What We're Reading: Irvin S. Cobb's Own Recipe Book + A Cocktail Recipe

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Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 3:34 PM

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My mother's boyfriend, Jim, is a collector. Or, more accurately, a hoarder. Not the scary rats-in-the-couch-under-the-dead-dog kind (not yet, at least), but still. The guy has a lot of stuff. A lifelong North Carolinian, his house in Winston-Salem is full of animal skulls, stacks of magazines, shrines to various deities, and many, many books. As soon as you arrive, he begins sorting through things, looking for the stack he's been arranging for you. He'll hand you an envelope or paper bag full of magazine clippings, books and other ephemera he's been collecting that reminded him of you.

On my most recent visit, my pile included a small book, published in 1934: Irvin S. Cobb's Own Recipe Book. Published by Frankfort Distilleries, the book is Cobb's thoughts on whiskey, mint juleps and life, and includes a few pages of cocktail recipes. There was a receipt in the book from the bookstore where Jim made the purchase. It is dated 1992.

Irvin S. Cobb (the S. stands for Shrewsbury) was an author and humorist who grew up in Kentucky and lived in New York in the early 1900s. He also had a Hollywood connection, acting in a few movies and hosting the 6th Academy Awards in 1935.

Cobb's book is full of soaring odes to the mint julep and to whiskey. He also shows some fun disdain for the lesser-whiskeys common in his home state:

This here fiery stuff called corn whiskey, whether white or red, is an unlawful offshoot from the Bourbon tribe and among Kentuckians, at least, is regarded as but an illegitimate orphan of the Royal Line, born out of wedlock in the shine of the moon, left as a foundling on the doorstep of some convenient bootlegger and abounding in fusel oil.

The book's most remarkable feature is its romantic, horribly racist drawings of black servants attending to the Southern gentry. There's also some colorful theorizing about history: "... down our way we've always had a theory that the Civil War was not brought on by Secession or Slavery or the State's Rights issue. These matters contributed to the quarrel but there was a deeper reason. It was brought on by some Yankee coming down South and putting nutmeg in a julep."

The book is far more interesting for its flowery language than its cocktails. I find this to be true of many vintage cocktail books: What they reveal about the culture surrounding drinking is far more fascinating than the drinks themselves, most of which are still being made. Often, the drinks that aren't still being made or haven't yet been resurrected aren't very good. I did find one recipe that I haven't seen much of, and that was fun to make at home. I used Bulleit Rye instead of Four Roses, Punt E Mes for the Italian vermouth and Noilly Prat dry vermouth for the French.

Mountain Cocktail

From: Irvin S. Cobb's Own Recipe Book

Makes: 1 drink

white of 1 egg

1/2 Four Roses whiskey

1/6 Lemon Juice

1/6 Italian vermouth

1/6 French vermouth

1. Shake well with cracked ice and strain.

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