Thursday, April 05, 2012

the world's oldest cocktail?

When Nestor and Machaon had reached the tents of the son of Neleus, they dismounted, and an esquire, Eurymedon, took the horses from the chariot. The pair then stood in the breeze by the seaside to dry the sweat from their shirts, and when they had so done they came inside and took their seats. Fair Hecamede, whom Nestor had had awarded to him from Tenedos when Achilles took it, mixed them a mess; she was daughter of wise Arsinous, and the Achaeans had given her to Nestor because he excelled all of them in counsel. First she set for them a fair and well-made table that had feet of cyanus; on it there was a vessel of bronze and an onion to give relish to the drink, with honey and cakes of barley-meal. There was also a cup of rare workmanship which the old man had brought with him from home, studded with bosses of gold; it had four handles, on each of which there were two golden doves feeding, and it had two feet to stand on. Any one else would hardly have been able to lift it from the table when it was full, but Nestor could do so quite easily. In this the woman, as fair as a goddess, mixed them a mess with Pramnian wine; she grated goat's milk cheese into it with a bronze grater, threw in a handful of white barley-meal, and having thus prepared the mess she bade them drink it.
-from The Iliad, Book XI, prose translation by Samuel Butler (the novelist, not the poet Samuel Butler, nor the classicist Samuel Butler)

Bronze Age carousing was weird, man.  Cheese and barley in the wine?  I've spent a bit of time trying to figure out if anything resembling "Pramnian wine" is still available for purchase today.  Μethymneos wine, from the island of Lesbos, might be a good match.  The Hungarian wine Tokaji Eszencia, which is Baron Munchausen's favorite vintage, if I recall correctly, might also work.   I've heard that Tokaji Eszencia is one of the priciest wines in the world, so I'm not sure anyone would actually put feta and barley flour in it.

15 comments:

  1. Maybe it was "Ye Olde Hazing" ?

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  2. hmmm...wine, curds and barley sounds pretty primal as an offering too, right? I mean maybe it was ancient Greek culinary practice, or maybe she was saying something apart from "take a load off, gents."

    The texture mix does not sound appealing to me. Don't forget the onion!

    ...also, captcha is messing with me: "ncidu." I bet he wouldn't like this drink at all - everything's processed - the grapes into wine, milk into cheese and grain ground into meal/flour.

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  3. It sounds to me to have a heavy ritual component; something set aside from anything resembling "common practice," and therefore the goal would not have been "mmm tasty" but something symbolically relevant. It's difficult to interpret the implications of these "weird" cultural tid-bits, separated by so much time and lack of specific regional cultural knowledge. Can't say I'd want to drink cheesy wine either though.

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  4. I've tried classic cocktails using egg, nutmeg and other ingredients that have fallen out of (and sometimes back into) favour, but cheese? That's a new one for me. I'm yet to enjoy a savoury cocktail, so I wouldn't be too eager to try.

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  5. Greeks, ancient and modern, also put pine resin in their wine. No accounting for taste!

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  6. Sounds like a cold fondue; maybe the bit where she boiled it has been lost over the millenia.

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  7. The pine resin comes into play because it was used to waterproof the amphorae that stored wine. When people switched away from using amphorae, the taste of the pine was lacking, so the added it back in.

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  8. I can't remember the name (something like pottage?), but there was an old tyme snack that consisted of porridge with wine... maybe this is what she was serving instead of a refreshing beverage?

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  9. You might remember more than a year ago, you commented on my post about me reading The History of the World in 6 Glasses.

    It talks about a lot of this kind of stuff, including what @Rogers the GS noted above about the Greeks putting pine resin in their wine, and for four of the main types of drink it covers (Beer, Wine, Coffee, and Tea), it gives you resources for how to find (or create for yourself) versions of those beverages that are closer to what people used to drink.

    And @SuperSooga - you've never had a savory cocktail that you like? There's an awesome restaurant near me here in Los Angeles called Rivera, and they make a drink called the Barbacoa which has mezcal (kinda like smoky tequila), red bell peppers, lime, chipotle "sauce", and a strip of smokey beef jerkey in it. It is so awesome. I've also had some really tasty bourbon whiskey drinks with bacon in them. And then there's the old stand-by, the Bloody Mary. That's a savory cocktail. Yummy. I actually haven't really had too much sweet cocktails that like!

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  10. I'd try it, sure, I like savory cocktails.

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  11. Does everyone know about the Dogfish Head Ancient Ales line?
    http://www.dogfish.com/ancientales
    Some have limited availability, but Midas Touch is not hard to find, at least not in Chicago, and is sufficiently weird-tasting that you might consider it as an immersion-boosting prop for your next Sumerian-themed game night.

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  12. The multiple uses of the word "mess" made me think this wasn't a cocktail, but a meal. How would that appeal to you as dinner?

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  13. Anonymous7:44 AM

    Tokaj is in the most common-uncommon "Aszu" form, a dessert wine. The sweeter, the more expensive. It is a very sophisticated sweetness, though. Eszencia is indeed highly concentrated, also in sweetness. So mixing in cheese and barley will not result in anything anybody would appreciate...I could see trying it with a dry szamarodni.
    -- Settembrini

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