Friday, 3 October 2014

True Haven

To mark the launch of True Haven, a Regency-inspired fantasy adventure, it's time to dream up a Georgian-style cocktail.  

Of course, gin is the base (see Fancy a blue ruin?), so I felt that pineapple had to be the main fruit ingredient.

I recently visited Guy's Cliffe walled garden that is being restored, and I heard from the project botany supremo Barry Meatyard that pineapples were often just handed round - and not even eaten. Intrigued, I looked up more. Well!

Recipe first – then history.

Measure of gin
Two measures of pineapple juice
Dash of lime juice
Measure of dry vermouth
Twist of lime peel
Ice cubes

Shake over ice. I used cubes of frozen juice, as I tend not to get through a whole carton of pineapple juice.

For a drier version, use grapefruit juice and possible sweet white vermouth.

Back to the fascinating history of this exotic produce. Ships brought in preserved pineapples from Caribbean islands as expensive sweetmeats – pineapple chunks candied, glazed and packed in sugar. It seems that the actual whole fruit was even more costly and difficult to obtain. Wooden ship travel in the tropics was hot, humid and slow, and cargoes rotted before they could be landed.

Only the speediest ships and most fortuitous weather conditions could deliver ripe, wholesome pineapples to the confectionery shops of cities far away.

It was de rigueur to grace your dining table with a fresh pineapple, but as they were so hard to acquire, confectioners sometimes rented them to households by the day. Later, the same fruit was sold to other, more affluent clients who actually ate it.

This period was all about appearances. In larger, well-to-do homes, the dining room doors were kept closed to heighten suspense about what was on the other side. At the appointed moment, and with the maximum amount of pomp and drama, the doors were flung open to reveal the evening’s main event.

So, this odd fruit came to symbolise the hospitality of the social event itself; the image of the pineapple coming to express the sense of welcome, good cheer, human warmth and family affection.

Later, architects, artisans and craftsmen took it one. The wealthy would commission stone carvings, stating the hospitality (and wealth, no doubt) of a mansion with carved pineapples on its main gate posts.

Travel round any Georgian property, and you’ll find copper and brass pineapples in weather vanes; sculpted pineapples into door lintels; stencilled pineapples on walls and canvas mats; pineapple motifs woven into tablecloths, napkins, carpets and draperies; and cast pineapples into metal hot plates.

Such whimsical pineapple shapes led the way in food creations and general table decorations throughout the 1700 and 1800s. Pineapple-shaped cakes, pineapple-shaped gelatine moulds, candies pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples moulded of gum and sugar, pineapples made of creamed ice, biscuits cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits. There were also ceramic bowls formed like pineapples, fruit and sweet trays incorporating pineapple designs, and pineapple pitchers, cups and even candelabras.

Come Christmas, I might have some fun freezing the outer casing and popping in a candle ... Why not? I can be as crazy as the Georgians.


PS Watch out for the non-alcoholic pineapple drink and a brief history of scurvy.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Fancy a blue ruin?

Bingo; Blue Ruin; Blue Tape; Daffy; Diddle; Drain; Frog’s Wine; Geneva; Heart’s Ease; Jackey; Lady Dacre’s Wine; Lightning; Max; Rag Water; Sky Blue; South Sea Mountain; Strip Me Naked; White Ribbon; White Tape; White Wool.

 Whatever am I talking about?

These are all 18th-century nicknames for gin. I’ve just picked some sloes and was hunting for a recipe – and inevitably got caught up with some Georgian history.

It is said that gin was invented around 1650 in the Netherlands by Dr Sylvuis. This man - who is also known as Franz de la Boé - was Professor of Medicine at Leyden, Holland. Originally, he intended this 'medicine' as a remedy for kidney disorders. He used neutral grain spirits flavoured with the oil of juniper. He called it 'genever' after the French term genièvre meaning juniper. By 1655 it was already being produced commercially and English soldiers serving in the area developed an affection for the spirit.

When William of Orange landed in England on 1688 to assume the throne, he arrived with ‘Madame Geneva’.

Over the 18th century, it replaced French brandy as a popular tipple, then became a virtual epidemic. Gin excesses damaged the economy – being a cheap form of escapism for it was simple and cheap to produce. Alarmed, the government tried to quash its presence, and taxed the liquor. However, as it was often made in back rooms and illicit stills, it was hard to impose. Worse, the Act defined gin as spirits to which juniper berries had been added. Roguish producers responded by not bothering with the juniper berries at all – and the resultant raw spirit was still consumed by the gallon, according to author Stephen Hart.

It was calculated that Londoners on average were allegedly drinking up to 14 gallons of gin a year, equivalent to 10 shots a day for every man, woman and child, reports The Guardian. Harsher taxes were imposed, resulting in gangs of  informers, mob riots and lynchings.

Hogarth captured the scenes in Gin Lane, from Beer Street and Gin Lane, urban desolation with gin-crazed Londoners, notably a woman who lets her child fall to its death and an emaciated ballad-seller; in the background is the tower of St George's Bloomsbury. The accompanying poem, printed on the bottom, reads:

Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught,
Makes human Race a Prey.
It enters by a deadly Draught
And steals our Life away.

Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair
Its Rage compells to fly,
But cherishes with hellish Care
Theft, Murder, Perjury.

Damned Cup! that on the Vitals preys
That liquid Fire contains,
Which Madness to the heart conveys,
And rolls it thro' the Veins.

In 1751, Josiah Tucker of Bristol calculated that the annual amount gin cost the economy was three million, nine hundred and ninety-seven thousand, six hundred and nineteen pounds, and eleven pence
halfpenny. While it is a wonderful example of spurious accuracy, the round sum of four million
pounds is still impressive.

Finally, the Government saw sense. The Gin Act of 1751 slashed the excise so the situation eased. By the end of the 1750s, Madame Geneva was positively respectable.

So, why sloe gin?

If you recall your school history, it goes back to the enclosure of the countryside in the 16th and 17th centuries, when tracts of open land were carved up into smaller fields. Blackthorn was the most common hedging plant, due to its vigorous growth and sharp thorns (to keep the stock and people out).

So, sloes became widespread and country folk, finding the sloe too bitter to eat, decided to soak it in alcohol and sugar; the drink of choice at the time being gin.

The practice was disparaged. A polemical poem on British ills from 1717 refers to beverages “... made at Home ... of Sugar, Sloes, and Grocer’s Trash” and sloe-juice and gin was described in scathing terms in 1838 as a mixture “which the inhabitants of London swallow for port”.

So, the sloes, no doubt, would have disguised foul concoctions made on the cheap. Sugar, too, was cheap, for the slave trade was at its height. It’s interesting to read that sugar consumption in Britain increased fivefold from 1710 to 1770 (according to Andy Hamilton).

Sloe gin had to wait until the beginning of the 20th century before it became respectable – and even in the US, where it’s hard to find a sloe bush, cocktails fanciers must rely on ready-made imports.

To make your own, you’ll need about 500g ripe sloes, 250g sugar, a litre of plain gin (or even vodka). Prick the berries with a needle, or freeze and crush. Pop into a jar with the sugar and the liquor.

Then wait until Christmas. And as for gin and tonic? Well, that's another story.

PS True Haven is a YA book, so Madame Geneva does not make an appearance. However, the dastardly kalasha berries do ... 

The book comes out on Amazon on 3 October.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Sloe gin – basic recipe

’Tis the time to be picking sloes.

Sloes ripening in my local park in Kenilworth

 For any hedgerow fan, there are rich pickings – certainly in Warwickshire.

Basic recipe:
450g sloes
350g caster sugar (or granulated, but it takes longer)
750ml gin (or vodka)

If you don’t have such a sweet tooth, reduce the sugar to 250g. For a richer version, use brown sugar.

For those with patience, prick the sloes with a needle. I freeze them and break them up with a weight. Put them into sterilised Kilner jars – allow the fruit to come a third of the way up. Divide the sugar among them and top up with alcohol. Don’t waste a decent brand. You won’t be able to tell the difference.

Place the sealed jars somewhere cool and dark and leave for for 8-10 weeks, turning the bottle from time to time and shaking once a week.

Sloe gin has a fascinating history - see my forthcoming article. It all started when I was researching some typical 18th-century parlance for a book I was working on. True Haven is a regency YA fantasy set in the quirky land of Sulisia ... Here's the companion blog to find out more.

The book comes out in digital form on 3 October - available on Amazon and Crooked Cat! Who else?

By Pamela Kelt

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Love in the Cold War

This is cocktail #2 to mark the launch of Not With A Whimper, an original Cold War thriller.

The heart is easy to do. Just cut a maraschino cherry in two, then nip at the sides with a pair of kitchen scissors.

1 measure vodka
1 measure dry martini
1 measure apricot brandy
Dash cranberry bitters
Cocktail cherry

Shake the first three ingredients over ice, pour into a glass and drop in the cherry. If you add another ice cube, it makes it easier to dash in the bitters. Don't stir it right away and let them sink to the bottom. If you don’t have cranberry bitters, a few drops of grenadine or hibiscus juice would do, although it won’t look quite as dramatic.

By Pamela Kelt

Checkpoint Charlie

Today is a special occasion. It’s the launch of my late father’s original Cold War thriller, Not With A Whimper.

I was given his manuscripts some months ago, and as soon as I read the first few paragraphs, I was on a mission to get his first novel published. For the whole story, do pop along to a small website I put together in my father's memory: Peter A. W. Kelt.

Thanks to Crooked Cat, his novel is out today.

Set in Spain at the end of Franco’s reign, it’s a riveting tale of espionage and conspiracy, written in a tight, Chandleresque style.

So, here’s a cocktail on the Cold War theme: Checkpoint Charlie, as a reminder of the US, British, French and Soviet sectors.

1 measure Bourbon
1 measure Pimms
1 measure vodka
1 measure Chambord

Shake over ice. Take a seat and sip. Beware, it packs a punch.

By Pamela Kelt

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Cocktail Hour

To celebrate the launch of 'Crooked Cats' Tales', a veritable cocktail of short stories, I came up with this little beverage.

Inspired by my contribution, somewhat cheekily tagged 'Cocktail Hour', it's a 'stormier' version of a Sea Breeze, which can be a little bland.

1.5 measures vodka
1 measure cranberry juice
Juice of half a lime
Dash of cranberry bitters
Dash of tonic water

Shake everything bar the tonic water over ice and add a spritz of tonic water to taste.

The cocktail story (and the cocktail itself) were inspired by a visit to the Finnish archipelago, which was stunning. We were lucky enough to be be invited to stay in the guest house of a family who lived on a tiny island, 20 minutes from the mainland.

It was the epitome of serenity - in August. We were entranced by the colours of the ocean and wildlife (see more images on Pinterest). As a fan of Nordic Noir, it wasn't surprising when a dark little story popped into my head.

If you fancy some great holiday reading, do please join the Facebook launch of the anthology.

Cocktail Hour is the first on the list. Chin chin.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Lost Orchid

This pale pink concoction has a classy dusky hue. Forget all the other ‘pink’ drinks. This dessert cocktail is sheer sophistication.

It was inspired by The Lost Orchid, a botanical mystery set in the 1880s when orchidmania was rife ... 

1 measure of Chambord (or cassis)
1 measure of vodka
1 tiny dash of blueberry liqueur
a tiny dash of dark crème de cacao
1 measure single cream

To serve:
sugar crystals

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. To prepare the glass, moisten the rim with grenadine and place upside down on a saucer filled with granulated sugar (or other pink sugar crystals).

Different brands of liqueurs will produce different hues, so it might be worth experimenting with tiny measures in a clear glass. The crème de cacao, for instance, gives the drink a fantastic subtle edge, but too much of it will turn the mix beige. A posh beige, but beige nonetheless.

Whatever you do, DO NOT add grenadine. It will turn your cocktail the colour of blancmange.

By Pamela Kelt 

Available here:

Friday, 10 January 2014

Sweet Thang

Out of necessity, I converted a classic orange cocktail into a grapefruit surprise.

The ‘Sweet Patootie’, which blends gin with triple sec and orange juice is a nice enough cocktail. However, our house was an OJ-free zone. Time to improvise.


1 measure Cointreau or triple sec
1 measure gin
1 measure grapefruit juice
Dash of grenadine or hibiscus
Dash of orange bitters.

Shake over ice. Refrain from the grenadine or hibiscus if you don’t have a sweet tooth. I like it either way.

Regarding the name, I’m a little mystified. Literally, it’s US for sweet potato – and the colour matches, but only when made with grenadine. Otherwise, it’s a subtle yellow.


By Pamela Kelt 

If you add the grenadine after the fact, let it sink to the bottom, you can create a 'sunrise' effect.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Union member

This cocktail is a mystery. I found a post-it note in my cocktail bible with the name Union Member, with the following ingredients.

I can’t recall where I found it. I’m guessing it’s close to Union Jack, with sloe gin, more regular gin and grenadine.

It could be that if you use a really dark sloe gin, it comes out a shade of red worthy of a socialist flag. My home-made sloe gin is rather pale, so it's definitely more 'pinko' than truly communist.

So, whatever the origin, here it is:

1 measure sloe gin
1 measure dry vermouth
Dash angostura bitters

Shake over ice – and serve with a maraschino cherry if you’ve any left over from Christmas.

If anyone knows where this originated, I’d love to hear from you.

PS: Here's a sneak preview of the next batch of sloe gin I'm making, which is reminiscent of a murky pond at this stage. A month on, it's now mulberry-coloured, thanks to using brown sugar. We shall see ...