I have spoken often here of my love of Charles H. Baker's The Gentleman's Companion, a culinary memoir of his many travels around the world. Published in 1939, the Companion is a rambling book, written in a faux-Victorian style. The book was published in two volumes, in a handsome red slipcover case that held both.
Volume I is subtitled Being an Exotic Cookery Book or Around the World with Knife, Fork, and Spoon, while Volume II is Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker, and Flask. The original editions are long out of print, but the publisher has kept less ornate reprints in stock, as separate books. The drinks book is available as Jigger, Beaker, and Glass; and the the food book, as Knife, Fork, and Spoon.
Baker's voice in the book takes a little time to get used to, but once you're sucked in, it's pretty addictive. Take this passage, for example:
Then again why should we go starry eyed and clasp a tin dipper of birch beer to our bosom in preference to a blend of Holland gin and fresh lime juice and fine ice and Angostura that we christened Death in the Gulf Stream when Carlos the Cubaño head gaffer freshened them for us while fishing giant tuna off Cat Cay with Ernest Hemingway on PILAR?
Gadding About: With Jigger, Beaker, and Glass
Charles Henry Baker, Jr., was a writer, magazine editor, and world traveler, born near Orlando, Florida, in 1895. His parents apparently had a bit of money from the Pennsylvania steel industry. He attended a military academy in Tennessee before enrolling at Trinity College in Connecticut. After dropping out of college, he spent some time working as a mechanical engineer, started a magazine and a furniture shop, and—after inheriting some money from his grandparents—finally set off to travel the world.
His adventures started much earlier than that, however, as St. John Frizell recounted in an essay for Oxford American magazine: "When he was twelve, he pitched a tent alongside the men working on the Transatlantic Railroad, and paddled through the hidden coves of the Florida Keys in a tiny canoe..."
In 1925, Baker sailed off on a steamer ship, on the first of three worlds tours. Along the way, he took copious notes, taking down recipes for food and drink. Upon returning to New York, he worked in the publishing industry for a few years until, bored, he lit out upon his second world tour.
This was a working vacation; Baker was employed by the Hamburg-American Line to write publicity materials for the company's cruise operations. It was on this second world tour that he met his third wife, Pauline Paulsen. (His first wife died during a flu epidemic. Little is known of his second wife.) Baker and Paulsen fell in love almost immediately and married during a cocktail party in Hong Kong.
Pauline's father owned shares in a silver mine, and though neither Pauline nor Charles had to work, Charles continued to write profligately. He contributed articles on hunting, fishing, and sailing to men's magazines; and on food and drink for Esquire, Town and Country, and Gourmet.
He published the Gentleman's Companion in 1939 and continued to travel and write, publishing a novel (not very well regarded, unfortunately), a South American follow-up to the Companion, and his final book, the 1950 Esquire Culinary Companion. He finally retired to Naples, Florida, where he died in 1987, at 91 years old.
Now, ordinarily when I write a drinks roundup like this one, I take some time to describe the cocktails. This time, however, I'm going to let Baker do the trick, and provide some excerpts that I hope will capture the flavor of his writing.
Tequila por Mi Amante
"This is a prepared beverage requiring patience and from three to four weeks.... This berry process extracts some of the raw taste, adds a rosy dawn touch," Baker notes. "Our Mexican drinks it straight always. We opine that handled in the same way as sloe gin, discoveries would be made."
Indeed. The Tequila por Mi Amante is delicious straight or topped with soda, and nice with a little agave nectar or agave liqueur. It makes a lovely strawberry margarita. And I liked it substituted for reposado tequila in Philip Ward's Rojo Bianco.
Remember the Maine
Baker subtitles this, "a Hazy Memory of a Night in Havana during the Unpleasantness of 1933, when Each Swallow Was Punctuated with Bombs Going off on the Prado, or the Sound of 3" Shells Being Fired at the Hotel NACIONAL, then Haven for Certain Anti-Revolutionary Officers"
And you think your local speakeasy has overly wordy cocktail menus.
He cautions, "Treat this one with the respect it deserves." Well, I don't know. It's a Manhattan, with cherry brandy and absinthe, so I'm not sure it deserves a warning shot.
Pan American Clipper
Credited to "the Notebook of One of Our Pilot Friends Who—when Off Duty—May Seek One," the original recipe is a little sketchy: a jigger of applejack or Calvados, a dash of absinthe, a pony of lime juice, and a teaspoon of grenadine. The recipe was tweaked and improved by San Francisco bartender Erik Adkins for the book A Taste for Absinthe, and I think the Adkins version is far superior, but feel free to tinker with it yourself and see what you like.
To Me, My Inebriates!
A request, please. I'm planning to do a series of these posts, wherein I describe a cocktail book or a personality in drinkdom and provide three tasty recipes from that source. Who should we cover next? What are your favorite cocktail books?