I've been doing cocktails for the Key West Literary Seminar for the past couple years and this time around I, in an outrageously audacious move, decided to create a series of cocktails for the event's nightly parties inspired by the works of Graham Greene. Travel writer & essayist Pico Iyer's meditation on his internal relationship with Greene through his work, "The Man Inside My Head", has been an important touchtstone at this year's Seminar, the theme of which is "Writers On Writers". Iyer himself attended and spoke eloquently about the book and Greene.
It had been when I'd found out the Iyer would be attending that the idea first took hold, as I'm a huge Greene fan myself. Knowing this project would be a big undertaking I recruited Sean Hoard of Teardop Lounge in Portland, Oregon to develop Greene-tails with me, and we've been corresponding and tweaking recipes and concepts for months. Hoard joined me here in Key West this week where we've been serving cocktails for the 300 plus authors and serious readers nightly all week.
Greene was a commited drinker, and drinking is a common activity in his books, as is travel, and many are set in exotic locations, so finding national spirits or local culinary cues to look to for inspiration in his work wasn't hard. And some characters suggest drinks quite easily in your imagination. The iconoclastic eccentric grandmother-aged Augusta in "Travels with my Aunt" powers through quite a lot of champagne on trains and at various bars around Europe, so I'd thought of a champagne cocktail with a little punch as an homage to her libertine spirit, something a bit saucy. When I discovered that KWLS Lighting Director Jolly Benson had a calamondin tree in his front yard, and more significatnly that his chef mother Sarah had made an amazing marmalade with it, it all sort of wrote itself from there. The citrus' bitter-but-invigorating rind and pith was definitely saucy, and its brilliant orange actually matches Maggie Smith's flame red hair in George Cukor's film adaptation quite closely. (Smith, below, in a still from the film, looking her actual age for a flashback. Her Aunt Augusta is interesting, but Katherine Hepburn, who was originally slated to do the part and was closer to the character's age, and temperment, may have been a better choice. Still, Smith does look fantastic here.)
I mixed the marmalade with Beefeater 24, selected for its elegant, astringent notes culled from its grapefruit and Chinese green and Japanese Sencha tea botanicals, a little honey syrup (1:1) and lemon, shook it all up vigorously & strained into a flute, topped it with champagne, expressing a lemon twist over the top and discarding. I used about 1 oz of the stock in the early versions at the opening night party, but as the evening went on I thought that more of the gin and citrus stock would make everyone ever merrier and I started pouring around 1.5-1.75 oz. Even later I began scopping a small bit if the marmalade into the flute before building the drink, with the benefits of that flash of orange at the bottom of the transclucent, almost mother of pearl colored finished drink, as well as a little hit of the bite-y marmalade.
SARAH BENSON'S CALAMONDIN MARMALADE
Wash, cut in half, seed, and purée In a food processor enough calamondins to measure 2 cups - The skin should be in 1/4 inch pieces
1 cup orange juice
3 cups sugar
In a stainless steel pan bring the juice and Calomondin purée to a boil. Stir in the sugar. Cook the mixture over a medium-high heat at a steady boil for 15 minutes stirring several times.
Spoon the marmalade into clean jars, let it cool and keep refrigerated.
Fantastic stuff, integral for our Aunt Augusta but also brilliant on some toast.
More cocktails to come this week from me and Mr. Hoard, including The Third Man, The Power & The Glory, The Hotel Continental, The Whisky Priest, The Pennyfeather, The End of the Affair & The Loud American.