December 6, 2010
Follow me on Twitter

Weblogs and the frontiers of knowledge

I gather that weblogs of discussion forums – perhaps specifically eGullet – played a significant role in forming an audience and aesthetic for the current cocktail revival. Online discussion of forgotten drinks like the Aviation (and its creme de violette) and Pegu Club (and its two kinds of bitters) helped grow a clientele for places that take cocktails more seriously, for recovering forgotten flavors. (Advance cheers and toast, incidentally, to Erik Ellestad, who is approaching the completion of his astonishing quest blog in which he samples and writes about every single recipe in the Savoy Cocktail Book.)

One key facet of this discussion was the realization that old ingredients were not necessarily identical to what we find on the shelf today. Today’s Lillet, for example, is not nearly as bitter as it was when James Bond ordered his Vesper. Some changes in manufacturing are abrupt, but other changes might be gradual. How big were Hemingway’s limes? How sweet were the lemons at Harry’s Bar? And how old-fashioned was the sugar they used in an Old Fashioned in the old days?

The cocktail people were free to research questions like these because their focus is so tight. I suspect, though, that there’s a lot of scope for exploring this in thinking about classic cookery. Our meats have changed considerably, and our flour has probably changed even more, since Escoffier was young. I wonder what we could learn from similar explorations of old kitchen ingredients, and whether Achatz is thinking about this in his exciting historically-flavored restaurant.