The Anti-Gluttony Door in Portugal’s Alcobaça Monastery Shamed Plump Monks to Start Fasting

Consider that you eat the sins of the people

—inscription carved above the entrance to the Monastery of Alcobaça‘s refectory

Apparently, the Monastery of Alcobaça‘s resident monks were eating plenty of other things, too.

Eventually their reputation for excessive plumpness became problematic.

A hefty physique may have signified prosperity and health in 1178 when construction began on the UNESCO World Heritage site, but by the 18th-century, those extra rolls of flesh were considered at odds with the Cistercian monks’ vows of obedience, poverty and chastity.

Its larders were well stocked, thanks in part to the rich farmland surrounding the monastery.

18th-century traveler William Beckford described the kitchen in Recollections of an Excursion to the Monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha:

On one side, loads of game and venison were heaped up; on the other, vegetables and fruit in endless variety. Beyond a long line of stoves extended a row of ovens, and close to them hillocks of wheaten flour whiter than snow, rocks of sugar, jars of the purest oil, and pastry in vast abundance, which a numerous tribe of lay brothers and their attendants were rolling out and puffing up into a hundred different shapes, singing all the while as blithely as larks in a corn-field.

Later he has the opportunity to sample some of the dishes issuing from that kitchen:

The banquet itself consisted of not only the most excellent usual fare, but rarities and delicacies of past seasons and distant countries; exquisite sausages, potted lampreys, strange messes from the Brazils, and others still stranger from China (edible birds’ nests and sharks’ fins), dressed after the latest mode of Macao by a Chinese lay brother. Confectionery and fruits were out of the question here; they awaited us in an adjoining still more spacious and sumptuous apartment, to which we retired from the effluvia of viands and sauces.

Later in his travels, he is taken to meet a Spanish princess, who inquires, “How did you leave the fat waddling monks of Alcobaça? I hope you did not run races with them.”

Perhaps such tattle is what convinced the brass that something must be done.

The remedy took the form of a porta pega-gordo (or “fat catcher door”), 6′ 6″ high, but only 12.5” wide.

Keep in mind that David Bowie, at his most slender, had a 26” waist.

Allegedly, each monk was required to pass through it from the refectory to the kitchen to fetch his own meal. Those who couldn’t squeeze through were out of luck.

Did they have to sit in the refectory with their faces to the walls, silently eating the sins of the people (respicite quia peccata populi comeditis) while their slimmer brethren filled their bellies, also silently, face-to-the-wall, as a reader read religious texts aloud from a pulpit?

History is a bit unclear on this point, though Beckford’s enthusiasm waned when he got to the refectory:

…a square of seventy or eighty feet, begloomed by dark-coloured painted windows, and disgraced by tables covered with not the cleanest or least unctuous linen in the world.

According to a German Wikipedia entry, the monks passed through the porta pega-gordo monthly, rather than daily, a more manageable mortification of the flesh for those with healthy appetites.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

If you are assembling a bucket list of destinations for when we can travel freely again, consider adding this beautiful Gothic monastery (and the celebrated pastry shop across the street). Your choice whether or not to suck it in for a photo in front of the porta pega-gordo.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Archaeologists Discover an Ancient Roman Snack Bar in the Ruins of Pompeii

Have you ever wondered what generations hundreds or thousands of years hence will make of our strip malls, office parks, and sports arenas? Probably not much, since there probably won’t be much left. How much medium-density fibreboard is likely to remain? The colorful structures that make the modern world seem solid, the grocery shelves, fast food counters, and shiny product displays, will return to the sawdust from which they came.

Back in antiquity, on the other hand, things were built to last, even through the fires and devastation of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Archaeologists will be discovering for many more years everyday features of Pompeii that survived a historic disaster and the ordinary ravages of time. In 2019, a team fully unearthed what is known as a thermopolium, a fancy Greek word for a snack bar that “would have served hot food and drinks to locals in the city,” the BBC reports. The find was only unveiled this past Saturday.

Images from

You can see the excavation in a subtitled virtual tour at the top conducted by Massimo Osanna, Pompeii’s general director and the “mastermind,” Smithsonian writes, behind the Great Pompeii Project, a “$140 million conservation and restoration program launched in 2012.”

Richly decorated with brightly-colored paintings, preserved by ash, the Thermopolium of Regio V, as it’s known, features a scene of a nereid riding a sea-horse. Surrounding her on all sides of the counter are illustrations of the food for sale, including “two mallard ducks shown upside down, ready to be cooked and eaten,” notes the official Pompeii site, “a rooster,” and “a dog on a lead, the latter serving as a warning in the manner of the famed Cave Canem.”

Undeterred and spurred on by the Romans’ famed love of graffiti, someone scratched a “mocking inscription” into the frame around the dog: “NICIA CINAEDE CACATOR—literally ‘Nicias (probably a freedman from Greece) Shameless Shitter!’” The message may have been left by a disgruntled worker, “who sought to poke fun at the owner.” Also found at the site were bone fragments in containers belonging to the animals pictured, as well as human bones and “various pantry and transport materials” such as amphorae, flasks, and other typical Roman containers.

Despite its elaborate design and the excitement of its discoverers, the thermopolium was nothing special in its day. Such counters were like Starbucks, “widespread in the Roman world, where it was typical to consume the prandium (the meal) outside the house. In Pompeii alone there are eighty of them.” Will future archaeologists thrill over the discovery of a Cinnabon in a thousand years’ time? We’ll never know, but somehow I doubt it. Learn much more about this discovery at the official site for Pompeii, which hopes to reopen to visitors in the Spring of 2021. All images come via

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch 26 Free Episodes of Jacques Pépin’s TV Show, More Fast Food My Way

You need never endeavor to make any of the recipes world renowned chef Jacques Pépin produced on camera in his 2008 series More Fast Food My Way.

The helpful hints he tosses off during each half hour episode more than justify a viewing.

The menu for the episode titled “The Egg First!,” above, includes Red Pepper DipAsparagus Fans with Mustard Sauce, Scallops Grenobloise, Potato Gratin with Cream, and Jam Tartines with Fruit Sherbet so simple, a child could make it (provided they’re set up with good quality poundcake in advance.)

Delicious… especially when prepared by a culinary master Julia Child lauded as “the best chef in America.”

And he’s definitely not stingy with matter-of-fact advice on how to peel asparagus, potatoes and hard boiled egg, grate fresh nutmeg with a knife, and dress up store bought mayo any number of ways.

His recipes (some available online here) are well suited to the current moment. The ingredients aren’t too difficult to procure, and each episode begins with a fast, easy dish that can be explained in a minute, such as Mini Croques-MonsieurAsian Chicken Livers, or Basil Cheese Dip.

Many of the dishes harken to his childhood in World War II-era Lyon:

When we were kids, before going to school, my two brothers and I would go to the market with my mother in the morning. She had a little restaurant… There was no car, so we walked to the market—about half a mile away—and she bought, on the way back, a case of mushrooms which was getting dark so she knew the guy had to sell it, so she’d try to get it for half price… She didn’t have a refrigerator. She had an ice box: that’s a block of ice in a cabinet. In there she’d have a couple of chickens or meat for the day. It had to be finished at the end of the day because she couldn’t keep it. And the day after we’d go to the market again. So everything was local, everything was fresh, everything was organic. I always say my mother was an organic gardener, but of course, the word ‘organic’ did not exist. But chemical fertilizer did not exist either.

If you have been spending a lot of time by yourself, some of the episode themes may leave a lump in your throat—Dinner Party SpecialGame Day Pressure, and Pop Over Anytime, which shows how to draw on pantry staples and convenience foods to “take the stress out of visitors popping in.”

The soon to be 85-year-old Pépin (Happy Birthday December 18, Chef!) spoke to Zagat earlier about the pandemic’s effect on the restaurant industry, how we can support one another, and the beauty of home cooked meals:

People—good chefs—are wondering how they will pay their rent. It is such a terrible feeling to have to let your employees go. In a kitchen, or a restaurant, we are like a family, so it is painful to separate or say goodbye. That said, it is important to be optimistic. This is not going to last forever.

Depending on where you are, perhaps this is a chance to reconnect with the land, with farmers, with the sources of food and cooking. This is a good time to plant a garden. And gardening can be very meditative. Growing food is not just for the food, but this process helps us to reconnect with who we are, why we love food, and why we love cooking. With this time, cook at home. Cook for your neighbor and drop the food off. Please your family and your friends and your own palate with food, for yourself. This is not always easy for a chef with the pressure of running a restaurant. Cooking is therapeutic…

Many people now are beginning to suffer economically. But if you can afford it, order take-out, and buy extra for your neighbors. If you can afford it, leave a very large tip. Think about the servers and dishwashers and cooks that may not be able to pay their rent this month. If you can be more generous than usual, that would be a good idea. We need to do everything we can to keep these restaurants in our communities alive.

…this moment is a reassessment and re-adjustment of our lives. Some good things may come of it. We may have the opportunity to get closer to one another, to sit as a family together at the table, not one or two nights a week, but seven! We may not see our friends, but we may talk on the phone more than before. Certainly, with our wives and children we will be creating new bonds. We will all be cooking more, even me. This may be the opportunity to extend your palate, and to get your kids excited about cooking and cooking with you.

Watch a playlist of Jacques Pépin: More Fast Food My Way (they’re all embedded below) courtesy of KQED Public Television, which has also shared a number of free downloadable recipes from the program here.

Attention last minute holiday shoppers: the companion cookbook would make a lovely gift for the chef in your life (possibly yourself.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When Italian Futurists Declared War on Pasta (1930)

We must fight against puddles of sauce, disordered heaps of food, and above all, against flabby, anti-virile pastasciutta. —poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Odds are Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the father of Futurism and a dedicated provocateur, would be crestfallen to discover how closely his most incendiary gastronomical pronouncement aligns with the views of today’s low-carb crusaders.

In denouncing pasta, “that absurd Italian gastronomic religion,” his intention was to shock and criticize the bourgeoisie, not reduce bloat and inflammation.

He did, however, share the popular 21st-century view that heavy pasta meals leave diners feeling equally heavy and lethargic.

As he declared in 1930 in The Futurist Cookbook:

Futurist cooking will be free of the old obsessions with volume and weight and will have as one of its principles the abolition of pastasciutta. Pastasciutta, however agreeable to the palate, is a passéist food because it makes people heavy, brutish, deludes them into thinking it is nutritious, makes them skeptical, slow, pessimistic… Any pastascuittist who honestly examines his conscience at the moment he ingurgitates his biquotidian pyramid of pasta will find within the gloomy satisfaction of stopping up a black hole. This voracious hole is an incurable sadness of his. He may delude himself, but nothing can fill it. Only a Futurist meal can lift his spirits. And pasta is anti-virile because a heavy, bloated stomach does not encourage physical enthusiasm for a woman, nor favour the possibility of possessing her at any time.

Bombast came naturally to him. While he truly believed in the tenets of Futurismspeed, industry, technology, and the cleansing effects of war, at the expense of tradition and the pasthe gloried in hyperbole, absurdity, and showy pranks.

The Futurist Cookbook reflects this, although it does contain actual recipes, with very specific instructions as to how each dish should be served. A sample:

RAW MEAT TORN BY TRUMPET BLASTS: cut a perfect cube of beef. Pass an electric current through it, then marinate it for twenty-four hours in a mixture of rum, cognac and white vermouth. Remove it from the mixture and serve on a bed of red pepper, black pepper and snow. Each mouthful is to be chewed carefully for one minute, and each mouthful is divided from the next by vehement blasts on the trumpet blown by the eater himself.

Intrepid host Trevor Dunseith documents his attempt to stage a faithful Futurist dinner party in the above video.

Guests eat salad with their hands for maximum “pre-labial tactile pleasure” before balancing oranges stuffed with antipasto on their heads to randomize the selection of each mouthful. While not all of the flavors were a hit, the party agreed that the experience wasas intendedtotally novel (and 100% pasta free).

Marinetti’s anti-pasta campaign chimed with Prime Minister Benito Mussolini’s goal of eliminating Italy’s economic dependence on foreign marketsthe Battle for Grain. Northern farmers could produce ample supplies of rice, but nowhere near the amount of wheat needed to support the populace’s pasta consumption. If Italians couldn’t grow more wheat, Mussolini wanted them to shift from pasta to rice.

F.T. Marinetti by W. Seldow, 1934

Marinetti agreed that rice would be the “patriotic” choice, but his desired ends were rooted in his own avant-garde art movement:

… it is not just a question of replacing pasta with rice, or of preferring one dish to another, but of inventing new foods. So many mechanical and scientific changes have come into effect in the practical life of mankind that it is also possible to achieve culinary perfection and to organize various tastes, smells and functions, something which until yesterday would have seemed absurd because the general conditions of existence were also different. We must, by continually varying types of food and their combinations, kill off the old, deeply rooted habits of the palate, and prepare men for future chemical foodstuffs. We may even prepare mankind for the not-too-distant possibility of broadcasting nourishing waves over the radio.

Futurism’s ties to fascism are not a thing to brush off lightly, but it’s also important to remember that Marinetti believed it was the artist’s duty to put forward a bold public personae. He lived to ruffle feathers.

Mission accomplished. His anti-pasta pronouncements resulted in a tumult of public indignation, both locally and in the States.

The Duke of Bovino, mayor of Naples, reacted to Marinetti’s statement that pasta is “completely hostile to the vivacious spirit and passionate, generous, intuitive soul of the Neapolitans” by saying, “The angels in Heaven eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro.” Proof, Marinetti sniped back, of “the unappetizing monotony of Paradise and of the life of the Angels.”

He agitated for a futuristic world in which kitchens would be stocked with ”atmospheric and vacuum stills, centrifugal autoclaves (and) dialyzers.”

His recipes, as Trevor Dunseith discovered, function better as one-time performance art than go-to dishes to add to one’s culinary repertoire.

There is a reason why Julia Child’s Coq a Vin and Tarte Tatin endure while Marinetti’s  Excited Pig and Black Shirt Snack have fallen into disuse.

Uh… progress?

As Daniel A. Gross writes in the Science History Institute’s Distillations:

Marinetti supported Fascism to the extent that it too advocated progress, but his allegiance eventually wavered. To Marinetti, Roman ruins and Renaissance paintings were not only boring but also antithetical to progress. To Mussolini, by contrast, they were politically useful. The dictator drew on Italian history in his quest to build a new, powerful nation—which also led to a national campaign in food self-sufficiency, encouraging the growing and consumption of such traditional foods as wheat, rice, and grapes. The government even funded research into the nutritional benefits of wheat, with one scientist claiming whole-wheat bread boosted fertility. In short, the prewar dream of futurist food was tabled yet again.

Get your own copy of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s The Futurist Cookbook here.

via Mental Floss

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. See her as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Hertella Coffee Machine Mounted on a Volkswagen Dashboard (1959): The Most European Car Accessory Ever Made

Current auto-industry wisdom holds that no car without cup holders will sell in America. Though this also seems to have become increasingly true across the rest of the world, I like to imagine there still exists a country or two whose driving public holds fast against that particular design vulgarism. Such places would, of course, lie deep in unreconstructed Europe, where nobody can go long without coffee. The solution? The Hertella Auto Kaffeemachine, the first and only known dashboard-mounted coffee maker.

Manufactured specifically for the Volkswagen Beetle, this highly civilized automobile accessory has, 60 years after its introduction, nearly vanished from existence. Judging by the few known examples, it never had the time to evolve past its technical shortcomings. For one, it lacks a power switch: “As soon as you plug it into the cigarette lighter, it just gets hot,” writes The Drive’s Peter Holderith. “And as far as the type of coffee machine that it is, well, you would have to be pretty desperate for caffeine to make coffee in this thing.”

“I always thought they were a percolator, or espresso machine like a Moka… but nope,” says Dave Hord of Classic Car Adventures, who purchased his own Hertella Auto Kaffeemachine from an owner in Serbia. It seems “you fill the vessel with water, put your coffee in the (double layer) screen, and heat up the unit. I presume you heat the unit up with the coffee in it, which means this basically brews coffee as though it’s tea.” Perhaps only a transcontinental road-tripper in 1959 would grow desperate enough to drink it.

Still, as Holderith notes, “the machine does have a few clever features. The porcelain cups that came with it apparently had a metal disc on the bottom of them that allowed them to stick to the machine magnetically” and the unit itself “mounts to the dash with a simple bracket, allowing for the pot to quickly be removed and cleaned when necessary.” Perhaps today’s car designers, a group once again looking to the past for inspiration, will resume the pursuit of dashboard brewing begun by the Hertella Auto Kaffeemachine. If not, Wes Anderson can surely find a use for the thing.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

How Soy Sauce Has Been Made in Japan for Over 220 Years: An Inside View

Soy sauce has figured into the cuisine of east Asia for more than two millennia. By that standard, the two-century-old Fueki Shoyu Brewing hasn’t been in the game long. But in running the operation today, Masatsugu Fueki can hardly be accused of failing to uphold tradition: he adheres to just the same practices for making soy sauce (shoyu, in Japanese) as the company’s founders did back in 1879. You can see the entire process in the Eater video above, shot at the Fueki factory in Saitama Prefecture, just northwest of Tokyo. Fueki himself guides the tour, explaining first the sheer simplicity of the ingredients — soybeans, flour, and salt — and then the intricate biological interactions between them that must be properly managed if the result is to possess a suitably rich umami flavor.

That we all know what umami is today owes in part to the propagation of soy sauce across the world. One of the “five basic flavors,” this distinctive savoriness manifests in certain fish, cheeses, tomatoes, and mushrooms, but if you need a quick shot of umami, you reach for the soy sauce. In bottles small and large, it had already become a common product in the United States by the time I was growing up there in the 1980s and 90s.

It must be said, however, that Americans then still had some odd ways of using it: the now-acknowledged Western faux pas, for instance, of liberally drizzling the stuff over rice. But wider awareness of soy sauce has led to a wider understanding of its proper place in food, and also of what sets the best apart from the mediocre — as well as a curiosity about what it takes to make the best.

Fueki and his workers take pains every step of the way, from steaming the soybeans to decomposing the wheat with a mold called koji to heating the raw soy sauce in tanks before bottling. But the key is the kioke, a large wooden fermentation barrel, the oldest of which at Fueki Shoyu Brewing goes back 150 years. Today, Fueki explains, fewer that 50 craftsmen in all of Japan know how to make them: hence the launch of the in-house Kioke Project, a series of workshops meant to revitalize the craft. As he climbs down into an empty kioke, Fueki describes it as “filled with invisible yeast fungus that’s unique to our place” — far from a contaminant, “the most important element, or treasure and our heart.” The care and sensitivity required, and indeed the industrial techniques themselves, aren’t so different from those involved in the making of fine wines. But it surely takes a palate as experienced as Fueki’s to taste “chocolate, vanilla, coffee, rose, hyacinth” in the final product.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Plastic Bag Store: A Pop Art Installation with a Whimsical But Deadly Serious Environmental Message

When COVID-19 exploded in New York City last March, it erased everything on the calendar, including:

All live theater

The city’s freshly implemented ban on single use plastic bags

And The Plastic Bag Store, a pop-up installation that was preparing to open in Times Square.

The theaters remain dark, but the ban is back on, as of October 19th. The 7-month pause was hastened by the pandemic, but also by an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by flexible packing manufacturer Poly-Pak Industries.

The Plastic Bag Store was allowed to open, too, albeit in an altered format from the hybrid art installation-adult puppet show creator Robin Frohardt has been working on for several years.

She has long intended for the project’s New York premiere to coincide with the ban.

Not because she hoped to get rich selling bags to citizens accustomed to getting them free with purchase.

There’s nothing to buy in this “store.”

It’s a performance of sorts, but there’s no admission charge.

It’s definitely an education, and a meditation on how history can be doomed to repeat itself, in one way or another.

The Plastic Bag Store just ended its sold out 3-week run, playing to crowds of ticket holders now capped at 12 audience members per performance. The live elements have morphed into a trio of short films that are projected after ticket holders—customers if you will—have had a chance to look around.

There’s plenty to see.

The Times Square installation space has been kitted out to resemble a roomy bodega stocked with produce, baked goods, sushi rolls on plastic trays, shrink wrapped meat, and other familiar, if slightly skewed items.

Rows of 2 liter soda bottles with iconic red labels are shelved across from the magazine rack. Tubs of Bag & Jerry’s Mint Plastic Chip are in the freezer case.

The original plan allowed for customers to handle the goods as they wanted.  Now such interactions are prohibited.

Prior to March, New Yorkers were pretty handsy with produce, unabashedly pressing thumbs into avocados and holding tomatoes and melons to nostrils to determine ripeness.

The pandemic curbed that habit.

No matter. Nothing is ripe in the Plastic Bag Store, where any item not contained in a can or cardboard box has been constructed from the thousands of plastic bags Frohardt has collected over the years.

The facsimiles are shockingly adroit.

“I hunt plastic bags on the streets of New York,” she said in an interview with cultural funder Creative Capital:

I’m a real connoisseur now. There are certain colors I’m really attracted to. Certain bags are harder to find. I definitely look at trash differently than most people. I’m always looking for reds and oranges and greens. Sometimes I find a really interesting color that I haven’t seen before, like salmon or lavender. That’s always exciting.

This diversity of materials helps with visual verisimilitude, most impressive in the produce section.

The product labels been richly fortified with satirical commentary.

A family sized package of Yucky Shards appeals to children with sparkles, a rainbow, and a bright eyed cartoon mascot who doesn’t seem to mind the 6-pack yoke that’s attached itself to its person.

Everything about the “non-organic, triple-washed Spring Green Mix” from “Earthbag Farm” looks familiar, including the plastic container.

Packages of Sometimes feminine pads promise “super protection” that will “literally last forever.”

The cupcakes on display in the bakery section are topped with such festive embellishments as a “disposable” lighter and flossing pick.

The tone is not scolding but rather comic, as Frohardt uses her spoofs to delight attendees into serious consideration of the “foreverness” of plastic and its environmental impact:

There is great humor to be found in the pitfalls of capitalism, and I find that humor and satire can be powerful tools for social criticism especially with issues that feel too sad and overwhelming to confront directly.

It’s really easy to turn away from images of turtles choking on straws. That stuff comes up in my Instagram feed all the time, and I’m like “Whoa! Swipe on past” because it’s too hard to look at. So what I’m trying to do is to make something that’s fun to look at, and fun to engage with, so you can think about it. Instead of just saying, “That’s fucked up! Ok on to the next thing.”

The Plastic Bag Store’s film segments also wield comedy to get their message across.

From the stiff shadow puppet Ancient Greeks who are seduced by the self-flattering slogan of a new product, Knowledge Water, which comes in single use vessels, to the recipient of a message in a plastic bottle, discovered so far into the future that he can only admire its craftsmanship, having no clue as to its purpose. (Letter carrier is his best guess. Eventually, other letter carriers are discovered in the freezing equatorial ocean, and housed in a museum alongside other hilariously mislabeled relics of a long dead civilization.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Digital Library for Bartenders: Vintage Cocktail Books with Recipes Dating Back to 1753

So, um… you look like you could use a drink… or another drink, or five…. I’ve given it up, but I can still mix a mean cocktail. How about a Stomach Julep (Julepum Stomachicum). No white suit or veranda required. It’s a “saffron syrup made with sherry, spirit rectified with mint, and a non-alcoholic mint distillate” among other “fascinating ingredients.” Yes, this is a recipe from a 1753 pharmacology textbook, but in 1753, one’s bartender might just as well also be the local alchemist, pharmacist, and captive audience. Fearing a resurgence of plague and other maladies, lacking proper healthcare or clean water, the Early Modern British fortified themselves with booze.

The New English Dispensatory might seem like an odd text, nonetheless, to include in an online library for bartenders, but it is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the EUVS Digital Collection, an appreciable sampling of manuals, cocktail menus, recipe books, and historical ephemera related to “a profession that has rediscovered a justifiable sense of pride and purpose.”

This sense does seem to vary greatly between establishments, but the collection does not discriminate, though it does display a particular fondness for Cuba in its current state of digitization—now up to a few dozen titles spanning the years 1753 to 1959. More books will be coming online soon out of a physical collection of “over 1,000 volumes.”

It may be hard to imagine earning a bartending Ph.D. but one could certainly find a dissertation topic in the impressive breadth and depth of the collection, even in its limited state. Or, more likely, one could put together a uniquely imaginative cocktail menu that no one else in town can boast of. Bartending is both art and science. In his 1892 book The Flowing Bowl, New York bartender William Schmidt, also known as “The Only William,” comments:

Mixed drinks might be compared to music: an orchestra will produce good music, provided all players are artists; but have only one or two inferior musicians in your band and you may be convinced they will spoil the entire harmony.

To the bartender’s list of supplementary roles in the lives of their customers, we can add another: conductor. William first came to prominence in the profession in Hamburg, Germany before emigrating to Chicago, then Manhattan. His tastes, in music and liquors, remained European. “The finest mixed drinks and their ingredients are of foreign origin. Are not all of the superior cordials of foreign make?” he wrote. Clearly he knew nothing of bourbon.

The Only William did know that fine art requires showmanship and style. He was “renowned for his acrobatic bartending feats: throwing flaming and non-flaming drinks in graceful arcs.” The EUVS Digital Collection presents William as a kind of bartending folk hero, a larger-than-life figure who was said to have invented a new drink daily. If this is so, it may not be so surprising. William was not only totally devoted to his art, but he was also a scholar, “credited with an encyclopedic knowledge of the classics.”

The Flowing Bowl contains Schmidt’s “history of various beverages, descriptions of historic Greco-Roman banquets, sample menus with beverage pairings, plus a lively selection of poetry readings whose focus is on drink.” One gets the sense he represents the ideal patron of The Bartender’s Library. What would such a model bartender do during the pandemic? I think he’d hit the books, especially given that so many, like his own, are free online. And given the ever-present possibility of plague and other calamities, I guess he’d offer spirited remedies to the people locked down at home with him.

Note: One commenter on the Cocktail archive site left these comments, which might prove handy:

Here is a list of conversions, with Imperial measurements (from the U.K), as well as few British ones–as both are found in many classic cocktail books and can be mighty confusing.

1 quart (Imperial) = 40 ounces

1 quart = 32 ounces

1 bottle = 24 ounces

1 pint (Imperial) = 20 ounces

1 pint = 16 ounces

1/2 pint (Imperial) = 10 ounces

1/2 pint = 8 ounces

1 gill (Imperial) = 4.8 ounces

1 gill = 4 ounces

1 dram = 1/4 tablespoon (found in the British metric system or English recipes before approx. 1972)

1 wineglass = 2 ounces

1 jigger = 1 1/2 ounces – 1 1/4 ounces

1 pony = 1 (fluid) ounce = 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon = 1/2 (fluid) ounces

1 teaspoon = 1/16 fluid ounces

A dash is a tricky one. When applied to bitters, a “dash” makes sense: it’s what comes out the top of the bottle. But if you find a recipe calling for “dashes of syrup,” check out similar drink recipes and use your judgment in how much you need.

Related Content: 

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The Recipes of Famous Artists: Dinners & Cocktails From Tolstoy, Miles Davis, Marilyn Monroe, David Lynch & Many More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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