Mavrodaphne

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One spring late in Against the Day, Auberon Halfcourt and Umeki Tsurigane find Yashmeen, Reef, and baby Ljubica on the Greek island of Corfu. They dine “in a taverna down by the harbour in Garitsa.” Page 975:

They sat at a long table and ate tsingarelli and polenta and yaprakia and a chicken stoufado with fennel and quince and pancetta in it that Nikos the owner and cook said was an ancient Venetian recipe from back in the centuries when the island had belonged to Venice, and Reef snuck his baby daughter tiny sips of Mavrodaphne, which did not put her to sleep but made her quite rowdy as a matter of fact, pulling the tail of Hrisoula, the ordinarily imperturbable taverna cat, until she actually meowed in protest.

That food all sounded too beautiful for me to leave on the page. Happily, Google dropped what appears to be the exact recipe Pynchon refers to right into my digital lap. A “stoufado” seems to be Pynchon’s spelling of “stifado,” a Greek stew. On page 136 of Aglaia Kremezi’s The Foods of the Greek Islands: Cooking and Culture at the Crossroads of the Mediterranean there lies a chicken and fennel stew with quince and pancetta. Kremezi even provides that backstory that Pynchon has Nikos pass on:

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From what I’ve been able to gather, the Ninetta Laskari book referred to is a history written in the local Corfu dialect called Corfu: a Glance through Time. Barring the not totally far fetched possibility that Pynchon reads Corfiot, I must conclude that the above Kremezi cookbook is Pynchon’s source here! (Feel free to lift that when you get onto An Against the Day Companion, Stephen Weisenburger.) You can see how he was unable to resist a story like this one, especially in Against the Day—East and West layered throughout history into a hearty family meal.

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So anyway, equipped with a recipe straight out of Against the Day, I’ve ventured beyond the liquor cabinet and into Tom Pynchon’s Kitchen. The venture has been rewarding. This was some mighty delicious Greek grandmother Sunday lunch goodness. It was chicken, fennel, quince, and pancetta stewed for ~1.5 hours in a mixture of sweet Mavrodaphe wine and whatever dryer red was sitting on my counter, and was the yummiest thing I’ve made in ages. I highly recommend hitting up the google book above for the recipe–especially if you have any of this Mavrodaphne easily accessible. I didn’t manage to recreate all the side dishes that Reef et al enjoy (couldn’t even figure out what “tsingarelli” was), but I did follow Nikos in serving it with polenta.

dsc_7483Half the bottle of Mavrodaphne went into the food, and I can’t say I’ve mourned the loss. It did wonderful work in the stew, but it’s not the greatest drinking. It smells very fortified and not very welcoming, although it’s only 15%. The taste is sweet and round and quite like a Marsala cooking wine. It’s drinkable, but not exactly thrilling. It may have made baby Ljubica rowdy with all that sugar, but I’m more likely to be put into a happy well-fed sleep.

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Absinthe Frappé

DSC_6761.jpgThis here is the fiftieth drink to join our digital cabinet of liquors! And a mighty fine addition it is too. If I were asked elect an emblematic spirit for each Pynchon book, some choices would be easy. White corn whiskey would represent Mason & Dixon. Lot 49 might be kirsch. And Against the Day would be absinthe.

The denizens of AtD take their absinthe in diverse preparations over the course of the book’s pages—soaked into cigarettes, louched with Champagne, cocktailed with rum and brandy. On this occasion, we find it in a frappé. Reef has wound up gallivanting around with Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin and her crew under the assumed identify of Thrapston Cheesely III, but that whole arrangement’s about to go south. Page 368:

They finally parted company in New Orleans after a confused and repetitive headache of a night that began at the establishment of Monsieur Peychaud, where the Sazeracs, though said to’ve been invented there, were not a patch, it seemed to Reef, on those available at Bob Stockton’s bar in Denver, though those Absinthe Frappés were another matter.

dsc_6755Pynchon doesn’t quite get his Sazerac history right here. According to the (admittedly somewhat mythologising) Sazerac Rye website, Monsieur Peychaud was indeed the inventor of the bitters that go in a Sazerac, but this was in the 1830s/40s,  before Reef was born, and Peychaud didn’t have a bar—he was an apothecary serving it for friends after hours in his pharmacy. The Sazerac became established more widely primarily thanks to the Sazerac Coffee House, and that’s likely where Reef gets his sub-par version. Anyway, let’s save the Sazerac for another time. Reef much preferred the frappé, and I’m happy to take his recommendation.

Here be the contents of my Absinthe Frappé, mostly following this recipe:

  • 1.5 shots of Pernod Absinthe
  • 1.5 shots of soda water
  • However much sugar seems necessary
  • A few mint leaves
  • A bunch of ice

All blended up together and garnished with some more mint. They taste summery and sophisticated, bright and refreshing. They look cool. Good tip all round from Reef.

Here’s to the next fifty drinks! Thanks for joining me!

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