Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Shake 'Em Up": High-Spirited Civil Disobedience

I decided recently (prompted by a viewing of The Palm Beach Story on TCM) that my goal in life is to be one-half of the madcap couple in a screwball comedy. For Christmas, my parents gave me a book that might help me achieve that: a genuine Prohibition-era cocktail-party guide.

(And of course, it was the perfect book to read on New Year's Eve. Happy New Year to all!)

Shake 'Em Up!: A Practical Handbook of Polite DrinkingShake 'Em Up!: A Practical Handbook of Polite Drinking by Virginia Elliott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Shake 'Em Up" is a book of cocktail recipes, party-giving tips, and hangover remedies, first published in the United States in 1930 -- when Prohibition was still the law of the land. Authors Virginia Elliott and Phil Stong even advise on what mixture of herbal extracts will give your bathtub gin the most authentic flavor, which got them in trouble with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Truth be told, a lot of this book consists of recipes for cocktails and canapes that probably won't appeal to a modern palate, which is why I'm only giving it 3 stars. The recipe for a "dry" martini would be considered outrageously "wet" these days (two parts gin to one part vermouth), and the appetizers are mostly variations on "slice white bread, butter it, and put something salty-fatty-savory on top."

Still, there's enough historical interest and insouciant 1930s wit to make this slim book worthwhile. For instance, to introduce their section on drinks for cocktail novices, the authors write "Tender young things, who have just been taken off stick candy, prefer complicated pink and creamy drinks which satisfy their beastly appetite for sweets and at the same time offer an agreeable sense of sinfulness. If you have any creme de menthe or creme de cocoa about the house, make them up some kind of a mess of it and push them under the piano to suck on it."

Civil disobedience has rarely been so cheerful or such good fun.

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