshly caught Brook Trout will not make you a better fisherman, but it will make you a better cook.  It is as if this pan has a memory all its own. The pan is not a fancy “space age technology” non-stick pan, nor is it made of fine French Copper. It’s not made of stainless steel either. But lift it into your hand and connect with the campfire, the washing of that pan (once it has completely cooled) in an ice-cold stream, or just being re-seasoned with memory after memory-in the form of flavor over the years. Yes, this pan has a memory. Many a fine dinner has cooked within its walls for good times and not so good times-the flavors contained within tell a different story each time it is used. This story connects us with a simpler time, before the old cast iron pan in your cupboard was thrown out to make room for non-stick. Little did they know that this pan and all that came before it, was non-stick due to its own inner sense of duty-to cook foods made with love and the care of cooking, not just to feed, but to fulfill a greater cause as well.  George Washington it is said, cooked in cast iron.  His soldiers who inhabited the woods behind my home during the winter of 1778 used cast iron to cook what little they ate. Soldiers were “boiling their boots for soup.”  It must have been a fragrant pot of broth!   I honor them by cooking my own meals in this new cast iron pan that I hold in my hand.

A New Cast Iron Pan/New Pan Seasoning.

I noticed that my new pan is covered in heavy gunk, is it ready to use?  The answer is no.  You must season it before you use it.  The sticky gunk is food safe, but would you want to eat that in your food? I don’t recommend it. First you must remove the packing grease that has been sprayed on the pan.  To do this you first should heat the oven to 500 degrees.  Put something like another baking dish on the bottom rack of your oven, the top rack will hold your new cast iron pan upsides down. Wipe your new family member inside and out carefully with a kitchen towel with the fat of your choice, make sure that kitchen towel is absolutely dry or you will burn your hands.  The pan will immediately smoke heavily.  Open your windows, pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea, for you have many hours of seasoning ahead of you today.  Turn oven down to 250 and leave it be for a while.  How long? How about a few years… it takes that long to set the seasoning.

The next day caramelize a bunch of onions in that pan.. The next day cook some butternut squash in it.  Chose your dinners carefully and when you cook in the pan, do so with love.  Always smile when you use this new pan- but do not be afraid to show emotion around it.

The pan will appreciate it and so will I. This process of seasoning will take many years- do not hurry or rush.  Never, ever use soap on your cast iron pan.  Soap will stick to the pan and make everything you cook taste of soap.  If you burn something in the pan, take some sea salt and rub it into a paste with a bit of water and scrub away the burn, then re-season as described above.  A pan takes time to become an heirloom, a trusted friend in your pantry. There is much for the pan to remember before it becomes your best friend.  Trust your instincts and cook with passion. The results will sing of the energy contained deep in your new cast iron pan and it will reward you with perfect bacon and a slippery non-stick coating for years to come.

Play the right music and your pan will remember.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

wb

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.   A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at CAVS / MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.His column on food, wine and life, Wild Table appears daily in the online magazine, Wild River Review. In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.comNJ Life Magazine, NJ Monthly and SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Organic and Biodynamic wine and upcoming submissions for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2. February brings an article to NJ Savvy Living.  Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @WarrenBobrow1

Trust your instincts and cook with passion!

You can support Warren’s work on Wild River Review, and his column, Wild Table by making a donation: Wild River Review, PO Box 53, Stockton, NJ 08559. Wild River Review is an international website and 501c3 non-profit organization so your donation may be tax deductible.
Please put Wild Bite in the subject line. Thank you!

Wild Table is now located at:   http://www.wildriverreview.com/wildtable/

Please visit us daily for a taste of the place.

Ham Steak!

Photo: Warren Bobrow

October 14, 2009

TASK – Life, Art, and Fried Chicken in a Cast Iron Pan

Filed under: WRR@LARGE — Tags: , , , , , — joystocke @ 7:40 am
Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

by Warren Bobrow

Last week, I spent the afternoon with the Wild River Review editorial team at TASK (Trenton Area Soup Kitchen) and this experience left me in a different place.

While at the Soup Kitchen, I met “Shorty.”  He is a soft-spoken man of  uncertain age, and  I am sure that he always chooses his words carefully.  I asked him where he grew up. He said in New Jersey; and gently probing a bit deeper, I asked him about his family and if they used cast iron pans over the years.

His face lit up and he replied ,”Yes!” And what was his favorite meal cooked in the heavy cast iron pan?

“Fried Chicken,” he said.

His family, if I recall correctly, was also from Georgia where my favorite cast-iron pan hails from.

I knew not to pry into his inner history by asking too many questions. He has his food memories, I have mine. My pans are used daily; his may have been lost to history as his family moved from south to north. But discuss with Shorty the meals that were cooked in those pans that belonged to his mother and father, and the meal he describes: a big plate of biscuits, red eye gravy, and chicken foot stew become a rekindling of  childhood memories led by his taste buds.

There were other men who shared their stories with me-the man who does pointillism paintings -each point another bit of his life  revealed.  His work was most powerful. Then, the photographer who photographs people, places and things-that seem just out of reach  at  present.  He is so proud of his work, his use  of light and dark in his black and white photography.  I feel strangely out of place using a digital Leica when he takes his photographs with a faded 35mm.  He may not have had much, but he had his images on paper.

Just waiting for another memory or conversation to enter the seasoned walls of that cast iron pan.

The names and faces of those men who have had really hard lives lingered  in my mind for days.  We are all connected though…and that connection for me is the metaphorical cast iron pan. Our stomachs, full of a fine fried chicken dinner with all the fixins’ cooked in cast iron pans. And for that I am truly thankful.

The cast-iron pan in my kitchen has been through a lot over the years.  If its walls could speak, they’d tell tales of contentment, hunger, strife and struggle. I cannot compare myself with “Shorty” or any of the other men who I met at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. All I can do is honor them.  It is with that respect that I submit my recipe for Chicken Fried Simply in a Cast Iron Pan.

Chicken fried in a Cast Iron Pan
Liberally adapted in small parts from Damon Lee Fowlers’ The World’s Best Fried Chicken.

1 cup all purpose flour preferably White Lily (sifted)
1 teaspoon baking powder (if your tin isn’t fresh, buy a new one)
Salt, freshly milled white pepper, and 2 tablespoons of freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cups BUTTERMILK (Damon uses Milk. I like the deeper flavor of home-made Clabber Cream, thick Greek yogurt or best yet, local Buttermilk.)
1 fryin’ chickin’ no more than 3 pounds-leave the skin on, I think this is essential for flavor (Damon uses skinned in his recipe.)
1 teaspoon of Tandoori Spice sauce-(Damon doesn’t use this at all.)
Peanut oil 1/3 way up inside a Cast Iron Pan for fryin’

Wash chicken under ice cold water and place in a sterilized stainless steel container. Cover with a mixture of  buttermilk and a scant handful of salt. Soak the bird for a few hours. Preheat an oven to 275 degrees. Meanwhile, sift the flour, combine the dry ingredients with the wet ones and whisk the wet into the dry to make a nice smooth batter. Add a teaspoon of the Tandoori spices, it will make the batter slightly pink in color. When fried, the chicken takes on the color of the palest pink summer Georgia peaches.

Heat a CAST IRON pan filled 1/3 up the sides with peanut oil. Bring fat up to 375 degrees. Check temperature with a candy thermometer.

Add chicken to the batter made with the above ingredients. Drop chicken pieces into the batter and let rest for a bit to gather its thoughts before the plunge into fat fryin’ history.

Slip the battered chicken into the fat. Repeat until the pan is full, but not crowded ( I agree with Damon on this).
Reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Turn chicken only once and don’t move it around!  Expect about 40 minutes total cooking time.

Pour out most of the fat and add some old coffee to the drippins’.  This is your gravy.

Finish in a warm oven or serve chilled with a squeeze of lemon and some chopped Italian parsley for garnish.

You may substitute a lime wedge for a more Southern Caribbean/Island flavor.

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.  A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.

His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.  He is the author of Wild Table, a daily column on food, wine and culture. In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com and SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Biodynamic Wine and a piece in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2., and NJ Savvy Living.  Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @ jockeyhollow.

You can support Warren’s work on Wild River Review, and his column, Wild Table by making a donation: Wild River Review, PO Box 53, Stockton, NJ 08559. Wild River Review is an international website and 501c3 non-profit organization so your donation may be tax deductible. Please put Wild Bite in the subject line. Thank you!

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

October 7, 2009

From Russia with Love: Matzo Ball Soup

Photo: Warren Bobrow

and for lunch? Matzo ball soup.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

before it disappeared into my stomach!

Photo: Warren Bobrow

From Russia with Love: Matzo Ball Soup

by Warren Bobrow

Welcome Fall – Welcome Cold Season – Russian-Jewish New Year style.

Yom Kippur – the day of Atonement for observant Jews – is a day of fasting.  This means no food sundown to sundown. Ok, in the morning I had a few locally gathered scrambled eggs with Herbes de Provence.  And, of course, a cup of coffee made with the  beans my wife and I bought a few short weeks before on Martha’s Vineyard. I really wanted a Kossar’s Bialy with tomato and onion for lunch.  I didn’t eat that. Wanted to, but didn’t. And no BLT‘s or cheeseburgers .. I had one last year and had to atone for it this year.

What I dreamt of that day was the sweet and savory (Kosher) chicken soup made by my mom- in- law, Lenora.  Her matzo balls are perfectly light and airy and she worries about how they turn out.  They are wonderful, handmade with love.  They are the essence of perfection.   No leaden golf-balls in this family.  The matzo balls would be the first thing I would bite into, hot or not. Her soup broth, slowly simmered using only Kosher ingredients, would break our fast.

Yom Kippur is that holiday when a bowl of chicken soup is not just a simple bowl of soup, it means something deeper, it binds us to our past.  We stress out all year over it.   My 90 plus-year-old grandmother, Sophia, was able to join us for dinner, so we enjoyed a lively evening of memories discussing the preparation of the matzo ball soup.  At Break-Fast, the next day we enjoyed conversation about the soup we ate the night before over platters of smoked fish from Zabar’s.

Matzo Ball soup as a cultural metaphor has been the source of much lore. It is sometimes known as Jewish Penicillin. I’ve been fighting off a grippe for the past few days, and a bowl of this soup has reputed mystical properties long understood to be the cure for the common cold-and now Swine Flu.  It is my thought to offer this matzo ball recipe because to share it brings another generation to the dinner table.

Unfortunately for strict recipe followers a great bowl of matzo ball soup is something that is felt deep inside the soul, and it doesn’t hurt to be Jewish, but this is not a prerequisite. It transcends the ages as an identifiable cause of that specific kind food story…that the matzo ball may be too firm, or too heavy or it fell apart in the pot!

I’ve heard that some people actually like their matzo balls to be as hard and heavy as a golf ball. In fact they have a golf ball in their kitchen so when they build these little bricks of cement ,the matzo ball’s weight will be about 2 ounces or more. Not me! I like them light and fluffy, made by hand,

Don’t bring me matzo balls that are round or heavy or hard to the tooth… I won’t eat them.  If you consider using a boxed- mix, leave those matzo balls at home and feed them to an unfriendly neighbor or his dog.  Open the pot- ruin the matzo ball, they’ll drop to the bottom like a hard potato dumpling in a kettle of Frogmore Stew.   Patience is necessary.  A good pinch of nutmeg is also recommended according to my great grandmother, Yetta, who taught me years ago about her Eastern European methods of matzo ball cooking.

And so, as we move into fall, I’m reminded of those in my family who have influenced me both present and past-through the ever-present bowl of matzo ball soup.

Prepare your chicken soup with a nice roasting bird like a Pullet,  *a small commercial supermarket chicken- just won’t do* add washed and peeled carrots, celery, onion, parsnip, maybe a turnip if you desire, add fresh dill and a several garlic cloves unpeeled, but cut on one end.

Heat the Pullet and the vegetables over a medium flame with at least 12 cups of pure spring water in a non-reactive soup pot. Stainless is best. (the soup will reduce over time-making you thankful you listened to me on the water amount used)

Set chicken aside to cool and when you can handle it, separate the flesh from the bones. Make another pot of water and put the remaining bones in it.. heat for 30 minutes or so on a medium simmer.  Use this bone-infused broth for cooking the matzo balls.   Strain the first stock and chill covered so that the fat rises up to the surface.  Put this stock in the fridge for the next day. This will be the soup.

Retain chicken fat for toast points ( memories of Sammy’s Roumanian? anyone?)

Matzo Balls
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 farm fresh eggs at room temp.
2 tablespoons reserved chicken fat from your soup
1 teaspoon salt and 1/2-3/4 teaspoons of freshly ground nutmeg (more if you want some spicy matzo-balls)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons seltzer water, not club soda (too salty)

Mix all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl. Cover and rest in the in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Bring 3 1/2 quarts of well-salted water or chicken stock to a brisk boil in a medium sized pot.

Reduce the flame. Wet your hands. Form matzo balls by dropping just enough of matzo ball batter to form approximately 1-inch in diameter into the palm of your wet hands and rolling them in the shape of an Idaho potato- loosely into oblong balls. Drop them carefully into the simmering chicken stock from the bones one at a time. Cover the pot and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes without opening or peeking or allowing anyone else to open the pot to catch a glance at them…. EVER!

Heat the dark Pullet-infused stock, add chicken pieces, some freshly snipped dill, carrots, celery and onions from the soup-pot.  Place the matzo balls into the stock to warm, and serve in heated bowls.

I dedicate this article to my great grandmother, Yetta, who taught me to make a pretty good matzo ball and to my grandmother, Sophia, who was there to share our Yom Kippur supper with us.

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.  A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.

His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.  His daily Blog; Wild Table is coming soon in October.  In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com, NJ Monthly and NJ Life, also, SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Biodynamic Wine and a piece in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2., and NJ Savvy Living.  Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @ WarrenBobrow1

You can support Warren’s work on Wild River Review, and his column, Wild Table by making a donation: Wild River Review, PO Box 53, Stockton, NJ 08559. Wild River Review is an international website and 501c3 non-profit organization so your donation may be tax deductible.

Please put Wild Bite in the subject line. Thank you!

September 30, 2009

Billy Reid: A Glass of Bourbon, Branch and History

Billy Reid, NYC/Bond St.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow
Photo: Warren Bobrow
Photo: Warren Bobrow

Billy Reid: A Glass of Bourbon, Branch and History

by Warren Bobrow

Back in the eighties I bartended a bit, drank a fair amount of good bourbon in carefully learned, hand-crafted mint juleps, and cooked the line in a fine, white tablecloth restaurant near the historic waterfront area known as Ansonborough in Charleston, South Carolina.

That restaurant was named the Primerose House.  Here at this very early proponent of locavore cooking I was introduced to the culture and mystique of the oft mentioned, never tasted branch water. After Hurricane Hugo set us all asunder in 1989, Charleston changed,  but her charms as a graceful Southern city has never faded.

Many moved on to other places and culinary careers, myself included.  But the manners that I was taught in Charleston have stayed with me.  I especially cite Martha Lou’s Kitchen for teaching me the value of listening under pressure in her non-air-conditioned kitchen. In the Soul Food restaurant she owns in Charleston,  Martha Lou let me watch her cook. Once she trusted me after several months of my begging, she let me cook alongside her.  Martha Lou also gave me another gift, a palate for all things hog, Southern culture and a glass of Bourbon Whiskey.

I was reading a food article in the New York Times the other day by the noted Southern cultural raconteur named John T. Edge.  He wrote a piece on All-American, Mexican Hot Dogs. His web presence begins with these words: “Eater, Writer, Educator.” As one of the founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance and a contributing columnist of the Oxford American Magazine John T. Edge has a passion for food, clothing and fine Bourbon whiskey. I admire his pen and have learned much from his unforced, open ended- writing style.   He has championed the work of Billy Reid, the 2001 CFDA Award winning clothing designer in his unique style of prose.

There is a carefully constructed shirt on the rack  of Southern vernacular clothing at Billy Reid’s store in NYC.  This shirt is simply known as the John T.  It has a nice muted check, is narrow in length and is made, like all of Billy Reid’s clothing designs, in Italy.  This is clothing is meant to complement an afternoon of tasting Bourbon or working in the corporate canyons of NYC. Billy Reid is known to most Southerners as their native son-their home-spun answer to Ralph Lauren.

While reading John T. Edge’s writing on his web page, I noticed that it immediately references bacon, one of my passions.  This piqued my interest in Edge and his alliance with his clothing designer friend, Billy Reid,  both modern day cultural icons of the New South.

Bespoke Southern Gentility

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Reid’s clothing store in NYC is sandwiched between renovated former industrial buildings on a rag-tag cobblestone street in Lower Manhattan. Here in the basement of a former manufacturing space, the gracious interior elegant as a fine gentleman’s bar room and open to the street through large sun filled windows, was the perfect venue in which to taste a series of three, half-century old bottles of Kentucky Bourbon whiskey. I sat with some of the friendly and eager staff and we discussed at length the concept, unknown to most Yankees (of which I am one) of branch water. Branch water, I learned is a direct connection to the cultural and culinary definition of Southern drinking heritage.  Webster’s Dictionary defines branch water as: “Pure natural water from a stream or brook; often distinguished from soda water.”

I’ve found from my very short time living in the South that somewhere out there in the steamy ancient forests-thick with blood-sucking ticks, leeches and poisonous snakes, (they wear those thick leather leg chaps when walking in the woods for a reason)–lays a Valhalla or holy-grail in “Bourbon-speak.” A pristine spring bubbles up sweet water, pure as the dew that lights up in sunlight shining on the elegantly dripping strands of Spanish moss. Vanilla-tea-colored water rises from the depths-situated directly in front of the roots of the almost mythical in proportion, ancient Southern Live-Oak tree. The sweet water found here is known as branch. It is one of the defining elements of Bourbon understanding, the physical act of discovering  for the first time…spring of water bursting from the ground, the essence of purity and grace, danced simply over a glass of the brown liquid.  The next act in appreciation of the past is by making a perfect drink with that branch. This physical interaction of adding branch to Bourbon binds hundreds of years of Southern culture and drinking lore.

I offered to bring the employees at Billy Reid, a bottle of locally sourced branch.

Near where I live is the Morristown National Historical Park.  There is an ancient artisanal well somewhere out there in the deep woods. (Historically, it was used by George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.) This source of branch, sweet and alive with minerals, is from the pure protected spring located at the foot of a long forgotten rotted oak. The sweet water bubbling up from the depths remains to this very day.  Its secret location is just up in the woods from me apiece.

I know they’ll smile at Billy Reid because finding a new source of real branch water is a rare experience. It is my desire to put the bottle of this geographically specific Yankee Branch water into the hands of Billy Reid himself drawing a new modern connection to his upbringing as a Son of the South.

Some may say that they rue the day that a Southern cocktail would even allow the introduction of Yankee Branch and call it a nip.  I say create your own history by using what is available and that branch should speak clearly of the earth from which it rose.

It only takes a few drops of branch to liven a brown elixir in your great- grandfather’s unwashed crystal tumbler. An antique bottle of branch water may last a lifetime. Branch is not used casually; but the simple act of using the branch is a specific connection to Southern lore.

Branch water, when used correctly, is metered out in small portions, just what fits between your bare fingers. It was described to me on an ancient plantation somewhere east of the Cooper River, as gently snapping your branch water-moistened fingers together over the glass. There is a specific sound, one that was made by moving one’s fingers together. I would imagine snapping my fingers underwater to approximate the feeling. This pure liquid entering the glass; scattering over the top of the glistening- 55 year old Bourbon was in my experience a physical bond to a bygone age.

This specific act of making a cocktail hasn’t changed much in several hundred years.

As we sipped our whiskey in the former basement industrial space-its original inhabitants long gone-standing over hand-hewn barn-wood floors, surrounded by the casual, unforced elegance of bespoke Southern gentility clothing we tasted our way through 3 bottles of Kentucky Bourbon dating from 1952 to 1959.  The flavors unleashed from the long sealed bottles lingers on in my mind.

The Historic Bourbon:

Old Forester 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Spring 1952-bottled fall 1957.
Warm treacle tinged molasses. Sun-dried walnut butter smeared on crunchy, fire-toasted cornmeal Hoecakes.
Exceptionally long finish with exotic Jungle Curry undertones. A liquor which tastes as fresh as the day it was bottled. Bottle looks like a sputnik.  Space Age stuff!

Old Forester 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Fall 1954-bottled fall 1959
Sweet tobacco cream and freshly dug loam. Caramelized yams in the mid-palate. Dry, country ham finish with a whiff of pit-roasted Hog Cracklins’ at the end.  Bottle is modern in design and interesting looking, with the real surprise contained within, a history lesson of the way Bourbon used to taste.  Made by producers long gone.

Old Grand Dad 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Fall 1954-bottled fall 1958
Creamy sweet vanilla fire gives way to a pecan brittle mid-palate. Long mouth filling finish with sharp hints of Southern Blackberries and brown butter coated and roasted-hazelnuts covered in crushed dark bittersweet chocolate pastilles. This bottle looked like a Baccarat Crystal decanter.

All whiskeys served without ice in an unwashed glass with the sweet soulful drones of Greg Spradlin tearing it up on the stereo, serving as background music for our tasting.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.  A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.

His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.  His soon to be published Blog; Wild Nibble is coming soon in October.  In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com and SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Biodynamic Wine and a piece in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2.  Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @ jockeyhollow.

Help support Warren’s work on Wild River Review, and his column, Wild Table:

You may make a donation to: Wild River Review, PO Box 53, Stockton, NJ 08559. Wild River Review is an international website and 501c3 non-profit organization so your donation may be tax deductible.

Please put Wild Bite in the subject line. Thank you!

September 24, 2009

The “Jimi” Cocktail

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

The Jimi Cocktail

by Warren Bobrow

There is a private club in New York City’s West Village that caters to an artsy crowd. It’s located in an historic building on a gritty commercial-looking street.  You can walk by the place a hundred times and never notice that it’s just down the way from the spot that once held the famous Luchow’s Restaurant.

If you are invited – and that’s the only way to get in the front door – it’s possible to bump into the next hot director working on a movie, or the latest ad agency sensation. This is a smart, social networking/internet savvy crowd. Over on the couch you’ll see a group of giggling, well-dressed couples reading the extensive menu from the excellent locavore restaurant upstairs.

The spectacular landmarked town house where I found myself on a recent weekday night is arranged over 5 floors and houses a sixty-five seat restaurant, two lounge bars, a forty-five seat screening room, event space, as well as a subterranean dining room for up to twenty four people, plus a walled garden.  There is very little public information about this club.  One has to dig rather deeply into the National Trust for Historic Places website for any information on the original owners, or the property for that matter.

In fact, the club keeps its landmark designation hanging inside the entrance to hide its status from peering eyes.  Add the fact that the Federal-style architecture blends into the ambiguous brownstone homes surrounding it and you can rest assured that should you desire it you’ll have a measure of privacy.

Once inside, the rooms feel like someone’s private lair- a mansion from another age, in this case 1845.  I felt like I had entered a well-orchestrated theatrical tableau.  Hipsters abounded, dressed in cool clothing like those created by   designer Billy Reid-dripping with bespoke Southern Heritage styled- duck hunting outfits? There is nary a Ralph Lauren preppy to be found.  If this crowd had been a bit older, they would have hung out at the club named Danceteria where I worked back in the day.

The building has narrow staircases (an elevator is available) and gracious public spaces, floor to ceiling (sound insulated) windows were reminiscent of the Adam period architecture found in Charleston, S.C.  Old, wide plank, wood flooring and heavy pocket doors framed the rooms. The cocktail bar and lounge, lit with intimate shaded light, was located on the main floor. Curved in the corner, glass back-lit shelving held exciting-sounding liquors in exotically shaped bottles.

The classically dressed bartender works with a speedy efficiency and with an almost Buddhist- influenced calm, possessing a sense of grace that causes one to remember his or her own manners.  The members (and their guests in whose corner I counted myself) smiled, drank their well- prepared libations and spoke of dreams and possibilities well into the night. Twitter is part of the scene, with Blackberries at the ready, but the ongoing conversations into cell phones are conducted in hushed tones.

On shelves, I saw several bottles I didn’t recognize.  All I could think about was the Jimi Cocktail, which our bartender was preparing in front of us.

History and Prep: Jimi Cocktail:

The true history is muddy at best. It is an amalgamation of the famous Mojito Cocktail containing mint, white rum, ice, simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice.  The Jimi Cocktail’s name is derived from the Hendrick’s Gin and the Jimi as in Jimi Hendrix, guitar legend and Woodstock protagonist. And with the 40th anniversary of Woodstock having just passed the cocktail is now called the “Jimi.”

The ingredients for a Jimi Cocktail are very similar to a Mojito with a psychedelic twist.  That is the Hendrick’s Gin.  It has properties that are known to be mystical like its namesake and contains the essence of rose petals, cucumber oil, botanicals such as juniper and the ever-present, brooding alcohol at nearly 100 proof.

Our bartender muddled chunks of seedless cucumbers in a pint glass creating almost a pulp as he released the cucumber essence. Then, he added freshly squeezed lime juice and muddled a bit more.  A splash of simple syrup, more muddling, then 3-4 generous shots of Hendrick’s Gin.  He added some cracked ice, shook the cocktail and strained into a pre-chilled martini glass.  His garnish was a perfect cucumber slice- and voila, the Jimi Cocktail!

I sipped slowly, tasting fresh, cooling cucumbers and the almost watery quality of the Hendrick’s Gin. It went down very easily, too easily, in fact, on a hot night.  The slice of cucumber, floating in the off clear liquid had the element of a Japanese Ofuro Mineral Bath potion.  I slipped away into contentment and started hearing the strains of Jimi Hendrix in my mind - Purple haze all in my brain. Lately things just don’t seem the same – a slow throbbing, and then the attack!  The room spins, the hipsters pack up their iPhones and Blackberries and I wander out into the night.

I offer the “Jimi” Cocktail-Recipe.

1. Muddle with a well worn wooden muddler, a few chunks of an English “seedless” cucumber in a pint sized mixing glass

2. Add about 3-4 shots of Hendrick’s Gin, continue muddling the cucumber

3. Add a splash of “simple syrup

4. Add some fresh squeezed lime juice

5. Fill mixing glass w/ cracked ice, shake gently

6. Strain and serve in a Martini Glass with slices of cucumber for garnish

Sip carefully and order another immediately, followed (in my case) by another. Start hearing guitar riffs from Jimi Hendrix in your head…..(queue the guitar!! MAXIMUM VOLUME!)

Click here –à Jimi Hendrix riffs

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.  A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he concentrated on visual thinking at The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.

His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.  His soon to be published Blog; Wild Nibble is coming soon in October.  In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com and SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Biodynamic Wine and a piece in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed.,

Follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @ jockeyhollow.

Help support Warren’s work on Wild River Review, and his column, Wild Table.

You may make a donation to: Wild River Review, PO Box 53, Stockton, NJ 08559. Wild River Review is an international website and 501c3 non-profit organization so your donation may be tax deductible.

Please put Wild Bite in the subject line. Thank you!

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