Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Capital Crimes with a Dog's Nose

'Capital Crimes' is a collection of London based Mysteries, I wrote about it at slightly more length Here, so will content myself with saying that there are some real classics amongst the 17 stories here, and that I distinctly remember at least one of them making a dark walk home from the bus stop really creepy. It's probably also worth saying that the classic crime anthologies are all uniformly excellent. There are absolute gems here from some occasionally unexpected writers, and that some of the titles have become chapter headings in Martin Edwards 'The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books' (he's edited all of these collections) gives a sense of the scope they cover. They're a brilliant way of exploring a theme in Crime writing over a good fifty year period - and I love them.

Meanwhile I've really made the effort on this one, sacrificing a bottle of stout (Brewdog's Jet Black Heart oatmeal milk stout - it's good, less bitter than Guinness, very dark and rich) that was ear marked for making Christmas puddings with. I've also made something hing I thought sounded revolting, in not one, but three versions, just to be thorough. Good news is it turned out not to be revolting.

I've sort of wanted to try Purl and it's close relative, the Dog's Nose ever since I first read about them a couple of years ago - but mostly out of curiosity, because the combination of gin and beer is not immediately appealing. (Also, apologies, this series wasn't meant to be 20+ things you can do with gin, with a few other things thrown in as an afterthought, but that's the way it's going.) warm beer and gin even less so. 

I have a few recipes for Purl - nothing says working London more to me than a combination of London dry gin and Porter (or stout), but the simpler Dog's Nose (because it's wet and black) sounded better. I can't for the life of me remember where I saw this written down, and can't find it anywhere obvious, but a search online threw up a couple of versions. It also tells me that Dickens mentioned it In The Pickwick Papers.

The most simple is a tot of gin topped up with porter/stout (if you were Wondering) in a ratio of about 12 to 1 and it's surprisingly good. The gin works well with the bitterness of the hops, and lifts the general heaviness of the beer. The second version was warm with a little bit of dark muscavado sugar and a grating of nutmeg across the top. On the whole this was the least appealing of the three on an August evening - I might feel differently about it on a cold, foggy, night - it bought out the bitterness in the beer which overwhelmed the other flavours. 

Finally I tried it at room temperature, stirring the sugar into the gin, then adding the stout, and grating the nutmeg over it - and really liked it. Again the gin lifts the beer, the juniper flavours working well with the citrusy elements of the hops, as does the nutmeg, and the sugar gives a richness to the whole lot. I'm raising that last glass to keeping an open mind. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Death of Anton with a 'Quelle Vie'

My criteria for choosing Cocktails for this series was to find things which I could make with what I already had in my kitchen, are simple to throw together, don't need to be set on fire, and don't require any special equipment (my cocktail shaker is at work, so I've been using a large jam jar, I've also been using a tablespoon for measuring because it's as good a way as any to control alcoholic intake, and a tea strainer - it's not the last word in sophistication but it all works). I've bought ice, quite a lot of lemons, a small bottle of grenadine (all of which left me with change from a fiver) and one other thing. They also have to suggest a book to me.

Ever since I got into the wine trade back in 1999 I've been intrigued by Kümmel (especially it's role in a Silver Bullet, more about which later) but I never got round to trying it. Now seemed like a good time, so I set about finding a bottle (1 likely shop had closed, 2nd likely shop didn't know what I was talking about, 3rd likely shop and upmarket bar told me nobody called Kümmel worked there - though they did later concede it sounded good)eventually I ordered it from Amazon, only to realise that I would have to be at home to take delivery - 10 days later I got my bottle.

Kümmel - if like half of Leicester you don't know, is a colourless, sweet, caraway and aniseed flavoured liqueur. The Whisky Exchange recommend drinking it chilled to within an inch of its life - which isn't generally a good sign. If you quite like Caraway you're on safe ground though. These days it's natural habitat, in the U.K. at least, is golf clubs (allegedly, I've never been in one so am taking that on trust) and amongst the shooting fraternity (I know that's true, because men with red faces sporting a nice line in tweed, keep asking for it for pre shoot drinks - I hope they found it easier to source than I did in the end). All of which gives it very specific connotations in my mind with old fashioned and rural pursuits.

I found the 'Quelle Vie' (what a life?) in Ambrose Heath's 'Good Drinks', it felt right for a Monday night. It's a simple mix of 2/3rds brandy and 1/3 kümmel which I shook well with ice and strained into a glass (Heath seems to assume you'll know what to do with it). The Kümmel is more than sweet enough to disguise how strong this is, the caraway flavour blends surprisingly harmoniously with the brandy, just overlaying it in a way I'm finding very convincing. It has the general air of something to be taken as a restorative...

I was thinking of it as a country house sort of a drink, but then the name suggested Alan Melville's  Death of Anton. What a life indeed where an off duty policeman finds himself investigating the death of a tiger tamer, apparently mauled by his own tigers until it turns out he was shot. There's a tension about this book entirely missing from 'Quick Curtain', even if it shares the same showbizzy sort of background. The faintly exotic note of the Kümmel seems right for a circus too!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Antidote to Venom with a Gimlet

I wrote about Freeman Willis Crofts 'Antidote to Venom' Here as part of a 1938 book club (what I particularly like about Simon and Kaggsy's book clubs are the way they make me consider what's happening in the years the books are being written in and looking at them with that particular focus).

It's an interesting one both because it tells the story from the point of view of the murderer and because of the strong moral, and Cristian, message it concludes with. The protagonist is an outwardly successful man with a slightly weak character. He's unhappily married to a woman who came from a more affluent background and can't, or won't, understand that she needs to alter her expectations. A series of bad decisions culminate in murder, and whilst in this case the details of the crime are exaggeratedly elaborate George's downward spiral rings true.

Slowly but surely he digs himself into a hole that he doesn't have the strength of character to get out of, his moral compass increasingly compromised with every step. one of the things I found really interesting about this one was the light it threw on social expectations. If George divorced he would lose his job, and the hose that goes with it, as a married woman his wife would be barred from a number of jobs even if she wanted to work, as it is the assumption that her husband will provide piles the pressure onto George, and when he fails, gives her a genuine sense of grievance. Obviously non of this excuses murder in the least, but the way Crofts tells it is provocative and masterly.

I associate Gimlets with navel officers (rum for the men, gin for the officers, and lime with both to keep scurvy away) they're also referred to in Angela Thirkell's 'Marling Hall' (there's a lack of lime for the gin, when it does become available the difficult landlady swipes it, using a whole bottle in an evening so I'm assuming Gimlets are the drink being made) which suggests this was a common way to drink gin. The colour and kick of the Gimlet certainly recalls venom.

The Gimlet is half and half lime cordial and gin stirred, it can be iced if desired.  (Rose's lime for preference, Plymouth gin if you want the Navy connection) The Savoy Coctail book also has a Gimblet which is 1/4 lime juice to 3/4 gin well shaken in a medium sized glass and topped up with soda water - which I like rather more, but are altogether less venomous, and less likely to encourage you to make bad decisions.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm with a Percy Special

Properly speaking the Percy Special appears to be associated with the English/Scottish Borders so Yorkshire (Sergeant Cluff's home) would be at the southern most edge of its reach, but people need to be warned, and the thing is in the spirit of the books setting.

Written in the late 1950's/early 1960's the two Cluff books I've read are best described as Yorkshire noir (original write up Here). They're bleak, brutal, and very British in the 'Get Carter' mold. From memory Cluff mostly drinks beer, or brandy, but as the brother of a well enough to do farmer in a county where there's both hunting and shooting a Percy Special is a distinct possibility. It's the kind of no nonsense, strong, drink that you could expect any farmhouse kitchen to be able to rustle up.

It's a concoction attributed to the 10th Duke of Northumberland (1914 -1988), and quite possibly invented with malice aforethought, the Percy Special is simply equal parts cherry brandy and whisky. I first encountered it one new year in the Scottish Borders, it came in a fairly large, full, tumbler, and despite protests was followed by another. It pretty much did for me.

It's very much associated with hunting and shooting both of which tend to start with strong spirits, and it's a good hip flask option for cold days on the side of a hill. Or inside after a day out in the cold. It'll certainly warm you up. It is not sensible to drink it by the tumblerfull, and beware old lady's who tell you otherwise. Nevertheless it has become something of a New Years tradition to drink this at least once, and in moderation I like it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Poisened Chocolates Case with a Café Kirsch

Anthony Berkeley (Anthony Berkeley Cox) was the founder of the Detection Club, and to quote Agatha Christie "All his stories are amusing, intriguing, and he is the master of the final twist"and 'The Poisened Chocolates Case' is one of the classics of golden age detective fiction. It's sort of an expansion on one of his short stories "The Avenging Chance", where a box of chocolates is sent to a gentleman, at his club, who decides he doesn't want them. Just as he's about to bin them a fellow member takes them off his hands. After sharing them with his wife, he's very ill, she, who ate rather more, dies. So who was the intended victim, and who was the murderer?

In "The Poisened Chocolate Case' the police at something of a dead end put the problem before Berkeley's detective, Roger Sheringham and his Crimes Circle - 6 amateur sleuths. Each come up with a different solution, each one more convincing than it's predecessor - before that final twist. In this edition there's also an alternative ending from Golden Age writer Christianna Brand, and a new soloution from Martin Edwards (I dream of being something like half as productive as Martin Edwards).

The old Cocktails and drinks I'd turned up that specifically mention chocolate didn't sound very appealing (egg yolks, cocoa powder, and spirits I neither have, or want to have) and then 'The Cocktail Book' arrived. This was first printed in 1900, and is the first book devoted purely to the cocktail (earlier books, like Jerry Thomas, are more general). This edition from the British Library will be officially published in October, so I'm very grateful for my early copy.

There is a Café Kirsch in the Savoy Coctail book, but it's a little bit more complicated than this one, and what I principally like about this version is it's simplicity. It asks for half a cup of hot strong black coffee, and a pony of Kirsch. Fill a glass half full of fine ice, add the Kirsch and coffee, shake (I assume in a shaker, not stirred in the glass, but instructions are vague) strain into a Cocktail glass and drink. It's cold, light, not to alcoholic (I may have used the equivalent of a Shetland pony) and quite refreshing.

However, I made this on the night of the Perseid meteor shower, and when I went to the only place I could look for them from (the rubbish shoot on the next floor up from my flat is outside, it wasn't a great view, and a spectacularly unromantic setting, but I saw a few shooting stars and they made it magical), I used the last of the coffee to make a still warm version - which was even better. Warm enough to keep the slight chill of an August in England night and the slight bitterness of the cold coffee at bay, it also bought out the cherry flavour of the Kirsch a little more.

The cherry and coffee combination is just enough to hint at a superior (un-poisoned) liqueur chocolate without being in any way sweet or cloying, it's not so strong as to interrupt concentration, and altogether has the feeling of a slightly illicit treat to accompany a book with.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Murder in Piccadilly with a Clover Club

Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston has all the ingredients of a Victorian melodrama - boy with expectations meets a dancer in a nightclub, he fancies her, she fancies his expectations, but the wealthy uncle refuses to stump up any cash (the boy doesn't seem inclined to make his own money). Then there are some shady clubland characters who have an agenda of their own regarding the money, so who wielded the knife that kills the wealthy uncle in the middle of a Piccadilly crowd?

I wonder if careful parents or guardians still worry about their sons coming home with a girl from the chorus line (I feel sure there are villages in the Home Counties where they very likely do)? And whilst this may be the gin talking, just thinking about this book leaves me torn between pulling it off the shelf for a good read, or hunting out my collection of Fred Astaire films - they're both much the same vintage, the book having been published in 1936.

I'd been eyeing up the clover club for a few days, on the one hand it sounded good, on the other it involves raw egg white - which puts me off. In the past whenever a cocktail involves egg white I've simply omitted it, it's there for texture rather than taste so the flavour isn't compromised if you do that. However, I really felt I should make the effort and keep the egg this time - turns out it's not revolting (please don't let me get salmonella on the back of this). The egg white emulsifiers into a frothy head, which is actually quite pretty, and combined with the bright pink colour, and the sherbety hit that the combination of lime and grenadine brings, along with the kick of gin - well it could have been a coctail designed for Lorelei in Anita Loos 'Gentleman Prefer Blondes'.

It's history predates prohibition, apparently it comes from Philadelphia's Clover Club, and it seems to have been around since the very early part of the twentieth century. I made the Savoy cocktail book version partly because it's about the same vintage as the book, so I can assume that anyone in the West end asking for a 'Clover Club' in the 1930's would have had something like this, and also because I prefer the way the recipes are broken down into simple proportions. In this case you take juice of half a lemon or 1 lime, the white of one egg, 1/3 of grenadine, and 2/3rds of gin. Shake well over ice and strain into a glass.

I've seen it suggested that you dry shake (without ice) for up to a minute to get the egg to foam then add ice and shake until cold. I didn't find this neccesary, but I did use a fresh egg (the whites are less runny). In this case the Grenadine adds the sweet element, but I've seen recipes which use raspberry syrup, or in the case of This version from the Martin Millers website, fresh raspberries and sugar syrup (though halving egg whites sounds like a pain). Add a sprig of mint to the glass and you have a Clover Leaf.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Quick Curtain with a French 75

Had 'Taking Detective Stories Seriously' (the collected crime reviews of Dorothy L. Sayers, edited by the indefatigable Martin Edwards) come up on my Amazon recommends list I probably wouldn't have payed it much attention. Luckily I heard about it at the Bodies from the Library event at the British Library early this summer where it was selling like hot cakes. It turned out to be an absolute treasure trove of a book. It's 3 years worth of Sayers reviews for the Sunday Times, and they're delightful.

I mention it because Sayers reviewed Alan Melville's 'Quick Curtain' on the 2nd of December 1934. She didn't approve of it in the least because Melville basically drives a horse and coaches through the whole thing, absolutely refusing to take the genre in the least bit seriously. She also says "His satire tends to be shrill and obvious, and includes several thinly veiled personal attacks" (intriguing). I loved it for all the reasons she did not (original post Here).

Alan Melville knew the world of theatre and television, it was his day job, and that really comes across here. I have no idea who he was digging his pen into, but age has mellowed any bite that might have had and this book is tremendous fun.

The French 75 is a classic coctail that seems to have been first recorded in thevSavoy Cocktail book. It's allegedly named for the 75ml Howitzers the French used in the First World War - known for their speed and accuracy, the drink is meant to be similarly effective. I tried this out in my mother at the weekend, we both felt that there's probably a lot of truth in that. They're lethal, but also really good.

There are various recipes around for this one that give very specific measurements for each component but I'm going to stick with the Savoy version that simply calls for 2/3rds Gin, 1/3rd lemon juice and 1 spoonful of powdered sugar (or use sugar syrup - about half as much as the lemon juice). Shake the sugar, lemon and gin over ice, strain into a flute and top up with well chilled champagne.

It tastes like lemonade, but it really isn't. It seems just the thing for Melville's glamorous leading lady, and is a great way to spend a Saturday night with my mother (my sister says we're not allowed to do this again, and are old enough to know better. We don't agree). It doesn't have to be Champagne, although if it isn't I'd choose sparkling wines that use the same grapes and method rather than cava or prosecco. It just seems more in the spirit if the thing.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Death of an Airman with an 'Atta Boy'

I notice when I first wrote about death of an airman it was around the time of the last (not great) Tommy and Tuppence adaptation. At the moment there's talk of another tv version of Pride and Prejudice - and much as I love both Agatha Christie and Jane Austen there are so many other great books which would be fun, and fresh, to watch. 'Death of an Airman' is just such an article.

The action mostly takes place around Baston airfield. An Australian Bishop has turned up for flying lessons (a huge diocese makes flying between parishes a sensible option) where he's unlucky enough to witness the tragic death of George Furness, one of the instructors and a talented pilot. The question is, was it an accident, suicide, or murder... It's the bishop, who has a bit of medical experience, who notices the discrepancy over the rigor mortis times and quietly alerts the police.

Soon Scotland Yard are involved and a much wider criminal undertaking uncovered but who's running it, and just how many people are involved? It's a clever scheme, a good story, and has a satisfactory ending. Sprigg allows himself some funny lines and situations by way of light relief but never distracts from the seriousness of the crime. Setting the murder in a community of aviators adds a certain romance and heroism as well. There is the feeling that all these people treat life and death as a slight matter - as a generation that survived the First World War might, they're not callous, it's just that they've already seen such a lot.

I loved the flying Bishop, he's a wonderful character, I also liked the bar scenes in the flying club where I feel the drink really ought to have been an Aviation, it sounds like exactly the sort of cocktail I like (i.e heavy on gin and lemon juice) but to make it properly you need Crème de Violette - which isn't impossible to find, but it's a niche product that I don't really need.

The Gin Foundry gives a recipe based on the first published version (Hugo R. Ensslin's from 1916) and calls for 50ml of gin (they suggest Bombay or Aviation) 10ml of Créme de Violette (which gives it a very pretty colour) 15ml of Maraschino (I'm beginning to think I do need a bottle of this, but am holding out against temptation) and 15ml of fresh lemon juice. Shake over ice, strain and pour. Garnish with a candied Violet.

Harry Craddock corrupts that slightly in the Savoy cocktail book, his recipe is 1/3 rd lemon juice, 2/3rds gin and 2 dashes of maraschino shaken and strained into a glass. If I was drinking this I'd want the Violette and the violets, and I'd want it in a nice bar.

The Atta Boy also comes from the Savoy cocktail book, and is another member of the martini family. It's a simple 2/3rds Gin, 1/3rd French vermouth, and 4 dashes of grenadine. I assume a dash is similar to a drop, so added the grenadine sparingly - just enough to provide a very delicate pink tinge to the drink and a hint of fruit. The vermouth was dry and the gin packs a punch so that pale pink belies the kick this drink has, but I'm sipping it as I write this with increasing approval. It might not be as sophisticated as the Aviation, but then Baston aero club didn't sound so very smart either, somon the end I think the Atta Boy catches the spirit of the book rather better.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Murder of a Lady with White Wine Cup

'Murder of a Lady' by Anthony Wynne is set deep in the Scottish highlands (well on the shores of Loch Fyne, which is Highland enough for me) and is a tremendous locked for mystery. Mary Gregor is found dead in her room, the only clue a fish scale. At first there's shock, she's the lairds sister and a considerable personality in local circles, but as we slowly learn more about her the idea that someone wanted her dead becomes easier to understand. Meanwhile the body count keeps tiding, with the same Gish scale clues - the natives start muttering about a mythical sea beast - the actual explanation is almost as far fetched, and also wonderful.

I have a soft spot for books like this. There's a tongue in cheek feel about the whole thing, almost as if Wynne is daring the reader to pull him up on his plotting, but I want to see what he can get away with almost as much as I think he does.

Being a Scottish mystery this might have been an opportunity to look for something whisky based, but I think Duchlan Castle is the sort of late Victorian monstrosity that would have prided itself on its hospitality, and ruled as it was by Mary Gregor, I feel sure there would have been some sort of Wine Cup which would have made an appearance at any large gathering.

Apart from Pimm's and cheap Pimm's knock offs alcoholic cups seem to have rather fallen from favour (they have found here anyway). Sipsmiths do a very good 'London Cup' which I really struggle to sell, and there are one or two others on the market, mostly gin based, but they're not something customers talk about or I come across nearly enough. Which is a shame.

For parties of any sort a Wine Cup is an excellent idea scaled up or down according to need - basically if you'd make a jug of Pimm's you could make this instead, and any left over will keep perfectly well for the next day. There are dozens of variations on the theme, and plenty of room for improvisation at home, but I really like the sound of this one from Arabella Boxer's 'Book of English Food', she found it in Rosemary Hume's 'Party Food and Drink'.

2 Bottles of dry white wine, 450ml soda water, 1 smallish glassful of brandy, 1 smallish wine glassful of elderflower syrup or cordial, a sliced lemon, strawberries, cucumber rind, borage (if you grow it) and ice. Mix all together a couple of hours before serving.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

the Secret of High Eldersham with a 'Bloodhound'

'The Secret of High Eldersham' is a terrifically melodramatic book full of murder, mayhem. Devil worship, kidnap, and smuggling. There's also a glamorous heroine to get in and out of trouble. It's a little bit silly, overblown, and tremendous fun, but even so Miles Burton (one of Cecil Street's pseudonyms) manages to get a genuine sense of menace into proceedings when he wants to.

In crime fiction terms you can't really go wrong with a bit of devil worship as a dramatic device. It gives you ample opportunity for flaming torches, shadowy figures, sharp knives, and unspeakable practices (all the better for being left at least partly to the imagination). There's also the underlying suspicion that something sinister is almost always going on in the countryside. When Burton was writing this between the wars (The Secret of High Eldersham was published in 1930) remote villages could still be genuinely isolated and relatively primitive places. Plenty of houses would have been without phones, electricity, running water, or cars - who knows what old beliefs and superstitious practices could linger on in places like that where almost everyone would be related to each other, and strangers a rare occurrence...

I felt I had to make a Bloodhound for this series as soon as I saw it (in the Savoy cocktail book) because with a name like that how could I not? The suggestion of blood in its red colouring, and name, as well as it essentially being a riff on a martini made it a good match both for the devil worshipping denizens of High Eldersham and for Mavis Owerton, the heroine from the big house with a love of fast cars and speed boats.

It did however raise the vexed question of vermouth. Vermouth is a handy thing to have about a kitchen, it's useful for plenty of recipes, and neccesary for a good martini, but it doesn't keep well. A Bloodhound calls for 1 part French vermouth, 1 part Italian, 2 parts Gin, and 2 or 3 crushed strawberries (shaken with ice, and strained into a cocktail glass). I don't want 2 bottles of vermouth open at the same time if I can help it, and Italian vermouth is a bit vague. The Italians make lots of things that could answer that description in a whole range of colours and levels of relative sweet to dryness.

A bit of research suggested that something sweeter and red was probably intended, so with slight reluctance I opened a bottle of Spanish vermouth (made by the sherry people, Lustau) that I had. I really didn't want to buy another bottle despite the number of cocktail options that it would open up, because I'm not that serious about making cocktails as a regular thing. I can't answer for how authentic the result was but it certainly tasted like something I imagine Bertie Wooster would have drunk with enthusiasm.

Crushing the strawberries was a slightly messy exercise, and whilst I quite liked this one, I didn't love it. I'd make it again, but only if I particularly wanted a 1920's/30's theme for an occasion