Mystery recipe for Orange Curaçao

Grandma's recipe box

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few days pawing through my late grandmother-in-law’s recipe box, which she compiled while she was teaching home economics at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s or ’50s studying home economics at the University of Minnesota around 1930 (she then taught high school home ec from roughly 1932 to 1937). More on this later, as I’m trying to drum up the courage to make some of the recipes in it, like a “Banana Meat Loaf,” which, I’m informed, is “a help to any budget.”

There aren’t any cocktail recipes in the box, if you discount a brandy-infused Cafe Brûlot, but I came across this one card that has me thoroughly bamboozled.

Orange Curasol?

If I’m reading it correctly (and I’m not sure I am), it says:

Orange Curasol

Suspend juicy orange (Cal.) orange above pt [pint?] alcohol (1/2 inch) in open bowl for couple of weeks or 3.

Add simple syrup when cool.

3 cups sugar
1 1/2 c water

Boil till thickness of a liquor.

Clearly it’s a recipe of sorts for orange curaçao, which is traditionally made by drying the peel of a relative of the Valencia orange, steeping it in alcohol, and then adding other spices, but I simply can’t imagine what she’s describing in the first part. How are you supposed to suspend the oranges above the alcohol, and what good would that do anyway? By “orange (Cal.) orange,” did she perhaps means “orange (Cal.) peel”? I suppose it’s possible she made some errors in this recipe, but most of the recipes in the box are fastidiously organized, right down to her description that one’s coffee should be “golden brown color without cream; distinct yellow tinge when cream is added; clear, mellow flavor, yet pungent; not strong or bitter of good body.”

On the back of the card is the following:

3 Bourbon
3 Gin
1 1/2 Rum
1 lime
1 lemon
2 orange
2 simple syrup

Was she trying to make the world’s deadliest punch? Was one of her university students turning her on to the latest in mixology at the time? Or maybe that’s what she was drinking when she wrote her enigmatic recipe for “Orange Curasol.” That would explain a lot.

Update: Not two hours after I posted this, the mystery was solved, at least in part. I was describing the problem to Mr. Manhattan as we were on our way to check out The Wilson, a.k.a. Wilson & Wilson, a sexy little speakeasy within a speakeasy attached to Bourbon and Branch. He immediately told me about a cookbook by Giuliano Bugialli that his mother had owned. In it, the author describes making limoncello by wrapping a lemon in cheesecloth, tying it up with kitchen string, and suspending it over alcohol in a sealed jar for a month. He’s promised to show me the book if he ever comes across it. The technique sounds odd to me, but all of a sudden grandma doesn’t sound so crazy.

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The Apothecary

Spring may have technically sprung a few days ago, but the Alemany Farmers’ Market is still full of beautiful winter citrus fruits, from teeny calamondins to pomelos the size of bowling balls. For the past few weeks they’ve had the most beautiful magenta-colored blood oranges, which has been making me hanker after a drink I call The Apothecary.

Photo by Ingomar Lochschmidt

A few years ago I entered a cocktail competition sponsored by Hendrick’s Gin. The assignment was to come up with a cocktail that highlighted one of the many ingredients used to flavor the gin, from the obvious (juniper berry) to the less so (infusion of rose petals). In addition, you had to write a limerick about your drink, or Hendrick’s gin, or some related topic, about which the less said the better. I won’t include mine here, because it was dreadful. I’ll just mention I rhymed “uses,” “juices,” and “produces.” Enough said.

After unsuccessfully playing around with cubeb berries, the most obscure ingredient I could find on the list of botanicals, and discovering that muddled cubeb berries taste not unlike a bar of soap, I settled on using orange zest as my featured ingredient.

The following was the recipe I submitted, which in retrospect seems a tad fussy, but the drink isn’t half bad, if I do say so myself. I made it to the finals, where I got to make the drink for a panel of judges. When all was said and done I didn’t place in the top three, but considering I was up against some San Francisco bartending superstars like Jackie Patterson, I can’t say I was surprised.

The Apothecary

2 1/2 ounces Hendrick’s gin
1/2 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce Mandarine Napoleon
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed blood orange juice
Orange sugar, for rimming the glass (see below)
Piece of orange peel, for garnish

Combine the gin, Aperol, Mandarin Napoleon, lemon juice, and blood orange juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass dipped into the orange sugar mixture. Flame the orange peel over the top of the drink and serve.

Orange sugar

Finely grate the zest from 1 blood orange. Spread onto a plate and let dry for at least two hours, or up to overnight. Stir together with 1/4 cup superfine sugar.

If you make this drink, let me know what you think in the comments.

My grape (pie) nut

I was keeping the grape pie a secret from Dave so I could snap a few reaction photos when I unveiled it. That way everyone can see why it’s so much fun to cook for my husband. Unfortunately, he walked into the kitchen while I was assembling the pie. Since the surprise was spoiled, I asked him to grab my camera a take a few photos of the pie coming together, since my hands were covered with flour. Here’s a small sample of what he came up with …

Oops! Not quite honey. Though that is my hand in the corner of the picture …

Getting closer!!

Here’s a shot that documents a really stupid basic mistake I made when assembling the pie. A free copy of The Hostess Diary to the first person to post what that is in the comments section (the deadline is noon PST on March 30).

And no, it’s that I’m rather sloppy carefree in the kitchen and my sweater is covered in flour.

As American as … grape pie?

Several years ago my husband, David, mentioned that he really loves grape pie, which he said he ate often as a kid. Surely not, I said. There is no such thing as a grape pie. One simply can’t make a pie from grapes! You must be confused, I insisted.

He then told me this story. Shortly after moving to California, he mentioned to his girlfriend his fondness for grape pie. Much confusion ensued, since said girlfriend was as convinced as I was that grape pie didn’t exist, while in David’s universe grape pie trumps apple and cherry as the most popular variety in the pie pantheon.

This being the early days of the interwebz, David went online to buy a grape pie to show his girlfriend, which is when he got his first inkling that maybe grape pie wasn’t quite as popular as he had thought. Undaunted, he ordered some grape pie filling and had it shipped from the East Coast. When it arrived, he baked it up in a piecrust, but before he showed it to his girlfriend he purchased an apple pie from the grocery store, hid the apple pie, and put the grape pie in the box. “See, it’s a grape pie! You can buy one at Safeway,” he told her. This fact will not surprise you in the slightest if you know Dave.

Grape pie is made with Concord grapes, which means that it’s very much an East Coast specialty. Says Wikipedia on the subject:

Grape pie made with Concord grapes is a regional specialty of Western New York, including the Finger Lakes region, Pennsylvania and other areas of the United States where the grape is grown. … Grape pie is a specialty and tradition of Naples, New York, host of the Naples Grape Festival and home to Angela Cannon-Crothersm, author of Grape Pie Season.

If you were reading my blog last summer, you would have seen my post about visiting David’s family’s vacation home in upstate New York. That would be in Western New York. In the Finger Lakes region. About 25 miles from Naples, New York. And thus Dave’s insistence that everyone eats grape pie suddenly makes sense.

Last time we were in New York we picked up a jar of grape pie filling from the world’s epicenter of grape pie-dom, Monica’s Pies in Naples. It’s been lingering in the back of the pantry ever since, since I don’t particularly care for grape pie, which to me is overly sweet and tastes like nothing more than pie crust smeared with some grape jam. But I do particularly care for my husband, and we’ve both had a crap week, so I think it’s time to bake some pie.

Losing Liberty Lounge

The good news? Our deck, which a few months ago looked like this …

The deck, deconstructed

Now looks like this … Not a thing of beauty, precisely, but less likely to cause our guests serious bodily harm.

The deck restored!

Now the bad news. The day they finished working on the deck (a week ago) was the same day our building went up for sale. It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week as real estate agents and potential buyers have trotted through our home. We are all stricken that we will likely be evicted by the new owner. We hang onto a thread of hope that the building might be bought by an investor rather than someone who wants to live here—possible, but not likely considering all the conversations I’ve overheard this week about much nicer the bathroom would be if it were expanded into the laundry room,  or which room would best be used as the nursery.

In the meantime, the thought of losing my home makes me want to hunker down in my lovely light-filled kitchen. It makes me want to bake bread and make mashed potatoes and simmer chicken stock (possibly the most comforting of all kitchen tasks). It makes we want to have all of my friends over, and then have them over the next night, too, to fit in as many get-togethers as possible before we have to move to some rat-infested hovel so far out in the ‘burbs that our friends will never come and visit us. As you can see, I’m not taking this very well. I think I need to go bake a pie.