If Only Hemingway Had Drunk Sherry

At this time of year cock­tails in the garden have a glam­or­ous appeal, even if they neces­sit­ate coats, boots and gloves. My new favour­ite ingredi­ent for a cock­tail is sherry, for far too long a com­edy drink. Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe and Benito Pérez Galdós all wrote about sherry; the Poet Laur­eate gets paid in the stuff. But des­pite all their best efforts, sherry has remained fatally tied to the likes of the repressed and punc­tili­ous Mr Banks from Mary Pop­pins who drank a glass of sherry each night at 6.02pm precisely.

Sherry’s struggle to be cool has been dam­aged too by the abom­in­able schooner glass. Shaped like a dis­mal 1970s bell­bot­tom trouser leg and with a stumpy little stem, it’s as far from cool as left is from right. I should say, though, that even the dread­ful schooner is prefer­able to the glass I was once served sherry in. The cir­cu­lar base of the ugly, mis­ted glass had snapped off, leav­ing only a spike at the bot­tom. ‘There’s a pot-plant on the window-sill’, the parsi­mo­ni­ous host­ess said. ‘If you want to put the glass down, just stick it in the bougainvillea.’

If only someone dan­ger­ously trans­gress­ive like Ern­est Hem­ing­way had drunk sherry. If he’d been known to growl ‘Bring me a sherry on the rocks, and make it snappy’, things could have been so dif­fer­ent over the long, lean years of sherry’s 20th Cen­tury. But all that is start­ing to change. Vodka is on the wane and sherry is sud­denly the Fiat 500 of the drinks world. Less alco­holic, more retro and infin­itely more desirable.

I’ve just been sent a bottle of Har­veys Bris­tol Cream, now pack­aged in a dis­tinct­ive blue glass bottle. Its rich, round, sweet taste is per­fect for a sum­mer cock­tail, even if the prom­ise such a drink holds of long, lan­guor­ous sun-lit even­ings is end­lessly snatched from us by granite-grey skies. I love the the­at­ric­al­ity of cock­tails; the mix­ing, the shak­ing, the twizz­ling and the whole fan­dango. My cre­ation is called Hemingway’s Neo­lo­gism because it’s a drink he never encountered and would most likely have turned his nose up at. But my bet is that he would have loved it, if the rum and whisky hadn’t fin­ished him off first. And if he’d stuck to the low-alcohol count of Hemingway’s Neo­lo­gism he would never have needed to say ‘Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.’

The trick with cock­tails is to make the ice-cubes out of a com­pon­ent of the cock­tail itself. As the cubes melt you simply get more fla­vour, rather than a watered down ver­sion of what you star­ted with. In this case, I made chubby ice-rolos out of pomegranate juice.

HEMINGWAY’S NEOLOGISM

  • I part chilled Har­veys Bris­tol Cream
  • 2 parts pomegranate juice
  • 3 parts chilled ginger ale
  • Hand­ful of pomegranate ice cubes
  • Sprig of mint

Com­bine all the ingredi­ents and pour into long glasses.

I wish I could pour you a glass of Hemingway’s Neo­lo­gism per­son­ally. But since I can’t, I’m serving you a syn­aes­thetic vir­tual drink instead. Stare at this allium for a count of five and it will startle your senses in the same way that the actual drink would. Sherry’s new role as a drink so sharp you could slice a loaf with it, suits it so much bet­ter than a schooner ever did. Like Willy Wonka’s square sweets that looked round, sherry is now a cold drink that’s sud­denly hot. Mr Banks would hate it.

Wagner’s Crab

Food and wine pair­ing is achingly fash­ion­able at the moment. I’m afraid my know­ledge about which wine to pair with what food doesn’t extend bey­ond when to drink Chab­lis and why Caber­net Sauvignon doesn’t work with rhu­barb crumble. I am, how­ever, very good at food and per­form­ance pair­ing. In case you haven’t come across it, food and per­form­ance pair­ing is the art of what to eat after a trip to the theatre. To give you an idea:

The Cherry Orch­ard - bit­ter cherry cla­foutis and a litre of vodka.

Death of a Sales­man - hot­dog with a friend who feels a failure.

Wait­ing for Godot — a pic­nic of chicken and raw car­rots while wait­ing for an acquaint­ance who never turns up.

Titus Andronicus - noth­ing for a week.

I now know what to eat after a Wag­ner opera. Hav­ing just seen Wag­ner for the first time in the form of the Eng­lish National Opera’s pro­duc­tion of The Fly­ing Dutch­man, I’m proudly in the post-Wagnerian phase of my life. Orla Boylan’s inter­pret­a­tion of tra­gic Senta — intense, intro­ver­ted and slightly obsess­ive — is mes­mer­ising. She’s a mag­ni­fi­cent sop­rano who com­bines touch­ing sens­it­iv­ity with a deep, vis­ceral power.

At din­ner after the per­form­ance, there was some­thing on the res­taur­ant menu that seemed per­fect to fol­low such high and intense drama — crab. Not a prissy crab, dressed and piled softly back into the shell from whence it had come and piped with may­on­naise stripes. But an armour-plated Wag­n­erian crab that looked as though it had just clattered into the res­taur­ant, clambered onto the table and said “Ok — I dare you.” With crack­ers and probes, snip­pers and forks, it was a war of attri­tion to see who would win — the crab or me.

Orla is the best sop­rano to have at the din­ner table. Not only does she sing so beau­ti­fully that you want to weep, as a teen­ager she had a hol­i­day job boil­ing, crack­ing and dress­ing the crabs that her dad caught in pots. After the soar­ing per­form­ance of The Fly­ing Dutch­man, there was the impress­ive drama of watch­ing Orla do battle with the crab, hoi­k­ing out morsels of meat that the rest of us failed to find.

I watched The Fly­ing Dutch­man with a very clever friend who grows things almost as well as Orla sings things. My friend’s mag­ni­fi­cent garden is crammed with herbs that would make even a fish-finger fan want to cook.

Aniseed-flavoured sweet cicely over­flows in flouncy, lacy heaps, along with drifts of lovage, clouds of wild flowers, perky rhu­barb and things I’ve never heard of.

So, in hon­our of the mag­ni­fi­cent Orla Boylan — as well as The Fly­ing Dutch­man and my friend’s glor­i­ous garden — here is Wag­n­erian Crab Salad with Sweet Cicely and Wild Flowers along with a glass of Sweet Cicely and Cucum­ber Cock­tail. The crab isn’t the macho mon­ster that I did battle with after the opera. But just as you can’t watch a Wag­ner opera every day of the week, you can’t fight a crab every day either.

SWEET CICELY AND CUCUMBER COCKTAIL WITH A LOVAGE STRAW

  • 1 part Limoncino
  • 1 part gin
  • 5 parts lemonade
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Quarter of a cucum­ber, peeled
  • Ice cubes
  • A hand­ful of sweet cicely tender stems, to taste
  • Sweet cicely leaves to decorate
  • Lovage stalks, trimmed to make straws

Com­bine all the ingredi­ents, apart from the dec­or­at­ive leaves and lovage stalks, in a food pro­cessor. Puree to a liquid and pour into a glass. You can strain the liquid if you prefer. The stems of lovage are hol­low and make per­fect straws. They add the most deli­cious fla­vour of per­fumed cel­ery to any drink. Gar­nish the cock­tail with sweet cicely leaves and add a lovage straw.

WAGNERIAN CRAB SALAD WITH SWEET CICELY, WILD FLOWERS AND AVOCADO

Serves 2

  • 100g white crab meat
  • 1 avo­cado
  • 1 dessert spoon creme fraiche
  • A few chives plus the flowers
  • A few sweet cicely stems and leaves, chopped finely
  • Zest of 1 lemon plus a squirt of lemon juice
  • Season­ing
  • Viola flowers or any other edible flowers

Slice the avo­cado and divide between two plates. Com­bine the crab, creme fraiche, lemon juice and zest, season­ing, chopped chives and sweet cicely stems. Pile on top of the avo­cado and dec­or­ate with chive flowers and sweet cicely flowers.

Eat and drink the above after any Wag­ner opera. They go together perfectly.