Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Brunch Historian: Bloody Mary

In this entry of the Brunch Historian, I examine the history of my favorite brunch beverage: the estimable Bloody Mary. The classic bloody should be made by filling a highball or lowball glass with ice and tomato juice and then adding:
- 1.5-2.5 ounces vodka
- 1 teaspoon horseradish (pure, not creamed)
- 4-6 shakes Tabasco Sauce
- 1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Salt and pepper.
- Celery stick to garnish.
The result should be strong, thick, and spicy -- like this example from Essex:

Like many of the great things in life, the Bloody Mary has a disputed origin. Legend has it that it was developed in the 1920s by Fernand Petiot, the bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, the American bar famous for its clientele including Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and Rita Hayworth. According to the story, Petiot, who was known as "Pete," began experimenting was cocktail varieties, most of which were unsuccessful, until one day he mixed vodka with tomato juice. Petiot reportedly said "one of the boys suggested we call the drink ‘Bloody Mary’ because it reminded him of the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago, and a girl there named Mary." It was not, therefore, named after Mary, Queen of the Scots, who is often referred to as "Bloody Mary."

Eventually Petiot made his way back to the United States and became a bartender at St. Regis Hotel in New York. At that point he added the seasoning that we commonly assoicate with the drink. Continue reading.

Sometime later, this traditional theory was called into question. George Jessel, a flamboyant Acadamy-award winning movie producer, claimed that he created the drink as a method to recover from a hangover. This claim, according to one source, found its way into a 1939 article in the New York Herald Tribune, which stated: "George Jessel’s newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town’s paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka." Jessel credited himself with creating the drink in his autobiography. According to Jessel, he and his friends created the drink in 1927 in Palm Beach, Florida. When he gave his invention to Mary Warburton, a member of the family that owned the Wanamaker Department Store, she accidentally spilled some on her white dress, prompting her to say: "Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!"

This story was naturally challenged by Petiot. In a 1964 profile in the New Yorker, he defended himself this way:

I initiated the Bloody Mary of today . . . George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour.
He, however, appeared to concede that Jessel invented the initial formulation. Still, nobody has asserted a claim to the addition of the celery stick. That remains a mystery.

Who do you believe?

Update: Of course, Bloody Mary's do not have to be traditional to succeed. For example, the one at Boulud Sud in New York City forgoes the traditional horseradish and Tobasco in favor of Mediterranean flavors:

For the full review, check out New York Food Journal.

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