Mexican Sleep Cure
Editors Note: Wild River Review congratulates Warren Bobrow on the publication of his fascinating and inspiring book, Apothecary Cocktails. Warren is the founder and architect of Wild River Review’s Wild Table where he profiled some of the world’s finest chefs, vintners, restauranteurs, distillers, and cocktail experts in these pages from 2009 – 2012. He remains an advisor to us on all things culinary.
With the winter solstice upon us, we asked Warren to share the history of apothecary cocktails; and, of course, a recipe. He obliged with something we may need at this time of year: The Mexican Sleep Cure.
Apothecary cocktails have a rich and intriguing history. As their name suggests, these curative cocktails were originally created in early pharmacies or apothecaries, from ancient times until the beginning of the twentieth century.
I’ve been interested in the history of patent medicines and apothecaries for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was in the patent pharmaceutical business and, even as a child, the world of patent medicines and quack cures were a part of my day-to-day life. In fact, they were impossible to ignore, because I was fed a teaspoon of spirit-based vitamin tonic along with my chewable vitamins and orange juice at breakfast every day. (I think I turned out pretty well, despite having consumed a daily teaspoon of 50-proof spirits first thing in the morning during my tender years.)
Being exposed to these combinations of herbs and spices with alcohol early in life—a little too early, arguably—led to my interests in mixology and the apothecary cocktail movement as an adult.
Like most apothecaries of yesteryear, I’m not a doctor, but I am interested in healing through natural, herb-based methods. Before the advent of modern medicine, ordinary people had minimal access to qualified doctors, so early pharmacists acted as local medical professionals to the sick in their communities. Because doctors didn’t manufacture medicines themselves, it fell to the pharmacist to prescribe, create, and administer healing potions to their patients (usually in very small, carefully measured amounts).
They manufactured tinctures, bitters, elixirs, and tonics for all kinds of ailments; using primitive ingredients, some of these recipes were old as spoken history. These healing, homemade potions may have been laced with copious amounts of distilled alcohol, stirred or shaken before being poured directly into a glass and given to the patient on the spot as a prescriptive.
The earliest known pharmacist-prepared treatments called for fragile herbs, flowers, fruits, and even vegetables along with the aforementioned substantial quantities of alcohol, which prevented them from rotting, and preserved their healing qualities. Most of these botanicals would have been grown right in the apothecaries’ own kitchen gardens to ensure freshness and potency.
Each formulary would have been custom made, depending on the individual patient’s complaint, and was hand-prepared from start to finish. It’s true that not every cure was strictly successful. Before medicine was standardized, the early pharmacist would have been part carnival barker, part folk doctor, part surgeon, and part snake-oil purveyor.
However, this is not to say that every apothecary traded in pseudo-cures: many, even most, pharmacists were very serious about their calling as healers. But in the absence of medical doctors, their patients would have called upon them to cure just about anything, from stomach aches to mood swings to infected wounds. Occasionally, pharmacists were even expected to perform complex medical tasks, such as surgeries, with minimal equipment and supplies. In short, an awful lot was demanded of them.
Most important, a successful pharmacist had to earn his customers’ trust, and that meant delivering curatives that would actually work. Many of the most effective cura-tives in the United States were introduced by immigrants from Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean islands, who brought some of their healing methods (and their exotic ingredients) with them. Folk treatments using herbs suspended in alcohol had been common in all of these locations for hundreds of years, so the methods these immigrant healers practiced would have dated back centuries—if not millennia.
These treatments included alcoholic bitters, which I use frequently in the recipes in Apothecary Cocktails. Bitters are highly concentrated herbal concoctions that were prescribed to treat a multitude of afflictions, including malaises of the stomach and respiratory systems. Like their European counterparts, American pharmacists came to view them as reliable curatives—especially in the absence of modern pharmaceutical companies that could produce and distribute synthetic drugs.
Mexican Sleep Cure
Pharmacologically speaking, alcohol-driven sedatives were originally created to treat individuals who were overwrought with stress. These sedatives relaxed bodies and calmed the minds of the tense and jittery with their combination of hot, strong liquids and even stronger liquors.
Common prescriptions from the pre-cocktail era included herbal or medicinal teas laced with fruit syrups and topped up with distilled alcohol for easier ingestion.
Hot, bittersweet, chile-laden concoctions hailing from Mexico are also said to enhance repose and restfulness. Here, mezcal—a smoky, agave-based Mexican spirit—is added to a cup of spicy Mexican hot chocolate, and it’s very effective when it comes to chasing the sandman.
To make Mexican sleep Cure:
3 ounces (90 ml) mezcal
1 cup (235 ml) Mexican “spicy” hot chocolate
To make hot chocolate: combine 1 cup [175 ml] of whole milk with 1/4 cup [60 ml] of heavy cream.
Add 1/8 pound [115 g] grated bittersweet chocolate.
Heat slowly, do not boil, and whisk constantly until smooth.
Add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and sugar to taste. Or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or Dark brown sugar, to taste
Prepare the hot chocolate. Preheat a mug by pouring boiling water into it; discard the water after a few seconds. Add the mezcal to the mug, followed by the hot chocolate, and then doctor it with the vanilla extract and sugar. Sip, and sleep is sure to follow.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Four-Winds Press.
Apothecary Cocktails/Four Winds Press/2013
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
COCKTAIL WHISPERER, Editor
Apothecary Cocktails: Mexican Sleep Cure
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