In case you haven't heard, September 26th is Sip a Sazerac Day. What? You've never heard of a Sazerac Cocktail? That's okay, the only reason why I've come across it in my travels is because,
1: I've been to New Orleans and no visit to New Orleans is quite complete without imbibing in a Sazerac Cocktail, unless of course you have a distaste for cocktails:)
2: I just happen to have a wonderful cookbook titled Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans that offers a glimpse into the history of New Orleans' "stormy" drink.
"...It is said that M. Peychaud, a druggist who came to the city in 1793 dispensed a "tonic" to the clients of his apothecary shop. It was composed of Cognac and a secret formula which came to be know as "bitters", and was mixed in a double-ended egg cup called in France a coquettier. This word most Americans found difficult to say. Eventually the pronunciation degenerated to give us the word "Cocktail", and the formula for Peychaud's drink became know in time as the world famous Sazerac Cocktail...Before we dive into the history of The Official Cocktail of New Orleans, would you mind very much if I share some of my favorite passages from Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans? (©1971) It's such a "Heavenly" book:)
From the dedication: This book is dedicated to the Ursuline Nuns of New Orleans who have untiringly and unceasingly served this community since 1727. The nuns occupied the old Ursuline Convent pictured on the cover from 1752 to 1825. It is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley and the only one to survive from The French Colonial Period.If you follow that link above to the Ursuline Convent, you will be able to view an online movie tour just like visitors to the convent do before they embark on their self guided tour. It's quite interesting and not very long. Located in the French Quarter, the building was listed as a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960.
Thankfully, the convent, which now forms the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was spared during Hurricane Katrina. According to the National Historic Landmark website, Hurricane Katrina did blow down the chimney which damaged the roof and the sprinkler system caused extensive interior water damage but the building has since been re-roofed and the walls of the Old Ursuline Convent were repaired.
|Arrival of the Ursulines in New Orleans, 1727 (19th century depiction) courtesy of Wikipedia.|
The picture entitled "Landing of the Ursuline Nuns," is the most historic picture in Louisiana, being the only glimpse taken of New Orleans in that early period. It is a reproduction of a sketch made by Madeleine Hauchard, a young Ursuline novice, at the moment of the landing of the community on Louisiana soil. From the day of the departure of the Sisterhood from France, Madeleine Hauchard, who was far ahead of her day and generation, began to keep a diary of the order. As the nuns landed in New Orleans, and were met by Governor Bienville and the other Government officials, and clergy, Madeleine Hauchard paused and rapidly sketched the group, for as she afterward told her superioress, "The landing was historical". This original sketch, faithfully preserved by the Ursulines, and still to be seen in the old Convent, was subsequently enlarged by Madeleine Hauchard, and hangs in the Convent parlors within the strict enclosure. On completing the picture, she placed herself among the Sisterhood; she may be easily recognized by the tall, white novice's cap that she wears, and the cat that she bears in her arms. She brought this pet cat all the way from her old home. The picture has never been seen outside of the Convent walls...For upwards of thirty-eight years she kept the daily record of all the events that happened in the colony, and this diary, still faithfully preserved in the old Convent, is the only record extant of those early days. Historical New Orleans 1897-1917In 1727, King Louis XV of France sent 14 Urusuline nuns to New Orleans to establish a hospital for poor sick people and to provide education for young girls of wealthy families. The convent comprised a school, library, garden, dormitory, nursery and a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Victory.
From the Foreword: History has a way of swirling and eddying, of bringing together people and places to produce the unexpected and the amazing. This is the case with the Ursulines of New Orleans. That they did so is attested to by many of the chronicles of the city's early history. It was the Uruliners who educated the daughters of the plantation aristocracy and the French officials, and education in the 1700s meant cooking and the "wifely arts" before "reading, writing, and ciphering."
...In the 1740s, the entrance to the old Ursuline Convent commanded a lovely unobstructed view down to the banks of the Mississippi...Here Sister Xavier had her herb garden...It was planted by Sister Xavier, who compounded the medicines for the Royal Hospital and who became the first woman pharmacist in the New World. The teas , infusions and distillates which she brewed from the herbs represented the greater part of what was available in those days for the treatment of the sick. There was bay leaf for sprains, marjoram for convulsions and dropsy, oregano for rheumatism and dill to bring soothing sleep. The Royal Hospital commissioned by Louis XV stood next to the convent since nursing the sick was one of the primary reasons for the coming of the Ursulines to New Orleans in the first place...
...The Ursuline tradition holds many United States firsts in its dedication to the growth of individuals, including the first female pharmacist, first woman to contribute a book of literary merit, first convent, first free school and first retreat center for ladies, first classes for female slaves (which continued until abolition), free women of color and Native Americans. In the region, Ursuline provided the first center of social welfare in the Mississippi Valley. They also operated the first boarding school in Louisiana, housing and educating a large number of Catholic Hispanic girls and women from central and South American countries - most from economically and socially privileged families.Ursulines also operated the first school of music in New Orleans...I hope you've enjoyed this "taste" of Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans. And it is a taste dear readers for this book is filled with lots more insight and recipes. I've only gotten to page 9! Is it any wonder that Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans was included in the first twelve cookbooks Souther Living Magazine chose for their Southern Living Community Cookbook Hall of Fame? (I'm sorry I couldn't find a better link which was not commercialized)
Sip A Sazerac
Photo credit Kitchy Cooking
In 1949, the Roosevelt's legendary manager Seymour Weiss bought the bar, which attracted a regular crowd of politicians and business leaders. Traditionally it only allowed women inside on Mardi Gras. On September 26, 1949, Weiss reopened the bar in a space facing Baronne Street, which today houses the hotel gift shop. And he also welcomed women every day of the year. "I think he wanted to move those movers and shakers into the hotel," said Russ Bergeron, a bartender at the Sazerac Bar. "Or he might have bought it for the shock value of allowing women in." A canny showman, Weiss recruited camera friendly "make-up girls" from Godchaux's department store to pack the bar on opening day. He called it the "Storming of the Sazerac." Each year, the hotel celebrates that small victory in the liberation of libations.Not to worry ladies. You haven't missed the historic event, yet:) This year The Roosevelt New Orleans will re-create the "Stormin of the Sazerac" on Friday, Sept. 28, starting at 3 p.m. to mark the 63rd anniversary of the original "Stormin."
Why all the fuss over a drink that once was but actually no longer is when you consider the original ingredients for the "first" Sazerac are no longer available? I suppose we need to first visit the site of the "new" Official Sazerac Cocktail. And then we need to hit the books to clear things up a bit.
"When the Sazerac was first created, it contained an imported Cognac made by a company called Sazerac de Forge et Fils made in Limoges, France. The mixture changed in the late 1870s when American Rye Whiskey was substituted for the Brandy, supposedly to please the tastes of the locals." (Emeril Lagasse; Every Day's A Party p.10A more in depth version online comes from Errol Laborde here.
...To understand what happened in 1859, you have to first understand what was happening prior to that –– New Orleans was going bonkers over imbibing. Folks there were talking about a concoction that a Royal Street pharmacist, A. A. Peychaud, had created. To a shot of brandy, Peychaud had begun adding his family formula for bitters, a tonic compound that was offered as a cure for various maladies. The bitters, when added to the brandy, gave a kick to the drink.As you can see, the history of the Sazerac Cocktail is way beyond the scope of this blog or post for that matter. Here are a few more versions from books I have on hand.
In a city happy over brandy with bitters, next came John B. Schiller, a local agent for a French cognac importer who had an idea. The brand he imported was manufactured by the firm of Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils of Limoges, France. In 1859, Schiller opened a place on Exchange Alley in the French Quarter and called it the Sazerac Coffeehouse. He was the exclusive purveyor of the Sazerac brand cognac (remember, cognac is a form of brandy), which he also served with bitters to create the world’s first Sazerac cocktail.
Schiller had a hit on his hands, not that it took much to convince cocktail-crazy New Orleans to try another drink. But as the city became more American and less French, tastes shifted. In 1870, Schiller’s bookkeeper, Thomas Handy, bought the business and changed its name to the Sazerac House. That’s not all he changed. He kept the bitters but replaced the cognac with rye whiskey. As Stanley Clisby Arthur explained in his book, Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, the change was to “please the tastes of Americans who preferred ‘redlikker’ to any palefaced brandy.” As the Sazerac was reinvented, no longer was its namesake hooch part of the recipe. Around that same time, Leon Lamothe, a bartender at Pina’s Restaurant on Burgundy Street, began adding a splash of absinthe (a licorice-tasting spirit) to the drink. It became a standard ingredient...
American Heritage Cookbook ©1964 p.621
1. NOLA History: The Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter
2. The Search for the City's Best Sazerac
3. World Wide Words: Cocktail
4. Tales of a Cocktail | Sampling Sazeracs in New Orleans (New York Times)