Pimm’s #1 Cup

pimmsJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

This drink has intrigued me for a long time. I am not ashamed to admit that it was simply the name and pictures of the drink that did it too. The first part was curiosity about who, or what, Pimm was and whether there were other numbers of cups. Pull out or pull up any well illustrated cocktail guide and one will see what I mean about the pictures. The drink is usually an amber liquid packed with fruit, cucumber, mint and ice. It screams summer.

It ends up that James Pimm was a restaurateur in London who owned an oyster bar. The number 1 elixir he created in the 1840’s was a liqueur of gin, quinine and herbs meant as a curative (what else) and digestif. It was mixed in large batches, much like the punches of American bars of the 1800’s, and served by the tankard or cup full. The popularity increased to the point that it began to spread to other bars, eating establishments, and eventually by the bottle.

The popularity of the #1 continues today. It is a popular summer drink in Britain with various sources suggesting that 40-80 thousand pints are sold during the Wimbledon tennis tournament alone. Even New Orleans claims the drink (erroneously) as a summer cocktail of lower alcohol content for those who don’t want to drink less, but do want to pace themselves. There were other numbers, five others in fact, that were made with different spirit bases but only the #1 and a winter cup are sold widely now.

There doesn’t seem to be one definitive recipe, and I will be curious to see how David concocted it. The basics are one part of Pimm’s #1 to two to four parts mixer with a garnish of fruit, cucumber and mint. The mixer of choice is lemon-lime soda (called lemonade in England apparently), but alternatives include ginger ale or soda water for those who want to cut the sweet. I made three versions but each started with this basic mix of liqueur, cucumber and fruit:

2 ounces Pimm’s #1
1 slice cucumber (recipes said English cuke but I have no idea what that is)
1 wheel of lemon
A few pieces of quartered strawberries
Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries

In the basic version those were stirred together, ice added, and it was all topped with 4 ounces of lemon lime soda that was stirred in lightly. I forgot the mint, but that would have been a good time to add it.

Other versions simply added or substituted. The first was a strawberry version that started the day before. I blended up a bunch of strawberries, strained them through a sifter until I had a cup of liquid, and then warmed that in sauce pan with a cup of sugar to make a strawberry syrup (nothing simple about it). In case you were wondering, it is excellent drizzled over a piece of toast that had been smeared with peanut butter. That’s healthy, right? The final version was the basic recipe with ginger ale instead of lemon-lime soda. The standard Blenheim worked well although someone who really wanted to elevate the drink could try the extra hot. The subtle Pimm’s might get lost in that though.

The end result of all this experimenting is a cocktail as healthy as any we have tried. I tasted the strawberry syrup version, but preferred the basic or the ginger ale mix. All of the tasters ended up digging out the fruit at the end and eating it as the dessert part of the cocktail meal. Tasty.

And Here’s David’s Review:

PimmyMy encounters with British literature, television, and cinema have taught me some important Britishisms like “in hospital” instead of “in THE hospital,” the pronunciation of “Frus-TRAIT-ed” and the spelling of “gaol” instead of “jail.”

This exposure to British culture has also created some lasting curiosities, like, “How do you pronounce ‘Pshaw’?” and “What the hell does Pimm’s taste like?”

Thanks to Jonathan, I can at least tentatively answer one of those questions. As is my practice, I tried a little Pimm’s before adding it to this week’s cocktail. I decided Pimm’s is red. It’s amber, as Jonathan said, but it tastes rather, well… red. It’s not that it’s strawberry or cherry or cinnamon or punch or anything that must be red. It possesses the unspecified flavor of foods with a convenient rather than essential color. It’s citrusy (sort of) and spicy (sort of), which I suppose makes it a good mixer with soft drinks, gin, and other spirits.

By itself, meh.

The proper sort of additives, however, must really make this drink. I made my version with lemon, strawberry, cucumber, and mint. I see how the combination works. Lemon is more sour than sweet, and, when a strawberry is perfect, it’s sweet but also acidic. Cucumber has a surprisingly distinctive settling strength when it’s used indulgently. Mint is aromatic, and, though it’s not as important here as in a julep, it renders the cocktail a more complete sensory experience.

But I also made strawberry syrup. And that syrup… and that Seven-Up. I suspect that, with better strawberries or less sugar, I might like the syrup more, but it was dense and sickly sweet and, for me, sunk any chance of the drink being refreshing or light. The Seven-Up only added to that effect. We tried other versions—my wife had a second made with lemon-lime seltzer and I used tonic for the second version—but both still seemed heavy. If I was going to create a drink like this from scratch, I’d just muddle the cucumber, strawberry, and mint and have done with it.

Of course, I’d like to try this drink at Wimbledon. What drink wouldn’t taste better amid such pageantry? And whenever one of our concoctions doesn’t wow me, I wonder what I must have done wrong, what secret I missed in preparing it. How can such a popular drink not wow me? Perhaps the problem was how I cooked the syrup or the proportions of soft drink to alcohol or the gray (or should that be “grey”) stormy weather outside that seemed to call for a tarp and a rain delay. I don’t know. I just wasn’t blown away.

I’m happy, however, to have a bottle of Pimm’s #1 to experiment with, and some interesting possibilities for its use occurred to me right away. Maybe Pimm’s means to be a supporting player, the understated actor who draws no attention to him or herself but assembles the assemble. I’ll find out.

Jonathan’s take: Some days, like this Mother’s Day spent with Pimm’s, I wish we could stop at favorite drink for a while. Science and experimentation beckons us though.

David’s Take: I wanted to really love it and only liked it.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

We’re moving soon, and I keep staring at my liquor shelf, thinking which bottles are closest to being empty, which contents can be consumed and bottles jettisoned before we load everything else on a truck. Thus, selfishly, I’m proposing a drink called “Moving Sale” invented in his own way by Jonathan and my own way by me. The rules are that it consist of three ingredients we might exhaust. My respect for the spare and simple life grows as we gather our stuff in boxes. Let’s raise a drink to casting off.

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