Issue No.037 “Tails from the Bookworm” Vita Sackville-West

 

 

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hcapital-A the English summer , that season of light fluttering dresses, strawberries and cream , delicate flowers, Wimbledon, torrential rain and cracking thunderstorms , sticky underarms ( for me out of control frizzy hair-not on my underarms on my head ) non existent A/C and this summer will go down in history as the year of the great “Brexit”. If you hadn’t guessed already from previous editions of The Cup, I’m a first generation Brit, so I don’t have that Nationalism thing drummed into me and naturally am disgusted with the fiasco of leaving the EU .My parents came over after WW2, had a mangled arranged marriage that produced two offspring, myself and a brother, my Pops would have given anything to turn me into a proper little madam, you know a pinkie in the air kind of lady with manners, spotlessly clean shoes and combed hair. Instead he got an outspoken, tomboyesque, leftist leaning socialist with , torn jeans and paint splattered sneakers . Appearances can be deceptive , a bad ass looking punk can be a softie at heart and a lady to the manor born all buttoned up on the outside can be raging and debaucherous wild child !

Such is the tale of our Heroine this issue, the daughter of a Baron, Victoria Sackville-West or Vita for short was an Edwardian Lady who despite the risks she knew she was taking with her reputation was a romantic rebel who made plot lines of Downtown Abbey  pale in comparison . She inspired ardor in men and women alike but most of her lovers were women including a short lived romance but a long lived relationship with Virginia Woolf who was so inspired and besotted by Vita that she wrote the novel Orlando as an homage to her, who’s voracious sexual appetite had her “conjugating verbs” with both sexes way before the names Lesbian or Bi-sexual were in existence .

Virginia Woolf herself was a member of the Bloomsbury Group ( a collection of  bohemian painters, writers, sculptors and aristos) and was a great source of inspiration for me during  my art school days . The country house that they inhabited , Charleston House now a national monument in the south of England became their giant evolving canvas, every corner and every surface is painted with beautiful scenes and frescos.

Vita’s other passions were tennis and as she grew older she became an incredibly accomplished gardener,  in her dairies that are detailed in the book  ‘ Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita-Sackville-West” Vita has entries that list her activities for the day, listed in alternating order on one page are “made love” and ” played hours of tennis”, as one of the most privileged young things of the Edwardian era she  lived in a sprawling mansion and had a pet tortoise with a monogram picked out in diamonds that would roam the house . Because her life story is a long one and her affairs many here is just an extract of her escapades that starts  with summer love , the drinks I chose to illustrate these moments take their cues from the plummy proper English, their love of that summer time obsession Wimbledon,  and the good old English country garden .

In the summer of 1910  at a dinner party Vita met a young diplomat called Harold Nicholson, they both fell in love with each other and whilst he was away  taking care of his diplomatic duties Vita continued her extra curricular activities with her best friend Rosamund , though Harold was mad about Vita he also understood that his primary sexual desires were for men though his dalliances never over took him emotionally as Vita’s did .

Watermelon Rose Jallab

The classic Mint Julep gets its name from this Middle Eastern drink the Jallab, a type of fruit syrup made with molasses and rosewater that is served over crushed ice . Its a perfect summer drink, boozy yet refreshing , my version is served in a hollowed out mini watermelon and though I could not get my hands on pellet ice I found a mini ice cube tray that makes these centimeter big cubes that keep the drink iced cold without turning into wet slush.

For the drink:

1 miniature watermelon, top cut off and saved and watermelon flesh scooped out
1/2 bunch of  fresh Moroccan mint
1 1/2 oz Giffard Black rose liqueur ( if this is not available you can sub out by making a simple syrup  with rosewater , for every cup of syrup add 1 oz of rosewater)
2 1/2 oz Bourbon ( my go to is Buffalo Trace)
handful of rose petals
rose buds and mint sprigs to garnish

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Add the watermelon flesh, mint and rose petals to your juicer, strain so any chunky bits and seeds  are removed .
Set watermelon shell on top of a small shallow bowl so that it stands up
Fill hollowed out watermelon with pellet ice
Pour in Bourbon, watermelon juice and rose liqueur
Using a swizzle stick gently agitate liquid and ice being careful not to rip open watermelon shell.
Add more ice to top and garnish with rose buds and mint sprigs, slurp through a straw .

*****

After much courting Vita and Harold married in 1913, Rosamund was devastated , Violet another of Vita’s lovers was livid and later on exacted her revenge . Vita and Harold at this point had not admitted their sexual proclivities , but lived a blissful life with a Honeymoon that lasted four and a half years and produced two sons , Vita concluded it was hardly possible for two people to be any happier. This ended when Harold had to admit an encounter with another man had resulted in venereal disease and that he was forbidden to have sex for 6 months, terrified that he’d lose his wife he tried to  convince her that his homosexuality meant nothing to him and for a while all seemed to blow over.

Garden Gin and Tonic 

There is something wrong with me that I thought this drink would be an appropriate Ode to Virginia Woolfe, she drowned herself by putting rocks in her pockets, I slapped myself several times and decided instead to have it be a tonic for Harold’s V.D and am sure his accompanying fever, the original tonic water was made out of cinchona bark that helped with malaria, the gin was added to make the bitter tonic more palatable and so a classic drink was born, favored by the Brits and the Spanish but also has a growing fan base world wide. My friend Gabrielle  here in Socal does a frozen G&T out of her slushy machine at a Spanish restaurant called Vaca which for the summer sweats is a ubiquitous drink to have close at hand .

Mine is a wee bit more conventional , in that its still  liquid . Served over Nitro frozen garden pebbles that have been washed and sanitized in boiling water, the pebbles take the place of the ice which means you get zero dilution but a really bloody cold drink . Its topped off with a dollop of salt water foam.

For the drink:

1 1/2 oz Cap Rock gin
1/2 oz white verjus
3/4 oz Nikolai elderflower syrup
1-2 oz Fevertree elderflower tonic

For the foam :

4 oz saline solution ( made from 10:1 water to Maldon salt flakes)
3/4 oz yuzu juice
1/2 oz Nikolai elderflower syrup
.5 grams ( or half a bar spoon) of Texturas sucro

Allow the Sucro powder to dissolve fully into your liquid by using a small hand whisk.
Using an immersion blender blend the mixture then allow the blades to skim over the surface to aerate into a bubbley foam, set aside  ( it will stay foamy for about 10-15 minutes after which time you’ll need to re blend and froth)

For the pebbles: 

If nitrogen is not available make sure you have your cleaned pebbles sitting in the freezer at least two hours before you need them. If you have liquid nitrogen have the pebbles sitting in a stainless steel bowl and pour over the liquid nitrogen, using a spoon place pebbles in your glass of choice.

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To assemble, add pebbles to your glass, place your garden sprig garnish into the pebbles making sure it is situated securely .
In a mixing glass add your gin, versus and syrup and stir for about 5 seconds over ice , strain into your pebble filled glass , add tonic water and spoon over the salty foam, you can add an optional dusting of spirulina as your pondweed element .

*****

Violet however had not stopped pining for Vita and with Harold’s admission her chance came to get back into Vita’s life, two days before the doctor was to give Harold the all-clear Violet happened to be a house guest of the couple . Vita had just just gotten some breeches delivered and when she put them on she went wild with excitement , running and jumping and feeling like a young school boy freed for vacation, as she ran through the grounds Violet followed her. The outfit seemed to liberate something within the two women , by nightfall they were sleeping together, ten days later they ran away to Cornwall, Violet later said “we loved each other so much we became inarticulate “. Harold on the other hand begged Vita to return and suggested he would drown himself .

Matcha Made in Heaven 

Yes I’m corny, but at this point in the excerpt  am assuming the ladies will be a bit spent with all that romping and need a little pick me up, taking its cues from the traditional afternoon  tea ( well , tea with milk) I thought this would be appropriate for an energy boost, matcha green tea has a healthy dose of caffeine, the drink is constructed in a similar way to a classic Ramos fizz but using  the Japanese  milky soft drink Calpico as its dairy element .

For the drink:

1 1/2 oz Cap Rock Vodka
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
dash of vanilla extract
1 oz  peach calpico
1 oz aguafaba or egg white
splash of soda water to finish
garden herbs for garnish

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Add everything but the soda water to your shaker tin with 1 ice cube.
Whip shake for 5 seconds to wake up the proteins in your emulsifier
add 4 more ice cubes and shake vigorously ( depending on what shenanigans you’ve been up to its ok if you can’t muster vigor)
In your chilled glass add 2 ice cubes , strain your drink into glass and top with soda water
Finish with a few sprigs of vegetation, I used cilantro blossoms.

*****

Vita however was only just coming into her streak of recklessness, one night in London she dressed up as a man to meet with Violet and asked her lover to call her Julian. So confident was she that no-one would penetrate her disguise the two traveled to a boarding house and spent the night there as husband and wife , before long the couple were cutting a swath in France and Monte Carlo, though Julian’s disguise was not always effective the pair had to change hotels rather rapidly as their secret became apparent . Vita, now always dressed as Julian had stopped wearing her wedding band .

To take  his revenge Harold decided to have a very public affair with another male diplomat, knowing full well that it would not be hidden from Vita. Violet,without telling Vita decided to marry a military man in the hopes it would provide her with a beard of respectability so she could continue her affair , the night the couple were married Vita abducted Violet and took her to a hotel where she savagely had her way with her, she didn’t care if she was hurting Violet she just wanted to hurt Violet’s new husband . The next day the women told him of their relationship and he almost fainted.

Rhubarb “Pimms” Cup

After cutting swathes in France, Monte Carlo and London I’m pretty sure our heroine would b pretty thirsty especially after her debauching of Violet on her Honeymoon night. What better way to quench a thirst than with the light and refreshing Pimms cup , mine is made using my own mix of rhubarb, lemon peels , gin and Brovo pink vermouth which tastes like roses and rhubarb. For garnish it gets what I like to call “surround smell”, you know like a pair of headphones that surround your head with sound , this is the same but for your schnoz . Rose geranium leaves and verbena sprigs get placed around the glass and add to that feeling of being transported to an English country garden, cue the Morris Dancers !

For the “Pimms”

1/2 a bottle of Cap Rock gin
1 bottle of Brovo pink vermouth
3 cups of rhubarb chopped into inch cubes
1 lemon peel cut into strips

You have two options  for infusing, either place in a ziplock baggie and sous vide for 1 1/2 hours then let sit for a day in the fridge or do a cold infusion for a week. I’m impatient as ever as prefer to cheat, much like Vita . Once the “Pimms” cup is ready strain and bottle, keep in the fridge until ready, mine never lasts longer than a few days

For the drink:

2 1/2 oz rhubarb “Pimms”
1/2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz Aperol or Contratto bitter
1/2 oz lemon juice
strawberry lambic to finish and give some spritz

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Start by constructing your surround smell garnish, place your stemless wine glass onto a shallow bowl and poke stems into the gap between glass an bowl until your glass is surrounded
Add everything to your shaker tin except for lambic ale and shake briefly for 3 seconds.
Strain into a chilled ice filled glass, garnish with a couple of seasonal flowers, I used the ironically named Heartsease .

*****

The affair continued with voracity , though there were moments when Vita pleaded with her husband to win her back, she was no longer sure that choosing Violet over her husband and respectability were the right thing to do for her reputation . Back in London Violet’s mother was determined to salvage her daughter’s marriage , when Vita learned that Violet and her husband had slept together she left with Harold horrified and said she could noter to look at the two of them any longer, but the drama had by no means ended . To make matters worse, Violet’s mother had employed a chaperone , Pat to separate the two ladies, the female chaperone on meeting Vita fell madly in love and set out to woo her away from Violet, having witnessed Vita dressing up as Julian , Pat nicknamed her the Dark Man, playing into her fantasy which all too quickly became a reality as she became Vita’s new lover . As with most of her other affairs this one was short lived  and as she tried to extricate herself from Pat’s clutches, she became aware  how much she  underestimated Pat who threatened revenge by taking her story to the newspapers , when Vita agreed to see her Pat produced a pistol and aimed it at her own head, a fight ensued and she managed to wrestle the gun out of Pat’s hand , after some talking they parted amicably as friends.

As for Vita’s relationship with Violet that too was coming to an end , Harold was understandably skeptical , he wrote his wife ” I know that when you fall into V’s hands, your will becomes like a jellyfish addicted to cocaine,” but Vita had made her choice though her affair with Violet turned out to be only one of many extra marital affairs that she had with both women and men.

Parfait D’amour 

A cross between a milk shake , a parfait and an egg cream this last drink is for the blissfully wedded couple to share on a summers  afternoon or eve after their broadcast of their guide to matrimonial success, there’s also nothing that screams more English Summer than strawberries and cream  . It includes “tequila for mi amante ” , or tequila for my lover which is strawberry infused tequila. Use only the sweetest tasting strawberries, no insipid ,anemic half  ripe specimens please, only use strawberries that make you salivate , the flavor translates to your tequila remember ! It gets whipped together with strawberry ice cream and is finished with  a splash of soda water, seasonal berries and a dusting of powder sugar , mine here is served over a base of strawberry caviar, make your own if you wish but you can buy them online or from your local Japanese market.

For the Tequila for mi Amante :

1 pint sweet ripe strawberries
1 750ml bottle of silver tequila

Halve the strawberries and place into a large screw top jar
Top with tequila and allow them to get to know each other intimately for about a week ( store in the fridge whilst they co-mingle)
When ready strain and store in an airtight bottle or jar in fridge until ready to demolish,and you will!

For the parfait:

1 cup of strawberry ice cream ( sure you can make your own if you have time, my current favorite is Haagen Dazs)
1 1/2 oz tequila por mi amante
1 oz  manzanilla sherry
1 dash rosewater
4-5 chopped strawberries

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In a medium sized pitcher add all of your ingredients .
Blitz together using an immersion blender, or if you have a blender, blend on high for about 5 seconds , if you want it frosty cold add a couple of ice cubes, I prefer it sloppier.
Pour into your glass of choice ,  top with seasonal berries ,mint sprigs and powdered sugar.
Share or not depending on your frame of mind!

*****

Vita and Harold continued to live together and  ironically even broadcast a talk  on tips for marital bliss, though they continued having extra marital relations there was a bond between them that was unbreakable , more best friends than partners , when Vita died in 1962 Harold spent the next six years heartbroken until he too passed away, we can only assume from a broken heart pining for his Vita !

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