Thursday, 5 March 2015

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: BAR SPOONS

Do you know the traditional names of the three common styles of bar spoon? Bar spoon, mazagran, and sucket? All were born before the advent of the modern bar, but this is not surprising since the spoon is the oldest of humankind's dedicated eating utensils. 

The spoon is an ancient invention, used since Paleolithic times. It's likely that early man used shells or bits of wood then began improving on nature’s designs hand crafting and perfecting his implements. In fact, the ancient Greek and Latin words for spoon comes from the word "cochlea", a spiral shaped snail shell. Ancient Egyptian spoons have been unearthed in the tombs of the Pharaohs. Some of the earliest examples are made of painted wood. Later finds are made from a variety of materials including stone and ivory. Similarly, the spoon appears in the early Asian historical records spanning from China to India to Turkey.

Spoons were only embraced by the masses throughout Europe as recently as the Dark Ages. The earliest British mention of spoons appeared in a will dated 1279. It's around this time that one style of bar spoon emerged in Germany. Now commonly known as a sucket spoon, this particular style of the bar spoon sports a fork on the opposite end (thus it is also sometimes called a sucket fork). It began its career as an efficient multi-purpose dining tool, often fashioned with a swirl in the shaft just like a modern bar spoon. In those days, it was not uncommon for people to own and carry a personal set of tableware for daily use. A multi-purpose tool was very convenient, just as it is for camping—and bartending—today.

After it arrived in England with the Saxons, the sucket spoon took its name from a British dessert. Sucket is made of preserved fruits and served either wet or dry. Dry sucket is similar to marmalade, cooked until it can be served in chunks. Wet sucket is simply fruit cooked and served in syrup. This favourite dish of Queen Elizabeth I is politely eaten with the sucket spoon so that the morsels of fruit can be forked out of the syrup.
By the mid- to late-1800s, the sucket spoon was sold to and used in American bars, placed in mixed drinks containing fruit. This allowed patrons to stir their drinks with the spoon and eat the fruit with the fork.

The familiar bar spoon with a muddler on one end can be traced to the French apothecary spoon—the cuillière medicament—which was popularised during the 18th century. (However, there are spoons with heavy ornaments that might have served the same purpose date back to ancient Greece. But there is no historical record as to their purpose.)
The muddler on the French apothecary spoons was used to break up crystallised and coarsely powdered medicines so they could be dissolved in liquids. The bowl of the spoon was also carefully designed to hold a precise amount of liquid. Its shape allowed the pharmacist to use a flat knife to scrape across the top of the spoon and measure a level spoonful of powder.

This spoon appears in catalogues printed by London wine and spirits merchants Farrow & Jackson. Shown next to a plain long spoon with a twisted handle labelled a “bar spoon” in their 1898 catalogue, they sold it as a French mazagran spoon. These two styles appeared again in Charlie Paul’s 1902 Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks published by the same company. By then the apothecary spoon had indeed already become popular in France for social use as evidenced in Louis Fouquet's book from the same period Bariana: Receuil Pratique de Toutes Boissons Américaines et Anglaises.

A coffee drink called mazagran is said to be named for an 1840 French military victory near the Algerian town of Mazagran on the outskirts of Mostaghanem. Although it was little more than a skirmish, when it appeared in the French press the number of enemy combatants had risen twenty-fold to over 20,000. A model of the fort defended by the French was built in the Champs Elysées. Many souvenirs were sold. A Parisian street was named after the event. The captain who led the battle received the coveted Legion of Honour. Funds that were raised for the battle's widows and orphans were returned when it was eventually revealed there were no French casualties. And the eponymously-named drink became a fashion trend nationwide: espresso in a tall glass, two or three lumps of French beet sugar crushed with a muddling spoon, topped with cold water (because the troops in the battle had no milk or brandy). By the First World War, American troops discovered it as a muddled drink fortified with a pony of Cognac.

Today, the mazagran spoon is the most common of the bar spoons found behind the bar, though the proper name was lost a century ago. No layered drink, no pousse café can be made easily without its twisted shafted and muddler end.

The sucket spoon is also making a revival as bartenders find new uses for its shape. However, its original purpose, allowing customers to fish the fruit from their drinks, seems to be lost at the moment.

The plain bar spoon, simply a long slender spoon, often with a twisted stem to facilitate stirring, was once the most common of implements. However, with no fork or muddler to add a second purpose and a touch of flourish to its existence, it seems to be fading away.

—Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown

© MIXELLANY LIMITED 2012

Monday, 13 October 2014

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: AT LOGGERHEADS WITH THE TODDY

 

The toddy stick. The loggerhead. The swizzle stick. These three very useful tools employed by early mixers nearly disappeared from behind bars in modern times. However they disappeared for three entirely different reasons. The swizzle stick was replaced by the blender, the bar spoon, and the shaker. The loggerhead was a fire hazard. So it went out because of health and safety regulations. And the toddy stick? It disappeared in name only. Today we call it a muddler.

Loggerheads 

A 19th century book on the history of a small Massachusetts town contained this excellent description of a loggerhead:

“Now this loggerhead, or Flip-Dog, as it was sometimes called, consisted of a piece of iron about two feet long, one end being quite thick, while the other dwindled down to a handle; such an article being a main spoke in the furniture of every such place in those days. It was used in making flip, which was a mixture of beer, spirit and sugar, into which the loggerhead, hot from the fire, was thrust, heating the compound and causing a froth on top which usually ran over the sides of the mug.”

The loggerhead was also very useful for melting tar: a less than desirable additive to the next rum flip! This tool was also used for an assortment of other tavern keeper activities such as cauterizing wounds and even igniting cannons.

The advantage of heating a drink with a loggerhead—also called a “flip dog”—is that the drink would be heated instantly. Think of it as a predecessor to the microwave.

The loggerhead was such a common, convenient device that its name gave birth to a number of other British terms. A loggerhead was a person of low intelligence: Someone who might as well have a lump of iron rising above their neck. The British expression “at loggerheads” meant reaching an impasse in a dispute. It later took on the more heated meaning of arguing to the point of physical violence.

Among the drinks most commonly heated with a loggerhead were punch, toddy and flip. In those days before central heating, tavern keepers served a lot of hot drinks.
A 1796 British dictionary defines the term “swizzle” as a “drink, or any brisk or windy liquor. In North America, a mixture of spruce beer, rum, and sugar, was so called.” But the swizzle itself was Caribbean, not American. The quararibea turbinata or swizzlestick tree grows almost exclusively on the southern islands of Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Trinidad, and Martinique. The three to five branches that form the head are not roots but actual branches of the shrub that grow naturally from the main stalk.
In the Caribbean, swizzle sticks are not reserved for making swizzles. They are used as hand blenders in soups, creams, and many other mixing tasks.

Unfortunately, swizzle sticks are not a large export commodity. So with the exception of a very few sources, the easiest way to get one—or more, since they are hard to come by—is to travel to the Caribbean or ask someone who is heading to the islands. 
If you can’t get your hands on a genuine swizzle stick, there is a traditional alternative: the eggnog stick.

To make one: Split the end of a 25 to 30 cm balsawood stick. Insert a cross piece of wood approximately 6 cm by 1 cm by a few millimetres thick. This works almost as well as the swizzle and was a very common alternative that was produced in northern climates. 
Both the swizzle stick and eggnog stick are used by placing it in the glass. Then holding the shaft between the palms of your hands, move your hands back and forth to whirl the stick in the glass. Today, a skilled bartender swizzling a drink or whipping an eggnog creates a timeless theatre of drink production with the inviting sight and sound of the whirling stick.

Isn’t it a shame that the same term is used for the frequently-branded, plastic stirring stick? No one precisely when this stirring device was invented. But we do know that Cartier introduced a line of personalised, silver-plated swizzle sticks, in the 1920s, that was promoted to eliminate the bubbles in a glass of champagne! Noél Coward, George Gershwin, and other posh swells of the day all toted their on silver sticks around to cocktail parties and hotel bars. 

The birth of tiki triggered the production of myriads of plastic “swizzle sticks” topped with tiki heads, hula girls, and blatant branding: Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber swizzle sticks are collector’s items today.

Toddy Sticks 

The toddy stick was also immortalized in drinking lore. One writer from ages part described the humble toddy stick as beloved for “the welcome ringing music it made on the sides of glass tumblers...” It was also excellent for crushing sugar in the bottom of a glass or mug. More than one bartender also used it to defend himself when accosted by a belligerent drunk. Sounds like a muddler, doesn’t it?

According to one early description, the toddy stick was six or eight inches long with a knob at one end or flattened out at one end. It was shorter than modern muddlers. But remember the dimensions of the doppelfassbecher. The glasses were smaller and so were the drinks. 

Mixing glasses and mixing sticks, in hand, how do we pour the sumptuous contents we have made into a serving glass? That’s the subject of our next story.

—Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown

 [This article was originally published in German in 2010 in Mixology Magazine.]

© MIXELLANY LIMITED 2012