07 August 2009

Benito vs. the Cocktail: The Black-eyed Susan

My maternal grandmother was a prize-winning horticulturalist, so a good bit of my childhood was spent around truly amazing flowers. I didn't get a lot of direct instruction--honestly I wasn't that interested when I was a kid, and mostly I was warned not to touch anything. But I assume something rubbed off, because the ladies have always praised my taste in flowers. Thanks, Grandmama!

Flower names can be confusing... some are cutesy, some are more Latin or Greek than English, and others are just perplexing. But one name in particular really bugged me as a kid: the Black-eyed Susan. It's a pretty little yellow and black flower, but Mom's name is Susan and it always bothered me because it sounded like someone beat up my mother. My father is a true gentleman who has been happily married to my mother for nearly 40 years, and there is no history of domestic violence in my family--let me state that for the record. I just found the concept of someone hurting Mom abhorrent, and why on earth would someone name a flower that?

Now let's skip to the present day. I don't get angry when I see the flower, and I've enjoyed the tradition of sipping a Mint Julep on the day of the Kentucky Derby. In fact, in 2008 I had the honor of quaffing a Mint Julep at Churchill Downs during an off-season race, and I was close enough to the track to get hit with stray flecks of dirt. But it turns out that there is another cocktail associated with a famous horse race, Baltimore's Preakness Stakes. This cocktail is called... the Black-eyed Susan, after the blanket that is draped over the winning horse, made from the state flower of Maryland.

Out of curiosity, I had to give it a shot.

Note: Most recipes for this cocktail assume you're serving 10-20 people, in the grand tradition of Southern punches. Likewise, there are dozens of competing recipes with often differing ingredients and proportions, and so as to avoid having to fight a duel at sunset, I do not make any claims to this as the definitive version. I chose a simple, smaller recipe for two from Southern Living:

The Black-eyed Susan Cocktail

3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup pineapple juice
3 tbsp. vodka
3 tbsp. light rum
2 tbsp. orange liqueur
Crushed ice

Combine ingredients, shake and serve straight up or on the rocks. Garnish with cherries and orange slices if desired, though I've seen all sorts of fruits used on these.

I added a dash of lemon bitters just for the fun of it. It ends up being a more complex Screwdriver, with the pineapple providing a fun element. With a 5:2 ratio of fruit juice to liquor, this is light and refreshing and could be a neat alternative for the brunch Mimosa.

P.S. The little horse is from--I'm not making this up--a Scout trip to the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis when I was twelve. It's a Clydesdale, not normally used in horse racing, but along with my fellow patrol members we gathered up as much schwag as possible. For years I carried around these fake credit cards that had Budweiser beer logos on them. I have no idea why, and once I was old enough I discovered I really didn't like the one-note flavor of Budweiser in any of its incarnations.

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