Lesley M.M. Blume is something of a cultural savant. As a journalist and author she’s covered all sorts of curiosities for publications ranging from Vanity Fair to Vogue, and her tastes take a very literal turn in her new book Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition, which she refers to as, “A compendium of impish, romantic, amusing and occasionally appalling potations from bygone eras.” Here she chats with us about the inspiration behind the book, some of the more interesting concoctions she stumbled across during her research, and a few newly discovered favorites.
Imbibe: What made you want to write a cocktail book?
Blume: I wrote a book called Let’s Bring Back in 2010, and it celebrated a huge array of things—personalities, words, fashions and a ton of culinary content. Some of the entries that I most enjoyed writing were about lost cocktails and cocktail culture. And it wasn’t just about the ingredients being mixed into something nice—there were these great social histories attached to so many of the drinks. So when we decided to extend the book into a series of topics, it seemed like it was a natural fit to do a book about vintage cocktails. It was a lot of fun to write and earned me a lot of hangovers, so I guess I took one for the team.
Imbibe: How did you go about digging up so many obscure recipes?
Blume: Lots and lots of time researching. The New York Public Library has a fantastic menu collection, and I live close to two food and beverage historical bookstores that allowed me to sit in their stores for hours and look through books that dated back a million years. At first I didn’t quite know how I was going to theme the book because it’s a very saturated genre, and I wanted to bring something fresh to the table, but I realized what really resonated with me was the insane humor behind a lot of the drinks, and began culling the ones that had the most personality. Though there was other criteria too—they had to be genuinely lost, so you’re not going to see a Martini, Ward Eight or a Sidecar. Basically I wanted drinks that were unfamiliar to the vast majority of readers but with a great back story.
Imbibe: Any challenges or surprises along the way?
Blume: First of all, I didn’t want to reprint anything that wasn’t palatable to modern tastes, though I actually did highlight one drink because it sounded so hilariously repulsive and far-fetched. And then I kept coming across recipes with beautiful names, ingredients and back stories, but with some sort of ingredient that just isn’t made anymore. There was this one recipe called Stars in Your Hair—which sounded so romantic and sweet, and I wanted more romantic recipes since I have so many naughty and mischievous entries in the book. It contains a liqueur called Forbidden Fruit, which isn’t made anymore, but I approached a couple of well-known bartenders in New York and asked if a modern bartender could re-create Forbidden Fruit. They looked into it and basically just said it couldn’t be done. At that point you just have to kind of give up, because I didn’t want to include something you couldn’t re-create. So there were little heartbreaks like that.
Imbibe: And what about that “hilariously repulsive” cocktail?
Blume: It’s called the Gingivitis and is made with grenadine, cream and gin. It was just such a totally repulsive notion that I couldn’t resist including it. But I ran across a lot of drinks with personality that nobody in their right mind would make today, and that you can’t believe somebody would have made back in the day.
Imbibe: Any new favorite recipes you discovered?
Blume: There were a few. The first one is called The Great Ziegfeld with just gin and pineapple juice. It’s really, really good and goes down way too quickly. It was created for the showman Florenz Ziegfeld, and the recipe was an oral history from his wife Billy Burke. And then another one that was pretty lovely is called the Fluffy Ruffle, which is basically a rum Martini. And then there’s this savory drink that’s great for autumn—it’s almost like a beef bouillon Bloody Mary called the Bull Shot, and you can serve it warm or cold.
Imbibe: What’s the one thing you hope readers take away from your book?
Blume: In recent years I feel like artisanal cocktail-making has gotten really self-serious, but drinking is supposed to be fun! One of the things we were trying to do with this book was to inject a little bit of the humor and mischievousness back into this aspect of drinking culture. And also I like the notion that cocktails are like a living, imbibeable passport to history. In creating the book, I got to revisit these pockets of social history, whether it was wars, romance, popular culture or old Hollywood, and have a sublime time giggling at the naughtiness and the temerity of some of these creations.
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