There’s lots of talk going ‘round about mint juleps mostly due to an upcoming horse race. But when I think of mint juleps, I think of a silver cup I saw inside a glass box at an old house in the woods of Oxford, Mississippi.
This year, it will have been fifty years since William Faulkner died, and even longer since my redheaded grandmother Loree watched him watch others in Oxford’s square when she would go galavanting with her cousin Eppie, a student at Ole Miss. “Count Do Nothing” was his nickname around town.
My grandmother and mama were able to go inside Rowan Oak, his old house in the woods, ten years after he died, but before it had been turned into a museum, because Eppie knew somebody. My mama said it was then when she saw the words scrawled across his bedroom walls that she knew writers were different and that was okay.
Last summer, northward on our way from Savannah, my mama took me to the now curated house owned by Ole Miss. The red and black outline on white-washed walls was arresting, but I found another familiar piece of Rowan Oak.
Behind a locked pane glass door was Faulkner’s favorite room: the kitchen. It was apparently where his wife Estelle would begin her search for him whenever he was out of sight. Obscured by the reflection of rustling oak leaves and dappled patches of June afternoon sunlight, there were curtains made from blue gingham (my favorite), a double freezer, a combination gas-wood stove and an electric range. It’s hard for me to see this photo and not wildly fantasize about remedially line dancing across the floor in my boots and cherry-print apron to some Waylon and Willie between stirring some grits or peach jam on the stove with an electric fan whirring in the background.
Apparently, Faulkner just played Old Maid in here because it was warm.
But back to the mint juleps…
For a drink having remarkably few ingredients, everyone still has their own way of putting together the sugar, ice, mint and bourbon. Below is William Faulkner’s recipe, a simple set of additions to a distillation he had such a complicated relationship with. Lord knows what he could have done with less of it. But the two are inextricably linked, and even in death Faulkner’s whiskey is within reach — a bottle of Jameson sits faithfully at his tombstone.
Mint julep technology really hasn’t advanced in the past fifty years. They’re still served in metal or silver cups on ice with a sprig for garnish. Although today’s mixologists (and, no, I won’t watch my tone) will have you believe you need to throw in ginger bitters, cognac, a pickled lemon and a free range chicken leg while you’re at it, when it comes to juelps, it’s better in my opinion to err on the side of classic.
The only thing I will be persnickety about is that you use this as an excuse to run up to Johnnie Ganem’s or whatever your local liquor purveyor is to buy a bottle of Bulliet Bourbon Frontier Whiskey. Not only is it high-quality and affordable, it recently made a cameo appearance in Jack White’s latest music video for “Sixteen Saltines.”
You’ll also need this…
Simple syrup. It might not be a simple as throwing in a teaspoon of sugar, but it ain’t much harder than that. Bring 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar (or 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar, and on and on) to a boil, stir until sugar has completely dissolved into the water and pour into a mason jar. Let syrup cool and put jar in the refrigerator until cold. For an extra punch of mint in your julep, you can leave a handfull of mint sprigs (10 or so) in the jar overnight. Make sure to discard them after.
As you saw in the first picture, I use a chilled jam jar for my mint juleps. This may not be fittin’ or proper, but it works all the same. I already have too many grown-up kitchen appliances and devices people are supposed to give you in silver-wrapped boxes tied up with white ribbons at your wedding reception. A set of silver julep cups would only scare my friends more.
Once you have your chilled jam jar, silver cup, pork ‘n’ beans can or tumbler, perform the following actions.
- Pour in a tablespoon or so of simple syrup and add 3 or 4 mint leaves. Use the bottom of a wooden spoon to press the leaves against the glass, which will release their minty potential.
- Add enough crushed ice till the cup is nearly full.
- Pour in however much Bourbon you see fit after taking into account the day’s occurrences.
- Place a mint sprig near the top.
Sip continually as the evening sun sets.