082720_jimcooksokra

Columnist Jim Henderson is pictured frying okra a cast iron skillet, just not the one his wife reserves for cornbread.

In these days of frosé, hard seltzer, and alcohol-laced coffee (and even water) it’s interesting to look back at some drinks that, far from being trendy, have endured with lasting popularity through the decades. I remember a neighbor we had in East Atlanta, who was from "up North," divorced, employed outside the home, and, by every measure to my naïve 11-year old self, quite exotic. Having been raised Baptist, there was no alcohol in my home (well, my Dad sometimes brought home a Budweiser, cleverly concealed in a brown paper bag, which he drank in his backyard workshop – so technically not in our home). Until Ms. Davis moved in next door, my knowledge of alcohol was pretty much limited to that surreptitious Budweiser.

Ms. Davis drank. She even had a tiny discrete liquor cabinet. When my family was invited over right before Christmas (for “drinks” she said – and I’m confident my mother thought she meant iced tea), I was fascinated by the liquor bottles. They were all unfamiliar to me – except one: brandy. I knew about brandy from television and movies. Whenever a lady fainted, or a fellow was shot, or someone got snake bit, the remedy was to offer the person brandy. I had often wondered, when my sisters or I came down with strep throat, why our kindly old doctor (who bore a passing resemblance to Milburn Stone who played Doc Adams on "Gunsmoke") didn’t just offer us a shot of brandy –instead of an actual shot.

Ms. Davis saw me staring at the brandy bottle and, after my parents passed on refreshment, said she was going to prepare herself a Brandy Alexander. I’m pretty sure she chose that libation mostly because she could tell I had a strange fascination with my first in-person viewing of brandy. After all these years it’s still a drink I make on occasion, even though I have been blessed to avoid snake bites.

BRANDY ALEXANDER

1-½ oz. brandy

2 oz. heavy cream

1 oz. Kahlua

1 cup ice

--

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend on low speed until frothy and well mixed. Pour into a rocks glass.

Another long-time classic is the Rob Roy. First served at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City way back in 1894, it was created in honor of the premiere of an operetta based on the exploits of Scottish folk hero Rob Roy. The bartender who came up with this concoction didn’t have to do much; essentially a Rob Roy is a Manhattan (which pre-dates the Rob Roy by at least four years) made with Scotch instead of rye or bourbon.

ROB ROY

1-½ oz. Scotch

¾ oz. sweet vermouth

1 or 2 dashes of Angostura bitters

--

Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir well and strain to a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

An interesting aside: President Calvin Coolidge (a dour fellow who always looked like he could use a stiff drink) was given a white Collie puppy while in the White House. The dog’s original name was Oshkosh, but the President’s wife – in a bit of whimsy – changed it to Rob Roy after the popular cocktail. The whimsical part was this was in 1922 – smack dab in the middle of Prohibition!

It’s a common misconception that all I do is loll about the house and indulge in day-drinking while researching this column. Not so! Lately I have been on a quest to re-create my late mother’s fried okra. My wife and I almost never fry anything (not for health reasons, but because we hate the clean up). But okra, though delicious baked, is at its finest when fried. I bought a “mess” of small pods at Uncle Don’s and set to work. My results were stellar!

PEGGY’S FRIED OKRA

1 lb. or so of okra, ends chopped off and pods cut in 1/3-inch rounds

½ cup yellow cornmeal

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

½ tsp. Cajun seasoning

--

Using a large cast iron skillet (but not the one my wife uses exclusively for cornbread) pour in about a half inch of canola oil (my mom used Crisco, which I did not have on hand). Heat the oil to 300 degrees.

While the oil heats, combine the dry ingredients with the cut okra and stir to coat. The sticky okra will allow a thin coating of the cornmeal mixture to cling to each slice.

Once the oil is hot (use a thermometer) add the okra to the skillet. I did mine in two batches so the okra would lie in a single layer (the Food Network constantly reminds me to “not crowd the pan”). Keep stirring the okra until it starts to develop a golden brown color. Then scoop it out and drain on paper towels. It will be delicious!

As I was stirring the okra – and developing quite a thirst – I remembered a beach trip my family took to Fort Walton Beach, Fla. in the late 1960s. We went to a seafood restaurant and, to my amazement, my parents both ordered a drink. My mom enjoyed a glass of wine and my Budweiser-sneaking dad opted for a Tom Collins! I’m sure my eyes, and those of my sisters, were saucer-sized when the drinks were delivered to our table.

TOM COLLINS

1-½ oz. gin

1 oz. lemon juice

½ oz. simple syrup

3 oz. club soda

--

In a Collins glass filled with ice add gin, lemon juice and syrup. Stir thoroughly. Top with club soda. Garnish with an orange slice and cherry.

This drink is a tried and true summer refresher that dates back to at least 1877. In those days, the gin was typically the kind we call Old Tom – so to be authentic use that variety. And don’t use those ultra-sweet Collins mixes. The lemon juice and simple syrup work just fine.

I’m not sure what came over my (almost) teetotaling parents on that long-ago vacation. Maybe it was because we had crossed state lines and what happens in Florida stays in Florida. Maybe it was because no one from Glenwood Baptist Church was likely to be at Capt. Andersons. Or … maybe it was because they had just been cooped up in the car with three impatient and tiresome kids for eight hours. In my case, I was hot from my okra experiment and that Tom Collins I whipped up sure hit the spot.