Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Repeal Day

December 5 is Repeal Day, the day the odious 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment. Tonight, in the midst of grading papers, I will celebrate by mixing a Roosevelt. FDR is not my favorite president, but for this he deserves credit.

Prohibition was perhaps the most foolish and failed political experiment in American political history (unless you count electing Jimmy Carter, I guess). A high-minded attempt to force everyone to conform to the standards of a bunch of early health fascists, it failed as it deserved to, and cast violaters of the law of the land (almost everyone) as heroes, with effects on American's attitude toward law down to today. Remember that when someone wants to ban smoking, or when you look at the regrettable legal results of the war on drugs. These things don't work, and cast the law in disrepute.

But this is a blog on medieval and SCA topics, and I try not to stray too far, so let's examine a related topic that is at least a little closer. I have coveted for some time a bottle of Rothman and Winter creme de violette, an old liqueur made from Alpine violets and an ingredient in some European confections and in some old cocktails. It just came back on the market in the US again, but is not distributed in Michigan. Finding a distributor who carried it, had it in stock and would ship to Michigan all at the same time was fairly difficult, but it came today, along with a bottle of Chartreuse, the famous herbal liqueur made by Carthusian monks. Chartreuse is generally available in Michigan, but with the dollar-euro exchange rate highly unfavorable right now, is quite expensive. It too is an ingredient in quite a few old cocktails.

Liqueurs of this type have a long history, certainly reaching back to the end of the Middle Ages or before. It is too much to imagine that either of these are based on recipes quite that old, but Chartreuse is made from a secret recipe (although hyssop is widely suspected) of 130 Alpine herbs and is said to be based on a 1605 formula. Creme de violette is probably not so old, although it was made in the 19th century and was once very popular. Creme Yvette was the American version, but ceased production many years ago after highballs, the ubiquitous dry martini and various vodka drinks pretty much drove the old cocktail "up" and usually made with fresh fruit juices out of style. Certainly there is no reasons to suppose there wasn't something similar by the Renaissance.

So raise a glass tonight in honor of Repeal Day and the return of common sense to these shores, once benighted by Prohibition!