Yes, it’s still hot in Florida! Since we are still in the Sunshine state and the temperature outside feels like it’s the surface of said sun, I wanted to make a nice, refreshing drink this week. Bonus, most of the ingredients could be found in my parent’s yard! I was out walking Deacon yesterday morning and couldn’t get over how great the spearmint was smelling from Dad’s herb garden. The man has a gold plated green thumb for getting stuff to grow in this oppressive heat! I particularly enjoy that attribute of his, since I benefit from it every time I’m down. I picked some of the mint, thinking I would put it in my water later on that day to give it a nice flavor and kept walking. This was at about six thirty in the morning; any later and I would have been melting and not able to see the mint from the sweat that would drowning my eyes! Anyways, I had forgotten that Dad also grows lemon and lime trees. I send him a different variety every year for Father’s Day, so he has quite a nice little collection going on. One of the lime trees was so pregnant with fruit, that its branches were almost touching the ground. While I was picking a few to help ease the burden on the tree, it hit me…. I haven’t had a good Mojito in ages! Fortunately for me, everyone in my family keeps a stocked bar at all times in their house, so I didn’t even need to go to the ABC (my favorite liquor store in Florida) to get anything. Don’t worry, I’ll come up with another excuse to get there next week! All I had to do was wait until five o’clock for cocktail hour to begin (we sometimes start before then, but I would never admit to that!)
But first…. A little Mojito history. As many of you may know, the Mojito is Cuban by heritage. The classic cocktail that we enjoy today was perfected in Havana sometime after the sixteenth century. It was thought that a crude version was used as a medication for dysentery and scurvy. I know, not very sexy, but it eventually gets elevated! Francis Drake, an English sea captain was said to have needed a quick cure for his crew after a successful raid at Cartagena de Indias and lucky for him he was close to Cuba. The South American Indians were known for these cures, so he sent a small party to shore to get the required ingredients and recipe. A crude form of rum, called aguardiente de caña, which literally means “fire water” (I’m sure it tasted amazing!) was a local commodity made from cane sugar, was alcohol for the drink. Other local components included limes, sugar cane, and mint. The funny thing is, is that the lime juice
straight up would have cured their illnesses, but you know these sailors, why have just lime juice when you can have a whole cocktail! Besides, the lime juice, sugar cane, and mint were probably needed to make the aguardiente de caña palatable, so it was a win-win situation. They got a drink that was drinkable and were able to rid themselves of horrible diseases all with one swig! They brought their magical cure home with them, and so began the journey of this widely popular cocktail. Sometime around 1650, a spirit called Tafia was introduced to the British population and was a form closer to the Rum we know today. This probably helped to make the drink tastier to those who didn’t have the iron stomach of a sailor, aiding in the Mojito’s popularity.
Originally, the drink was called the “El Draque”, after Francis Drake. When the drink started to become more civilized, it was called the Mojito. More than likely the word Mojito is a variation on the word mojo, which is a Spanish marinade comprised of many flavors, with lime being the key component, making it similar to the libation. However, there are some who contend that the word is a derivative of mojadito, which is Spanish for “a little wet” or a diminutive of mojado, which means “wet”. I like the former explanation, because it makes more sense to me. At the time, Cuba had a lot of immigrants from the Canary Islands coming across its borders, bringing with them the flavors of the creole marinades, Mojo sauces. The timing makes sense to me, so that’s the story that I choose to dream about.
Ernest Hemingway gets to make another appearance this week….The Mojito was said to have been his favorite drink. I find that hard to believe, because he was a very thirsty man,
so I’m not really sure that he had a favorite. However, he did make the little bar, La Bodeguita del Medio, famous as one of their regulars. This is where he enjoyed many, many Mojitos, even writing “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.” He enjoyed Mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio and daiquiris at El Floridita, a historic fish restaurant and cocktail bar in Havana, when he would frequent Cuba. Like I said, it’s hard to say that the Mojito was his favorite. He had a favorite in every bar that we went into, which was several to say the least! His slogan about his two favorite Havana cocktails can be read on the wall of La Bodeguita del Medio even to this day, signed by the author himself. What an interesting man; I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during his escapades and adventures! Some biographers dismiss the idea that he was a real regular at La Bodeguita del Medio and his love of Mojitos.To them I say “you’re crazy!” In
my mind, he loved a good cocktail at any bar, and what could be better than a true Mojito in a true Cuban restaurant and bar! Besides, this is my story! So when he gets tired of living it up, bantering with explorers in Paris, (reference to last week’s Cocktails With Cally) my favorite author, Mr. Hemingway fishes his way back across the ocean to Havana and immediately goes to his favorite bar (the first one that he comes to!), and orders his favorite drink (the one that is easiest to make, and in Cuba, that is probably the Mojito!)
Another fun fact…in 2014, the Mojito was the polled as the most popular cocktail in Britain. Mr. Drake and his crew would have been proud! No scurvy for present day Brits!
This is another one of those great cocktails that is a canvas for your imagination. While I have chosen to stay traditional this week. It doesn’t happen very often, but being inspired by Hemingway, again, I wanted to make a drink that I thought he would have enjoyed with Gellhorn, my favorite of his three wives. No frills and extras for him. Just a nice, neat cocktail that tastes good, is easy to make, and saves you from the perils of disease that the sea has to offer! Now, if you like the extra frills, and I’ll be honest, I do enjoy a frill now and again, let your imagination be your guide. Fruity flavors added to the simple syrup are great for those of you who want a sweeter drink. Bitters (you remember, one of my new favorite cocktail items) help to cut the sweetness, if you want to go in the opposite direction. Feeling a little more Cozumel than Cuban! Tequila can replace the rum with ease! A “Mojito Royal”, is done with champagne instead of club soda. You know I’m going to be trying one of those soon! An “English Mojito” uses gin as the alcohol and replaces any sugar with Sprite. All of the countries that have embraced the Mojito have added their own spin with their regional spirits and fare. You can do the same. If you have some extra fruit laying around, infuse your simple syrup with it. Watermelon is one of my favorites. Again, the possibilities are endless. If you’re having trouble coming up with something, but want to try s different take, do a quick Google search for Mojito variations. It’s an easy way to find inspiration and usually a great recipe or two!
You can use regular simple syrup or infused simple syrup in your Mojito. It’s actually very “simple” to make (see what I did there, it’s pretty funny, right!) You basically take equal parts water to sugar, put it over the stove on high heat and bring it to a boil. Once it boils, stir until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid looks clear, like the original water. Turn the heat down to around medium, so that it is just simmering. Let it simmer and reduce to about half to amount. This give you liquid sugar that is pretty easy to work with. If you want to infuse, add your flavorings of cut up fruit, or anything else that makes sense to you, at the beginning and follow the other steps. I will caution, do not leave this unattended for too long. It will overflow and you will have a giant mess on your hands! If this does happen to you, let me know and I will give you a method for easy clean up, because it happens to me all the time! I get distracted and forget, before I know it, I’ve got a bubbly, sticky mess on my hands, and my kitchen smells like fruit every time I turn my stove on for the next week! When you have let the mix reduce, you can strain out the extra fruit through a colander if your pieces are larger, or use the cheese cloth over the colander for smaller cuts. For my recipe, I chose to use regular cane sugar. Mostly because I’m in Florida and I can get it locally and it’s really good! I don’t really want to mess with in the integrity of the sugar cane. When I’m at my house, I make the simple syrup. You can make it ahead of time and leave it in the fridge for about two weeks. If you choose to use simple syrup, just replace cane sugar in the recipe with simple syrup. You may have to add a little more or a little less to get the sweetness right for you, but this is true with either version. Some people like their drinks sweet, some don’t. I personally like to be able to taste the mint and lime juice over the sugar, but that’s my taste buds! Do what works for you.
You can also make these in a pitcher to serve at a party and not just in individual glasses. I have made the recipe so that you will be able to figure how many drinks you want per pitcher and follow the recipe with ease. I like to muddle a little mint, lime, and sugar in the bottom of my guest’s glasses, so that when they pour the drink in, they get some extra flavor, but that’s up to you. The cocktail is perfectly fine straight out of the pitcher. I serve in a highball or Collins glass when I want to garnish with limes and mint, but it drinks just as well out of a Dixie cup!! Mr. Hemingway liked no frills drinks, do him a favor and enjoy yours out of whatever you want to drink it out of. He would have appreciated that!
4 parts Rum
3 parts fresh squeezed lime juice (sometimes I’ll use a little less lime juice, and add some lime pulp to the bottom of the glass to be muddled with the mint and sugar)
6 mint leaves
2 teaspoons cane sugar (you can play around with the amount. If you use the simple syrup, you can either add to muddle or add after you’ve muddles the mint, it’s up to you.)
Soda water (this element is added at the end, and it’s another one of those that you play around with to get the amount right for you. If you like a stronger tasting drink add less, if you don’t like your drinks strong, add more)
Lemon and Lime wedges to garnish (these are also good for those guests who want to add a little more tartness to their drinks)
Mint sprigs to garnish
– Add mint leaves, sugar, and lime juice (and a little lime pulp, if you really like that flavor!) to the bottom of the glass. Use a muddler (a muddler is used like a pestle, from mortar and pestle fame, and is basically used to muddle or mash ingredients together.) to “bruise” the mint leaves and mix the sugar with the lime juice. I say bruise, because you are really just trying to release the essential oils from the mint, not tear it apart. It makes a pretty garnish floating in the drink, and if you break it up too much, it will get stuck in your teeth while you’re drinking it.
– Once this mixture is muddled, add the rum.
– Top off the drink with soda water. I like to serve mine with a straw, so that you can always be mixing the mint and sugar around in your drink.
– Garnish with lemon and lime wedges and a sprig of mint. My Mom likes to eat the mint as she’s sipping her Mojito. It’s very refreshing!
If you are making these in a pitcher for a crowd, just follow the directions and multiply the amounts for the number of drinks. Have some extra soda water and lime juice out for those you may want a slightly less strong drink or who want a little more tartness! These drinks are great at any summer get together. They are easy to make and easy to drink! Have fun and enjoy!