The Cute Little Red Headed Girlfriend and I dine out often, and in the latter part of this year we saw the cost of restaurant dining out go up significantly. As restaurants struggled with the climb in food prices, we saw portions shrink, substitutions made, and menus change frequently. More than anything, we saw the price of alcoholic drinks go up.
A few months ago, in part hoping to save money, I started making mixed drinks at home. It turns out to have been a good decision, since one of our favorite watering-holes has gone out of business as a result of the economic downturn. Supposedly people all over the country are drinking more as a result of the recession. I also read in a profile piece that lesbian "it" girl Rachel Maddow mixes cocktails for a hobby. So I feel like my new bartending habits have put me in the midst of a trend.
Because the Cute Little Red Headed Girlfriend likes drinks that ideally include a maraschino cherry and a parasol, I have concentrated on learning recipes for sweeter-tasting alcoholic beverages. I've found some that I like at cocktail blogs such as Science of Drink.
I was reading P.G. Wodehouse's novel Uncle Fred in the Springtime when I ran across a reference to an intriguing drink called May Queen. This is actually it's abbreviated name, as the character Uncle Fred (also known as Lord Ickenham) recounts in the novel:
Do we by any chance know a beverage called May Queen? It's full name is 'To-morrow'll be of all the year the maddest, merriest day, for I'm to be Queen of the May, mother, I'm to be Queen of the May.' A clumsy title, generally shortened for purposes of ordinary conversation.
Lord Ickenham is here recommending May Queen to his nephew, Pongo Twistleton, assuring that it will "alleviate the deepest despondency." It's hard to argue with that sort of recommendation, so I decided to locate a recipe. The ingredients were listed in the Wodehouse book but the proportions were vague:
Its foundation is any good, dry champagne, to which is added liqueur brandy, armagnac, kummel, yellow chartreuse and old stout, to taste.
Despite its legendary position within the Wodehouse universe, a good recipe for May Queen is difficult to track down. The best I could find was "2 or 3 parts champagne to 1 part of everything else, and lots of ice" courtesy of another Wodehouse fan.
Further investigation led me to believe that the May Queen may have fallen out of favor with the public due to the priciness of its ingredients. As I tracked them down, one by one, I was much taken with their esoteric origins.
Take, for example, Yellow Chartreuse. This herbal flavored liqueur is made by the Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse monastery in France. Wikipedia tells me that the recipe for Yellow Chartreuse--which some have attempted to steal--has been kept secret for hundreds of years and that no single monk is allowed to know the full recipe at any time.
Three monks, each possessing knowledge of no more than one-third of the herbal ingredients, prepare the liqueur. That's exactly the kind of convoluted, arcane story that you can only get from the Catholic Church and I must say it appeals to me. And yes, you can expect to pay through the nose for that kind of exclusivity. I found Yellow Chartreuse available locally for $54.99 a bottle.
I had to make due without the May Queen this New Year's Eve. But eventually, I will have the necessary ingredients to happily sing, "I'm to be Queen of the May, mother, I'm to be Queen of the May."