Rotgut Ingenuity: The Cornucopia
This originally appeared in Five O’Clock, Harry’s Magazine
Bobby’s Orange Sweater, The Missouri Horn Of Plenty, Like A Greek Mother’s Milk and The Sacred Place.
As the season of halls decked with boughs of holly beckons, we hope you’ll celebrate the harvest by putting aside differences to come together around the same table in appreciation for the bounties of our lives.
Today we recognize one symbol of this bounty: the cornucopia. The pastoral fortune displayed in that horn of plenty personifies a year of hard work to plant, to fertilize, to grow, to gather, and to savor the fruits of those well-lived labors. What follows are four cocktails to weave into the metaphorical harvest horn at your family’s or friend’s Thanksgiving gathering.
Bobby’s Orange Sweater
The Shetland Isles, a subarctic archipelago in northeastern Scotland, are home to a small breed of sheep famous for their fine wool—often found in the world’s most luxurious sweaters. In my family’s history is a particularly lean Christmas during the Great Depression when the children were given only oranges and told that they represented the gold placed in stockings by St. Nicholas, to be used as a dowry.
Paying tribute to both is one of my favorite cocktails to drink from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day. It’s a take on a “Robert Burns” named for the famed Scottish poet. I make mine with absinthe, which coats the throat with some added heat, a sweater for your stomach.
Pour a small amount of absinthe in your glass, coating the surface with just enough absinthe to feel the warmth and not so much as to overwhelm the rest of the cocktail. Bonus points if you can pass your absinthe pour between each of the glasses as you make more cocktails.
1-part sweet vermouth
A dash of orange bitters
A dash of absinthe
I serve mine with a small orange wedge punctured with cloves and squeeze a bit of orange juice into the cocktail. As you raise your glass, be sure to thank Mr. Burns. Excellent.
The Missouri Horn of Plenty
Thomas Hart Benton’s massive twenty-two-foot-long painting “Achelous and Hercules,” which once hung in a Kansas City, Missouri department store, features a massive cornucopia overflowing with gourds, cornstalks, carrots, wheat and a plump bunch of large, purple grapes. The horn belonged to the river god Achelous and it had been filled with the harvest bounty by the nymphs who presided over the river.
In 1904, forty-three years prior to the completion of Benton’s painting, across his home state of Missouri at the St. Louis World’s Fair, a Syrian immigrant by the name of Ernest Hamwi rolled up one of his zalabia—a waffle-like pastry—and gave it to Arnold Fornachou to serve his ice cream. Originally, Hamwi called his invention the “Cornucopia Waffle,” but it soon after came to be known throughout the world as the Ice Cream Cone.
This boozy ice cream takes a night to prepare, but the effort will pay off in droves when you have its origin story on-hand to disrupt your drunken uncle’s oral dissertation on the return of American Democracy.
1-part red table wine
1-part vanilla ice cream
A dozen red grapes per batch
6 maraschino cherries per batch
Let ice cream soften. Add ingredients to blender. Blend until well-mixed but grapes and cherries are still in medium-sized chunks. Pour ingredients into sealed Tupperware container. Freeze. Serve in an ice cream cone, and raise a toast to Benton and Hamwi.
Like a Greek Mother’s Milk
The legend goes that when Zeus was born, he fed on the milk of the goat goddess Amalthea. While nursing, overcome by his own strength, Zeus broke off one of her horns which then provided him endless nourishment.
Though not unending, I find a well-made punch bowl can accomplish nearly the same. After learning a bar in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood serves a goat’s milk punch, I tried to replicate it at home but found it to be too sweet. If you prefer imbibing on the sweeter side, punch up the amount of cinna-syrup. But batch out a glass for yourself first to ensure the ratio is suitable before filling the punch bowl.
3-parts goat’s milk
1-part cinnamon syrup (½ part cinnamon, ½ part sugar, 1-part water)
Combine in a punch bowl. Serve over fresh ice. Hang some horn-like candy canes from the rim of the punch bowl. Suggest stirring with said cane. Garnish with a sprig of mint. Avoid conversations with any man named “Cronus.”
The Sacred Place
Dale DeGroff, noted bartender whom for many years oversaw cocktails at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room, befriended a group of editors who’d become regular fixtures of “lunch” during his tenure. One afternoon just before Thanksgiving, as a sign of gratitude for their patronage, he prepared “The Pilgrim’s Cocktail.” One of those bitterly cold November days in New York, he served the drink hot.
A few years ago, nostalgic for those blustery afternoons reprieved by The Pilgrim, I whipped up a batch myself, poured it into a couple thermoses and hailed a cab en route to a “Friendsgiving” celebration. Of course, being New York, my chariot was abruptly caught in crosstown traffic. Apparently the accident was caused by a wild bird crossing the road. My cabbie, a real comedian, exclaimed, “This is why you shouldn’t pardon turkeys!”
Idle for nearly fifteen minutes, I cracked open one of the thermoses. As I enjoyed the first few sips, my cab driver turned around taking a big whiff, his eyes widening as he asked if he could try it. I poured him a small sip and—whether he knew he was quoting John Wayne’s character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or not—said to me, “Well, thanks for saving my life, Pilgrim.”
½ part dark rum
½ part light rum
½ part orange curaçao
2-parts fresh orange juice
2-parts fresh lime juice
¼ part St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
2 dashes Scrappy’s Jalapeño Bitters
Combine ingredients over high heat, removing from the stove just prior to boiling. Pour into your favorite insulated container. Share with your closest friends or the nearest cab driver.
Illustrations by Jenny Mörtsell