My birthday occurred earlier this month in a setting of mixed challenges. Happily, though, I believe that the very best medicine to help you meet any challenge is laughter. Or perhaps an encounter with one of Scotland’s most revered heroes, Rob Roy.
So, on that day, I opted to focus on all the moments of everyday life that are strictly for laughs. Instead of thinking about impending hurricanes, floods, book launches, and legislators’ jousting matches, I decided to zero in on some of the issues that are strictly for laughs.
Let’s start with the observation that the Scots show themselves to be really serious in their admiration for a hero when they name a drink after him. So it is with Rob Roy.
Since the admirable Roy was an important feature in an impromptu birthday celebration, I was, of course, reminded of bitters. Not the kind you feel because you’ve been insulted, but the kind that, when I first came of cocktail imbibing age, was connected solely with the name Angostura. The name itself summoned up the memory of a newspaper feature I thought at the time was amusing.
The author, whose name I wish I could remember, wrote a piece about wedding gifts. His suggestion was to consider gifting the bride and groom with what the writer called “Investment Foods.” These, he went on to explain, are things you acquire and which stay in your cabinets for an extraordinary long period of time. The Angostura bitters bottle was identified as prime example of the category.
As I read and smiled, I added another name to the category: something called bar-le-duc*. For those whose parents did not have the sort of gourmet buff friend my parents had, it is a sort of rarefied condiment. It becomes the precise partner of some relatively bland, spreadable pot cheese, toast and even a soupcon of foie-gras to transform the combination into a memorable dessert.
The bar-le-duc first came into our home and our lives the night the live lobster strolled into our dining room before being retrieved by said gourmet guest who had taken over our kitchen to prepare this Midwestern family an authentic shore dinner, gourmet style. Suffice to say no one of our geographic origins had the temperament or the skills (to say nothing of the rarity of the needed seafood purveyor) to capture the lobster and plunge it into boiling water.
The writer whose musings on “investment food as wedding gift” singled out Angostura bitters by explaining that while it might have been costly to buy in the first place it would have become more valuable still as it occupied the home bar. The sort of liquid return on investment you would dream of finding for your stock portfolio. So, you could arrive with the gifted bottle of Angostura Bitters confident that if the bride and groom just waited long enough, it would be worth a great deal more.
Currently though, something is happening in the Bitters market these days that I feel compelled to warn you about. You may even have to stop considering bitters as an investment opportunity. Purveyors of wines and spirits are now supplying Baristas dedicated to concocting remarkably expensive cocktails with a whole array of previously unheard-of ingredients to justify their prices. Consumer alert: the market for bitters as an investment opportunity may be collapsing.
You find them now in every conceivable flavor and while the price tag may knock your socks off, I’m not a hundred percent sure that it will escalate as rapidly or as predictably as Angostura might have done in days gone by. Take the Ginger Bitters from a craft creator in Brooklyn that I purchased recently (because I am a predictable pushover for anything featuring Ginger.) It caused the check-out clerk to ask me if I really wanted it, since it was priced at about what a perfectly respectable bottle of wine might cost.
And as to the bar-le-duc, I fear I might run out the battery of my laptop searching for it online and an equivalent expenditure (in addition to the likely $40 price tag) of shoe leather pursuing it on the streets of Manhattan. As I recall, the remarkably high price of the jelly, had to do with the fact that certain seeds of the white or red currants central to its recipe were harvested using a goose quill. But that was in the namesake town in Lorraine and early in the 14thCentury.
Now if all of that foolishness has not yet yielded even a small giggle, you may as well switch on to serious, and begin thinking about what is current in the state of the weather on the Carolina coast.
After which you can retreat to the safety of the online bridal registry on your laptop, just in case your about-to-be-married friends do not share your somewhat unorthodox sense of humor.
*According to Wikipedia: Bar-le-duc jelly is a highly regarded preparation originally composed of select whole seeded currants, typically white currants or alternatively red currants, and is considered a culinary luxury. The typical product is a jam, with the berries remaining intact in a thin syrup. About 200 currants go into one three-ounce jar. The spread has been enjoyed by notables such as Alfred Hitchcock, Ernest Hemingway, Victor Hugo, and Mary, Queen of Scots. And, of course, Annette Cunningham.
Opening photo: Bigstock
Photo of bar-de-luc from Wiki Commons