Monday, December 05, 2005

A long experiment.

Today, December 5th …

The “Noble Experiment” of Prohibition ended on this day in 1933 in the USA. For 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, 32½ minutes, the country had been officially “dry”.

Unofficially of course, it was pretty well as wet as ever. The experiment did not so much fail as backfire, and some historians believe alcohol consumption actually increased, particularly among the young. Alcohol was (and is) closely woven into the fabric of society, and powerful social forces ensured that society did not miss its favourite commodity. Against a background of great hypocrisy there was “widespread disregard” for the law, assisted by increased corruption, large-scale organised crime, sheer human ingenuity –and a few legal loopholes. Alcohol, for example, could be prescribed for medical reasons, so doctors became popular house-guests!

The actual number of drinking establishments probably doubled during Prohibition, and illegal “speakeasies” were not so choosy about legal drinking age. Homes became distilleries, with spirits being made from anything and everything fermentable. One very brilliant piece of marketing saw the sale of a “grape brick” of compressed dried fruit being sold with an attached packet of yeast which carried a “warning” that if it was added to the grape juice, “fermentation might result”.

A few restaurants survived what was the death-knell for most. Some indicated the availability of alcohol to well-known patrons by a discreet notice called an “Entre Nous” (Between Ourselves) slipped into the spine of the menu book. One such was the Biltmore, which listed Cocktail Los Angeles, Solera Theresa, Montebello, Crement Brut Chatreuse 1869, Fine Champagne Courvoisier V.V.O. 1848, and Perfection Scotch on its little note.

In 1919, the chef (Victor Hertzler) of the Hotel St Francis in San Francisco had produced a cookbook. Many of the recipes contained alcohol, so could not have been served for almost 14 years.

Victoria punch. Two pounds of sugar, two quarts of water, and the juice of six oranges, mixed. Then add a small glass of rhum, a small glass of kirsch, and a glass of sauternes. Freeze. Serve in glasses, covered with a meringue made with the white of three eggs and one-half pound of sugar.

A “Sorbet au Kirsch” served at the Repeal Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on the night of the 5th must have been similar to this frozen punch. The Old Foodie will send the full menu on request!

Tomorrow … The food which is also a toy.

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