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Not to be Forgotten

Champagne Cocktail from 1862

Champagne Cocktail.

(Pint bottle of wine for three goblets.)
(Per glass.)
Take 1 lump of sugar.
1 or 2 dashes Angostura bitters.
1 small lump of ice.

Fill the goblet with wine, stir up with a spoon, and serve with a thin piece of twisted lemon peel. A quart bottle of wine will make six cocktails.

--Jerry Thomas
Bar-Tender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks, 1862

What Is it About Bubbles?

Nancy called me all excited about her bubbly recipes--bubbly as in the champagne granite and champagne truffles she found from her wild young days as a pastry chef in NYC. 

“Laura can you do a “Not to Be Forgotten Recipe” for champagne? And can you write a few lines and be a little deep, okay?

Sheesh.  I’m still recovering from ravioli. 

This recipe for champagne cocktail comes from the 1862 Bar-Tender’s Guide, book, which many experts say is the very first cocktail book ever published. It will come as no surprise to most of you that Americans first gave the world the invention (if you can call it such) of the cocktail.  You can’t imagine the French adding sugar and ice and bitters to their beloved sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, now can you?  That said, this sure does seem very simple and fun, and I’m curious, just so long as the bubbles are still there.

Which brings me back to the champagne itself and its most important element:  those bubbles, which get created after the wine is already made and then bottled.  The trick is that a little yeast gets added to each bottle creating a second fermentation process. The yeast gets to work, eating up sugars and creating alcohol and gas--trapped inside the bottles.  After a short time, the yeast dies away, but the fizz remains. Voila.  Bubbles.

“What is it about bubbles?” I asked Nancy.  “Why do we like them so much?  And why on New Year’s Eve?”

“Because, bubbles are ephemeral,” she replied.  “They represent that we are only beautiful and young once.  Then it all pops . . . like a bubble.”

And then she sent me to this beautiful painting by Clara Peeters, a 17th century Flemish still life painter, who, using a convention of the era, painted an actual bubble into the air about her head in her self portrait.  Take a look. 


The bubble is to the right of her face against the back wall. The gold and coins scattered on the table are symbols of material wealth--not to be compared with spiritual wealth. She holds a watch to remind us that time is passing.  And the flowers also suggest fleeting beauty.

“Check it out,” said Nancy.  “Her strong forearms a and ruddy hands give her away. She’s an artist, not a pretty doll. The expression is serious. This is an artist posing herself and allowing us to gaze at her as an object in order to make her point.  Very brave.”

So I say here’s wishing you some fun though ephemeral bubbles for New Years Eve, and more enduring happiness for 2009.  And here’s to Clara too, brave painter. 

Happy New Year.  Now go get the champagne.  Be ready.  The fun has already started. 

see also: Bubbly Recipes

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I think I’ll make some Champagne cocktails tonight! Happy New Year, Nancy, and I love your commentary about the woman artist: not a pretty doll. More like beautiful.

    – Sally Eckhoff (December 31 2008 at 11:51)

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