Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from A Bootlegger’s Manual

When I was writing my book, A Jazz Age Murder in Northwest Indiana (History Press), about Nettie Diamond, a wealthy widow and pharmacist who was murdered by her fifth husband, a much younger bootlegger named Harry in Indiana Harbor on Valentine’s Day 1923, one of the things I learned was that it was relatively easy to get a permit during Prohibition to buy medicinal alcohol and distribute it.

That may be why I’m finding a new book, Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from A Bootlegger’s Manual by Matthew Rowley (The Countryman Press 2015; $27.95) to be a fascinating read.

Rowley, who describes himself as specializing in folk distilling and the manufacture and distribution of illicit spirits, was given an old book titled The Candle and The Flame, The Work of George Sylvester Viereck. The interior didn’t contain any poems by Viereck, a popular poet up until his pro-German sensibilities during World War I made him a pariah in the U.S. Instead, the book’s once blank pages contained a plethora of handwritten distilled spirit recipes procured and preserved by a New York pharmacist named Victor Alfred Lyon.

As for Harry, he wasn’t supposed to sell alcohol for non-medicinal purposes like he did—by adding real spirit company labels to his own bottles…but that was Harry who also.  According to Rowley, many pharmacists made alcoholic concoctions to help ailing (or just plain thirsty) customers and many distilleries were allowed to continue to operate to provide product. Rowley points out that during Prohibition, the sale of sacramental wine went sky high as people suddenly became much more religious.

Lyon’s recipes were collected from a variety of sources and at the time he was gathering them, some were a century or so old. Rowley organized the recipes in chapters such as Absinthe, Cordials, and Bitters and Gin; Compounding Spirits and Gin, Whiskey and Rum.

Less a cookbook than a history and how-to of spirit making, Rowley does include many of Lyon’s recipes from a simple cocktail that silent screen movie star Mary Pickford enjoyed to the complex (and supersized) such as one for Rumessenz which calls for gallons of ingredients and was used by wholesalers, barkeepers, importers and exporters to make an essence of rum they could use for adding the aroma and tastes of rum to a batch of plain alcohol creating a higher profit margin.  That’s similar to what Harry Diamond did as well and at his trial he told the court he made about $20,000 a month from bootlegging.

Here’s one of the book’s recipes.

Lanizet: Sour Mash Cajun Anisette

3 quarts water

25 ounces sugar

½ teaspoon anise oil

½ tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon red food coloring

3 cups bourbon or Tennessee whiskey

5 to 7 pounds ice

Pour 1 ½ quarts of the water in a medium stockpot. Note the depth of the liquid. Later, you will boil the syrup to this height. For now, pour in the remaining water and all the sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Lower the heat and simmer until the liquid reduces to 1 ½ quarts, 50 or 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

While the syrup is simmering, sterilize five new or well-scrubbed 1-pint canning jars in a deep pot or canning pot. Leave the jars in the hot water until you’re ready to use them. Wash and boil the lids and rings according to the manufacturer’s directions.

When the syrup reaches that 1.5-lquart mark, turn off the heat and remove the pot from heat. Stir in the anise oil, vanilla and food coloring until thoroughly mixed, then stir in the whiskey. Remove the jars from their hot water bath with tongs. Place the jars (don’t touch with your bare hands) on a wooden surface or folded towels and immediately pour the crimson liquid into the jars up to 1⁄2 inch from the tops. Wipe any dribbles or spills from the rims with a clean, damp cloth and place hot lids on top with sealing compound down; screw on the metal rings firmly but not too tightly.

Line your sink with a damp dish towel; it will prevent the hot jars from breaking when they touch the cool surface. Immediately place the jars upright in the sink, then slowly fill it with cool tap water so it covers the jars. As the jars cool, you’ll hear a series of metallic pops and pings; that’s a vacuum forming in each jar. When the jars are cool to the touch, after 5 to 10 minutes, place them upright in a tub of ice, with ice to top off the jars, to cool the anisette as quickly as possible. Once contents of jars are well chilled, about 1 hour, remove the jars from the ice. Label and date the jars, then store upright in a cool, dark place.

Yield: 5 pints

From Lost Recipes of Prohibition.

 

 

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Before the Fall: A Riveting Mystery by Noah Hawley

A Great Beach Read!

I wasn’t sure that I’d like Noah Hawley’s “Before the Fall”(Grand Central 2016; $26) because I already knew it involved a plane crash and that didn’t sound too appealing. But this mystery about a rich media titan and his family and friends is so absorbing, I kept turning the pages way after it should have been lights out.

Only two people survive plane crash — Scott Burroughs, a once very promising artist and now a recovering alcoholic barely able to make ends meet, and the mogul’s 4-year-old son. Both end up in the dark Atlantic waters, and Burroughs, who has achieved sobriety by intensive swimming, pops the kid on his back and heads for land — an epic swim against currents and gigantic waves. But that’s the least of his problems.

Once ashore, he’s hailed as a hero until the media titan’s star anchor…

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The limits of wild harvesting

Just cooked a bunch of ramps and really enjoyed reading about them.

An article in the April 20 New York Times food section reveals concerns about over-harvesting ramps in the wild. Some sources recommend harvesting no more than 10% of the bed in a given year. Ramps have been declared a threatened species in some areas. However, officials in New York State say ramps are not being over-harvested in our state. That may well be because the plant is less known and somewhat less sought after in the northern states. That is, despite the ramp-rage in NYC restaurants and farmer’s markets.

It’s common sense not to decimate a wild patch – but just how much can you safely harvest and what other approaches can you take to make sure you are treating your wild plants sustainably? The answers are controversial and unscientific at this point. Consider the following options: Take only the largest bulbs (and therefore oldest plants). Watch for the tiny…

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Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home

When six-year-old Gonker, a much loved family pet decided to do some typical canine spontaneous off-site exploring when navigating the Appalachian Trail with his owner Fielding Marshall, he was expected to shortly return. But after a9781101947012 while, while calling the six-year old Golden Retriever’s name, Marshall began to worry that his dog was lost. To make it even more serious, Gonker suffered from Addison’s—a serious disease that effects dogs and is characterized by a deficient production of glucocorticoids and/or mineralocorticoids. If Gonker doesn’t get the necessary hormone medication needed to control the disease, he will die within 23 days.

The story of the search for Gonker is told by Marshall’s brother-in-law, journalist Pauls Toutonghi is his latest book, Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home (Knopf 2016; $25). It’s a tale of a family’s search to find their dog in time and also of how, after Fielding’s mother, Virginia, sets up a command center, the community and ultimately the country. Indefatigable—she long had mourned the loss of her own dog decades ago, Virginia uses a map and phone book to jumpstart what will become a nationwide network of those wanting to help find and save Gonker. Relentlessly contacting radio stations, park rangers, animal shelters, the police and local retail stores, Gonker’s disappearance and the family’s search gets a write-up in a local newspaper where it is picked up by AP. Before long the nation is offering their help in finding the missing dog.

Ifyougo:

What: Pauls Toutonghi conversation and book signing

When: Saturday, June 11 at 11:45 am

Where: Printers Row Lit Festival, South Loop Stage, Dearborn Street, Chicago

FYI: printersrowlitfest.org/